Venezuela and Mexico at the Crossroads
In the lucrative business of drug trafficking, the emergence of new smuggling routes is leading to a rise in earnings for large international drug trafficking cartels. Among the most active and promisingly profitable: the new axis between Venezuela and Mexico.
During the last five years cocaine shipments along a route that begins in the plains of southern Venezuela and ends in the heart of Mexico, have reached significant proportions, confirmed by the dozens of reports, seizures and complaints filed by individuals and official bodies in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and the United States.
In hitherto unpublished exclusive conversations with Univisión, alleged drug trafficker Walid Makled revealed that he became personally aware of the dispatch of at least ten shipments on DC-9 jets from Caracas to Mexico, each consisting of more than 5 tons of cocaine. Makled did not specify whether he participated in these shipments, made between 2005 and 2008.
(Walid Makled: Reuters)
Makled has been accused by the United States of having shipped, from the international airport at Maiquetía, Venezuela, 5.5 tons of cocaine aboard a DC-9 aircraft. The plane was later confiscated at the Ciudad del Carmen airport in the Mexican state of Campeche in April of 2006. In several interviews, Makled has suggested that the shipment was made with the help of high ranking Venezuelan military officers.
Univisión has been able to establish that at least five important Mexican criminal organizations—the Sinaloa, Juárez and Guadalajara cartels, as well as the Beltrán Leyva and Los Zetas cartels—are conducting, or have conducted drug trafficking operations in Venezuela from 2003 until now.
The U.S. State Department, in their most recent report on international drug trafficking, emphasized the prominence of Mexican-Venezuelan drug networks and made reference to reports of “an increased presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas in operations to smuggle drugs through Venezuela.”
According to information shared with Univisión by federal sources in Mexico, Makled maintained a close relationship with drug traffickers Gerardo Álvarez Vásquez, alias “El Indio,” one of the kingpins in the Beltrán Leyva cartel. According to Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defense, Vásquez controlled organized crime in the states of Guerrero, Morelos and Mexico, and served as contact for buying cocaine from suppliers in Central and South America, including Makled.
According to official figures from the Mexican Foreign Office, between 2003 and 2007, Venezuelan law enforcement authorities arrested 20 Mexicans for crimes related to drug trafficking.
An important kingpin who had been serving as an intermediary between two Mexican cartels supplied revealing information on activities by these two organizations in Venezuela and the alleged official support they were receiving.
In a statement made to Colombia’s Administrative Office of Security (DAS), drug trafficker Fared Feris Domínguez, alias “El Médico,” said that he had worked in Venezuela as coordinator for air routes to countries in Central America and into Mexico for various Mexican cartels.
(Fared Feris Domínguez: madcowprod.com)
“Those who have control of the narcotics leaving Venezuela are Venezuelan military officers and those who buy such merchandise are the Mexican cartels called “Los Zetas” and the Guadalajara Cartel,” said Dominguez in an interview with investigative reporter Gerardo Reyes.
Several of the Mexican drug traffickers jailed in Venezuela had received help from Venezuelan law enforcement authorities in order to continue with their activities.
In 2009, alleged drug trafficker Gloria Rojas Valencia, age 53, a representative of the Los Zetas cartel in Venezuela, was arrested twice but managed to escape before charges could be filed. Last March, Rojas was finally captured and deported to the United States, where she faces charges of drug trafficking.
Eight months prior to that, Rojas’s boyfriend, Luis Frank Tello, had been deported to the United States by the Chávez government, also under accusations of belonging to the Los Zetas cartel.
Halfway through last year, Mexicans Roberto Ávila, age 30, and Carlos Irazábal Martínez, age 33, accused of belonging to the Juárez Cartel, staged a spectacular escape from their central Venezuelan prison in Cojedes. Venezuela’s Attorney General ordered the arrest of a total of 21 police officers, including the commander of the local police on charges of having enabled the escape.
The Mexican cartels have found fertile ground in Venezuela for their activities, apparently with official support, according to private individuals and experts who have studied the topic.
In an explosive statement three months ago in the Dominican Republic, former Mexican president Vicente Fox accused Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez of maintaining “a partnership” with the drug cartels in the land of the Aztecs. Fox’s statement was fueled by the noticeable increase in the confiscation of narcotics coming out of Venezuela.
(Vicente Fox and Huge Chavez: rapadoo.com)
“It appears there is a partnership between Chávez and the drug cartels,” said Fox, not mincing words, yet not presenting any evidence.
The Venezuelan head of state did not reject Fox’s statements directly. Venezuela’s ambassador in Santo Domingo, Alfredo Murga Rivas, answered with statistics, stating that the Chávez government had seized 63 tons of narcotics just in 2010 and had ordered the arrest of some 13,000 people linked to drug trafficking, among them 17 kingpins who have already been deported to other countries.
Fox’s impressions are shared by experts in Venezuela. “The Mexican cartels are protecting themselves and jumping on the bandwagon in Venezuela in order to guarantee their business,” told by Bayardo Ramírez, an expert on drug trafficking and former director of Venezuela’s National Commission Against the Illegal Use of Drugs.
Ramírez said that an environment of “tolerance” in Venezuela is enabling the activities of the international drug trafficking cartels.