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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  1. Let be honest, the US needs cocaine to flow so they can keep the “war on drugs” going. No “war” equals no sales of guns, bullets and what have you so they don’t want this to stop ever. Cocaine production has never been as high as it is today, they even stopped spraying the crops 3 years ago and as a result cocaine is available in ridiculous quantities. So much so that the price of a kilo is the same as it was about 20-25 years ago. Big dealers in Europe are actually selling little by little so that the price doesn’t go down even more. The head of the German customs estimates that there is about 30-40 tons of cocaine available in Europe at any given time.

      • Roy I maybe a lot of things but a troll I’m certainly not, just a Dutch guy that’s married to a beautiful Venezuelan lady, (we have 2 kids) and that works his ass off as a private chef on super yachts. I just happen to despise socialists and communists and think the vast majority of Venezuelans aren’t doing anything to get out of this shithole period.

        And you’re right, like Bob sang a long time ago …. legalize it.

          • Dumb ass. You don’t know anything about the USA. I do agree Venezuelan don’t do anything to change anything. Dutchman? From Aruba? Who is not an engineer with MBA? As if that gave you some moral authority – you do smell corruption.

        • It’s been 5 hours, and no one else has corrected, so I guess I have to. It was Peter’s song, not Bob’s. (Recorded after Wailers split up.)

          • I saw Tosh on his “Legalize it” tour in Santa Barbara (outdoors) in 1984. Jimmy Cliff opened (I think). It was awesome (as far as I remember) …..

    • @Duncanvd “Let be honest, the US needs cocaine to flow so they can keep the “war on drugs” going. No “war” equals no sales of guns, bullets and what have you so they don’t want this to stop ever. ”

      I’m sorry, but as a longstanding member of the NRA from a family of generations with that, this is LUDICROUS.

      And for that, I direct you to taking a little gander at gun and ammunition purchases per capita today, versus those either before the War on Drugs became a thing or shortly after it went into effect.

      And I don’t give a damn if you have an MBA in economics, you certainly aren’t as knowledgeable in history or American firearms law as I, my friend.

      Sure, ABSOLUTE quantities have almost certainly increased, the number of households owning guns, ammo, and so on has held steady and may in fact have DECREASED relative to population growth.

      So the idea that without the War on Drugs there would be a poor, impoverished, or nonexistent American gun market is simply ignorant. Your overall point that the WoD may be feeding into demand may be justified. But this isn’t enough.

      • I don’t agree with D about that there is some sort of conspiracy of the gun and ammo manufacturers and the NRA to keep the War on Drugs going. That is a ridiculous theory and, as you point out, the statistics do not support it.

        Having said that, the War on Drugs is a multi-billion dollar industry. The federal, state, and local tax dollars spent on drug prohibition law enforcement agencies is huge. As well, there is the prison industry, and the legal prosecutors and defenders of drug crimes.

        Ending drug prohibition would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of legally employed persons as well as the powerful criminal enterprises. So, while I would not label it a “conspiracy”, there is a lot at stake for a lot of people and they all pay lobbyists to buy influence and prevent any change to the status quo.

        • @Roy Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know that the War on Drugs is a big economic “world” unto its own, as you said. And that is why I did not broadly attack Dunc’s argument on the whole, thoguh I could have.

          Firstly because I think it could be true. And secondly because I am not invested deeply enough to get into a scrap over it on this site. Hence why I stayed within my area of relative expertise.

          But that still allowed me to render a point of order. Bcause that was just sloppy. I myself am ambivalent about legalization but I agree that it A: Can exist without it being catastrophic (as the Netherlands shows), and B: that a lot of very powerful and very invested groups would like to do otherwise.

          That’s a real thing and it’s worth evaluating accurately. Not by screwing up gun history.

  2. During the early part of our war of independence guns were scarce and most combatants didnt know how to use them , most people fought with lances, knives, sabres , machetes , the bloodbath was enormous , then guns started getting in (bought with the money obtained from selling dry cow hides fom the cattle freely roaming the llanos) , and when the british legionaires (soldiers of fortune) begun trickling in taught the local patriot paramilitaries the use of guns and ballonets it really made for a difference , still in the llanos the lance was king, when Morillo brought his professionally armed expedition of 10.000 veteran soldiers from Spain the patriot cavalary armed with lances beat them every time , Morillo could only move his infratry and artillery following the ‘matas’ (strips of dense vegetation) surrounding the rivers which crossed the llanos grass plains , he he strayed from the protection of the trees he got a drubbing ….spanish calvary was hopeless in the llanos ……after independence was won, it seemed like everyone had a gun , so practically the whole of our XIX century was a time of uprisings , you made a proclamation armed a bunch of peons and started a rebellion , its been historically tabulated that in our XIX century there were more days of war than days of peace , civil strife was constant, the govt didnt have a good enough professional army to keep those rebellions down …..Then in the early XX century General Gomez formed and armed and trained a professional army that beat every uprising that came up , only the army had the guns and fire power and organization to destroy any attempt at a rebellion …for almost the whole of our XX century this state of affairs kept the peace …….., Now Chavez and his succesors are trying to arm all of their followers so they can squash any spontaneous rebellion and keep themselves in power . but in a struggle between professionally trained and equiped armed forces and spontaneous amateurs its always the former that vanquish the latter ……………!! The group that controls the organized army has the best chance of maintaining itself in power as long as he wants ………we are back to being a primitive coutry where its bullets and not votes that decides who governs…!!

