Photo: Cristian Hernandez/EPA retrieved

“There is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes a mafia state, but the fact that organized crime touches the daily lives of every Venezuelan, and has penetrated the highest level of state institutions, easily qualifies Venezuela.”

With those three lines in his latest editorial for the New York Times, Jeremy McDermott, former British Army Officer turned war journalist, summarizes Nicolás Maduro’s success on keeping power: his government’s deep ties with international crime.

McDermott is the current director of InSight Crime, a watchdog group that has been collecting information for years on the so called “Suns Cartel,” a drug-trafficking organization allegedly formed by senior officers from the Venezuelan government. They found evidence suggesting the Venezuelan Armed Forces, arguably the only institution capable of forcing a political transition, are deeply involved in cocaine traffic along the Venezuela-Colombia border, taking an increasingly active role in the process:

“Cocaine is pouring into Venezuela from neighboring Colombia (…) there is overwhelming evidence that the Venezuelans are directly participating.”

“Cocaine is pouring into Venezuela from neighboring Colombia. Drug production has never  been higher, and we estimate that Colombia is producing 921 tons of cocaine a year (…) In the past, it was the Colombian cartels that ran this business, paying off Venezuelan officials. Now there is overwhelming evidence that the Venezuelans are directly participating. The 2016 conviction in the United States of two nephews of the Venezuelan first lady for cocaine trafficking is just the most obvious example of this.”

And cocaine isn’t even the most lucrative product. As McDermott indicates, most of the dirty money keeping the dysfunctional Venezuelan State running comes from the systematic pillaging of State coffers through the artificial currency exchange control system, a measure that has made a few people absurdly rich while utterly destroying the Venezuelan economy, condemning millions to misery. Smuggling of gasoline across the Colombian and Brazilian borders is another example of the many black markets whose monopoly has been granted to the armed forces by the government in a so far successful attempt to guarantee the institution’s loyalty in the middle of the worst socio-economic crisis in Venezuelan history.

“The military now oversees food and medicine distribution. This may keep it loyal for a while yet, but the model is not sustainable. Drug trafficking is the main growth industry in Venezuela, followed by illegal gold mining. Cocaine may well become the lubricant that keeps the wheels of corruption moving in Mr. Maduro’s Venezuela.”

With Maduro’s kleptocracy digging in, Venezuela has turned into a heaven for organised crime, becoming an increasingly significant problem for the region’s already discreet efforts to fight corruption and international crime. A problem that will only get bigger as long as the isolated, broke president remains in power because, as McDermott writes, “there is now little money left to steal from the State, yet the wheels of corruption still need to be greased.”

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