- The Venezuelan drug trade is booming as the socialist country’s economy continues to collapse, according to a CNN report.
- The traffickers are making so much money delivering Colombian cocaine to the US that they often burn their courier planes after using them once, CNN said.
- Venezuela’s military and political leaders are facilitating the smuggling, US officials told CNN.
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Venezuelan traffickers moving Colombian cocaine to the US are making so much money from their operations that they are frequently using smuggling planes just once before discarding them, a CNN report found.
The drugs are largely smuggled into and out of Venezuela with the help of its military and political elite, US and regional officials told CNN.
The trade is so lucrative that a smuggler often uses a courier plane once, wrecking it or burning it after landing, the report said. A US official told CNN that the number of flights had increased to as many as eight daily this year from about two weekly in 2017.
An estimated 240 metric tons of cocaine were smuggled through Venezuela last year, a US official told the international broadcaster. The United Nations’ drugs office calculated for CNN that this amount of pure cocaine could be worth up to $39 billion once it was cut and distributed in the US.
CNN said its investigation followed the cargo crossing the porous Colombian-Venezuelan border through illegal routes, then to the Central American nation of Honduras in tiny planes. From there, the cocaine is transported through Mexico to the US.
Top military officials and politicians in Venezuela are the people profiting the most from the increased trade, CNN reported.
A Venezuelan soldier who went into hiding in Colombia told CNN that he received commands to let cocaine pass through the border.
“Everything was coordinated by the brigade commander. He’d send a lieutenant, who’d tell you what needed to cross, and this was arranged high up above,” he said. “Those who didn’t agree were swapped out automatically.”
High-ranking officers in the Venezuelan military have long faced accusations of corruption and facilitating the trade. This has been important for President Nicolás Maduro to maintain his power base, as military leaders have a lot of money to lose if they defect, CNN said.
“Drug smugglers are more and more exploiting the complicity of Venezuelan authorities, and more recently the vacuum of power,” a US official told CNN.
Maduro has been caught in a tug-of-war this year with Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who has declared himself president until new elections are called. Guaidó’s presidency has received support from many Western nations, including the US.
As the rivals rally for support among the masses, the military, and international leaders, Venezuelans continue to battle a humanitarian crisis.
Crippling hyperinflation has left Venezuelans desperate to get their hands on cash, food, or medicine. The soldier who defected to Colombia told CNN that low-ranking officers depended on subsidized food boxes from the government.
“They had us brainwashed with food handouts,” he said. “One night, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went home and told my wife, ‘We leave for Colombia!'”