    • “…after independence was won, it seemed like everyone had a gun , so practically the whole of our XIX century was a time of uprisings…”

      Bill, I would point out that correlation does not imply causation. The fact that guns were prevalent does not imply that that was the cause of the uprisings. The primary cause of the uprisings was the failure of Bolivar and the others to establish just and effective governance.

      • Quite true Roy but the abundance of guns didnt make uprisings less likely , if fact it might have contributed (together to other causes) to their proliferation and persistence. I am not too convinced that Bolivar or others could have prevented the course of events that followed , you dont legislate peoples instinctive attitudes and conduct , conditions made it very difficult to establish a peaceful civilian govt , the country was totally ruined , it never was too prosperous anyway, the social fabric was rent by years of savage conflict , Venezuela had no experience in self governance , the more educated few that might have instituted a more civilized political life (if they hadnt been massacred) were for the most part lacking in any economic power or influence , after the war of independence the country was left a military camp filled with warring factions …….functining political institutions arent easily built under such conditions ……(there are a hoard of modern studies that show that) ……

    • “The group that controls the organized army has the best chance of maintaining itself in power as long as he wants.”


      Tell that to the British.

      • Ha ha ha, tell that to the French Army and Navy , unless you want to forget about Chesapeake and Yorktown.
        Next you will be rewriting the history of the Boston Tea Party! as so many Americans do.
        On a serious note, the organized Army only lasts as long as the political power and message survives.
        Look at the Americans in Iraq.

        • @Crusader I’ll be the first one to give a lot of credit to the Bourbon powers for the defeat of Britain in the Revolutionary War. But let’s not kid ourselves.

          They entered the war a third of the way through, after the decisive Battle of Saratoga netted an entire British army and Patriot military successes had ravaged the Loyalist militias. Those victories were aided by imported French and captured British gunpowder and muskets, but they were fought primarily by Patriot militia, or adopted Patriot militia that had been regularized into the Continental Army.

          No patriot grassroots gunmen, no Saratoga or Concord or the rest, no Bourbon intervention, no war.

          Also, the French navy and particularly ground troops were reliant on Patriot guides, logistics (I know, I know, you don’t need to laugh THAT hard), and troops to support their campaigns on the Western shore of the Atlantic. I think it’s safe to say they were the hard cutting edge of the final campaigns in ’82 and ’83, but they were supported by a large wooden holster or shaft of Continental army troops, scouts, and whatnot.

          ” On a serious note, the organized Army only lasts as long as the political power and message survives.
          Look at the Americans in Iraq.”

          I don’t know what the heck you’ve been smoking, but the organized military lasted LONG after the political messaging and support faded away. In fact it continued fighting and fighting *successfully* even after Biden etc. al’s disasterous idea to let Maliki ignore the election results put Iraqi democracy in the ground.

          The problem with Iraq was not a collapse of the organized military, it was the collapse of continued support for it in the field, along with some bleed away (for instance, the Georgians had to up stakes and go to defend their own country against Putin’s terrorists and later his armored fists).

          A loss of political messaging can certainly be the end of a military, just look at what happened to Batista or to P. Diaz’s Federales. But it is by no means certain.

          • Turtler
            Logistics, the French provided estimates of up to 90% of weapons to the Militia.
            I dont smoke.
            The Georgians were in Al Kut, a place i am very familiar with, the Battle Group of Georgians provided no offensive military support at all, they were there to eat as much American food at the DEFAC they could get.
            The political message was lost and the Coalition Army fell apart and as you state “the collapse of continued support for it in the field,” for example the British could not extricate itself out of the south fast enough, the political message and will had been lost.
            Iraqi democracy is in no way a mirror image of western democracy, and was never going to be. Shia outnumbered Sunni and Kurds in the north didnt matter. The downtrodden Shia were never going to allow a Saudi Arabian backed Sunni enclave to hold power, and the Shia Iranians were going to make sure of that, no matter what the Americans said.
            And so we have today.
            In Venezuelas case, maybe its a case of an organized Army lasting only as long as the money lasts

          • @Crusader ” Logistics, the French provided estimates of up to 90% of weapons to the Militia.”

