No Longer Coke-FedEx, Now More Like Coke-Amazon

There’s plenty to chew over in news of the looming U.S. indictment of Néstor Reverol, the National Guard commander and alleged coke-trafficking aficionado.

The latest story, in The New York Times, describes how twice-deported Venezuelan insiders (first deported to Colombia, then once more to the U.S.) seem to have been the key conduits of evidence against him.

But the choice bit is at the very end:

Mr. McDermott, of InSight Crime, said that American prosecutors may be focusing more intensely on Venezuela because drug trafficking there has changed.

For many years, investigators believed that Venezuelan military and police officers were on Colombian traffickers’ payrolls, providing them information about investigations and protection for drug shipments.

“There has been a change in the nature of the role of the Venezuelans,” he said. “They have moved from facilitators to drug traffickers in their own right.” He added, “Nowadays we believe the Venezuelans are buying and selling their own shipments.”

He also said that a boom over the last year in Colombia in the planting of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, would likely lead to a surge in the amount of the drug moving through Venezuela.

This is hugely significant. For much of the past decade, the term “Cartel de los Soles” has been a bit of a misnomer. The Venezuelan military – people who follow these things believed – would take payments for protecting northbound coke shipments that belonged to someone else. That made them not so much drug-traffickers as service providers to drug-traffickers.

If McDermott is right, though, and guys like Reverol are now trafficking coke they own, that’s an entirely different level of involvement. A different level of profits. And a different kind of criminality. Which would account, in great part, for the investigative resources the U.S. is now clearly devoting to these guys.