            A: No, estimates are the French provided upwards of 90% of the *GUNPOWDER* that CAME to the Patriots during the war.

            Now this fact alone is still immensely, overwhelmingly important. Kinda hard to shoot if you don’t have propellant.

            But it is is Ammunition for weapons. Not weapons in and of themselves.

            It is also not the overall amount of gunpowder used in the revolution period (because there was a small initial supply consisting of British, Colonial, and captured French/Spanish gunpowder. Albeit one that was used up quickly during the first year or so, but it still takes a bit off the top).

            Now, the French also provided buttloads of weapons like artillery, muskets, and even a hanful of French-made Kentucky rifles. The exitence of “Lock, Stock, and Barrel” in American vernacular is testament to that.

            But it was NOWHERE near 90%, unlike the gunpowder. Important? Mos def. But not what you say.


            B: Different specializations. The French may have provided 90% of the gunpowder and a gutload of the weapons the Patriots used, but they didn’t provide much of the food they ate in the field.

            The French and Spanish provided gunpowder, heavy military support (esp. naval), finances (the Spanish Dollar was effectively the currency of the colonies) and weapons (in more or less that order of importance).

            But they didn’t provide scouts able to manuever around the local terrain.

            They didn’t provide safe harbors on the Atlantic coast of North America, like Boston and Savannah. Those had to be held or retaken by American troops.

            They also did not provide local recruiting, for instance to gather militia or civilian support to have people do stuff like get horses together to haul artillery or for civilians to provide food for French sailors and soldiers in the colonies. That was the responsibility of the Patriot gov’t.s

            Ergo the Bourbons provided the professional military and financial support, but the American Patriots brought a half decent amount of that to the table and a lot of civilian and logistical support to help maintain them in the field.

            Or do you really think King Louis was shipping pork to feed Rochambeau’s troops in America outta Caen across the Atlantic?

            Again, I am under no illusions that the American Revolution could have succeeded in the way it did without Bourbon support, or at least another force able to mimic it. And they began providing it by drips and then gushes well before they openly entered the war.

            But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and conflate figures about freaking gunpowder shipments to mean the French provided 90% of all supplies whatsoever, ok?

            ” I dont smoke.”

            that makes two of us.

            “The Georgians were in Al Kut, a place i am very familiar with, the Battle Group of Georgians provided no offensive military support at all, they were there to eat as much American food at the DEFAC they could get.”

            I’ll take a second opinion from the few dozen or so Quds Force and Sadr smugglers they caught and shot on the border. Were any of them still alive.

            I’m not surprised they were of little help. Most of the rainbow coalition nations tend to be, like how the French had a conniption fit when a few of their troops were killed on patrol in Afghanistan a while back and promptly had the rest confined to barracks being a burden on the supply line.

            And for all of the things I can say about the Frogs, at least they are a *relatively* experienced, professional military that’s been bloodied in ways the Georgians never were.

            But having to pull them out of doing traffic stops on the border and other second or third tier support work meant something. It might’ve made less of a burden on the supply lines to feed them, but it also meant that other people had to be found to do those obs. Stretching the rest of the force thinner.

            And if 1st Lieutenant Kilroy is checking to see if the Guardian Council of Iran has tried to smuggle Kalashes up the bunghole of the driver they’re stopping on the border, they’re not patrolling the outskirts of Sadr City, helping rebuild stuff elsewhere, or pulling security to keep (in thei mmortal words of my USAF friend) “Dirka Mc$hitbag” detained.

            So the loss of even relatively low grade troops pulling support lie the Georgians weakens the force unless they’re replaced.

            “The political message was lost and the Coalition Army fell apart”

            The Coalition Army was still operating quite well- even if at lower strenght and support-, well into the late game. This was not a “Cornwallis at Yorktown” scenario. It wasn’t even “The French in Indochina after Dien Bien Phu” (where most of the French Union troops remained outside of the disaster zone and occupied most of the country, but morale plummeted in theater and shattered at home).

            This was closer to the Dutch in Indonesia or the French in Algeria, where political concerns at home dictated a pull out.

            “and as you state “the collapse of continued support for it in the field,” for example the British could not extricate itself out of the south fast enough,”

            Pretty much nobody could, and the problem of replacing so many people- and high quality, heavily involved ones at that- hurt badly.

            But this was a mad push to get home. Not a crazy run for the ports like-say- the British did in France in 1940. The enemy had no serious ability to push the British out of the country.

            They barely had the ability to constrict or push back against territory that had been more or less secure. But the drip drip drip at the front and particularly the loss of will at home resulted in the rush to get out breaking the mission without breaking the army.

            : the political message and will had been lost.”

            Agreed, but the more important place that happened was in home, not at the front.

            Not to say that the three Iraqi occupation zones were a model of effective, high morale military forces at the time of the pull out. But there was no existential crisis threatening to destroy or evict them like Cornwallis and the other Loyalist armies faced by the 1780’s.

            “Iraqi democracy is in no way a mirror image of western democracy, ”

            Agreed, particularly in modern Western democracy. The fact that Iraqi and Afghani democracy produced two people who would go on to rule as dictators and flagranty rig the elections shows that.

            But we can say the same about south Korea after its independence. That is if we bother dignifying Rhee’s regime with the label of democracy at all.

            “and was never going to be.”

            I may be a bit more naive/optimistic/stupid, but while I agree it was unlikely and never goign to be smooth, it isn’t like Western Democracy hasn’t faced several of the problems you faced before. And even outright tyrannies like Rhee in South Korea gave way to something freeer

            ” Shia outnumbered Sunni and Kurds in the north didnt matter.”

            Agreed, and couple with a tribal society plus decades of being ground under by Saddam and it was inevitable lots of Shiites would like to “Get theirs.”

            Maliki’s rule since the last remotely free elections is a testament to that.

            But to play devil’s advocate, this isn’t something completely alien to us either.

            We could say very similar about Czechoslovakia between the wars, replacing “Shia” for “Bohemian”, “Sunni” with “Slovak” and “Kurds” with “Germans.” One of the lesser known points I like making was that Der Fuhrer’s dishonest caterwauling about Prague discriminating against ethnic Germans wasn’t entirely false. Prague even *admitted* that and said that it would strive for a fairer society without having to be dismembered.

            And ultimately what happened was that a communist regime took over, devastated the German and Hungarian populations, and then fell only to have the country split into two where something more equitable could happen.

            Now, you might argue that I’m being facetious and arguing that I’m overlookings the sheer depth of *hatred*, violence, and ill will in Iraq compared to Czechoslovakia. And you wouldn’t be wrong. This stuff is much worse. But it can still guide us in what Can happen.

            “The downtrodden Shia were never going to allow a Saudi Arabian backed Sunni enclave to hold power, and the Shia Iranians were going to make sure of that, no matter what the Americans said.
            And so we have today.”

            Agreed, but the removal of a Sunni elite like what happened under Saddam did not *necessarily* have to segway into the opposite direction; a sectarian tyranny of the majority.

            Don’t get me wrong, that was the *most likely* outcome by faaaar, particularly given this region and its cultures. And it is what ultimately happened. I think our friends in India and moreso the Philippines are a decent example of that. Both have Gigantic walls of problems longer than this post has room,but are not a product of trying to stomp on the dominant one.

            :In Venezuelas case, maybe its a case of an organized Army lasting only as long as the money lasts”

            I’m not sure the money can be said to have lasted this long, but the perks and USD might not.

            Still, if and when the regular army collapses or balkanizes there’s the question of what pops up after it. Lord knows there are a lot of robbers or collectivos that could step in to fill the vacuum.

  3. I’m just happy that other people are repeating the truth about the whole mess. It’s surprising how few people realize this is all about controlling Venezuela so they can move coke faster and in higher quantities. Fucking coke is the devil and the more times the facts are repeated, the more truth that will come into the light.

    • Marc,

      No… Coke is not the Devil. It is an inanimate chemical, that happens to interact with human chemistry and causes addiction, just like thousands of other substances, controlled, regulated, or otherwise.

      At one point in history, a bunch of people just like you decided that alcohol was the Devil. They managed to convince a fair portion of the western world to prohibit its sale and use. The result was a social disaster. The prohibition created a demand that was fulfilled by criminal enterprises that became so rich and powerful and violent that they threatened the very foundations of civilized society. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Prohibition was rescinded.

      The prohibition of drugs has been no more successful than that of alcohol and has created the same sorts of violent criminal enterprises that corrupt our political systems, destroy lives, undermine our civility.

      Prohibition is just plain bad policy. Do I think drug use and addiction is a good thing? Of course, not! But, prohibition as a cure is a prescription that is worse than the disease. We need to treat drug abuse and addiction as a social and health problem instead of a criminal problem.

      End of rant…

      • So, legalizing heroine/cocaine/hydrocodone/ use is a good idea, will save public monies by less expense on crime control/prisons/etc., –sounds good to me. Tell that to even Middle America, which even now has a heroine addiction problem , and, by the way, elected Trump for that and other reasons. The cost of treating large numbers of new addicts with much-cheaper/now-legalized hard drugs would probably far outweigh the cost savings of lesser drugs criminal control, not to mention the larger number of addicts’ damaging social/productive effects on society.

  4. Another Gringo….I had no idea what Poe’s law is. Had never heard of it! Lol. I googled it and now I know. Thanks!

  5. I must thank my fellow bloggers for the fascinating pieces theyve placed in this blog these days , the historical and geopolitical ruminations are a pleasure to read …….., all very well argued and exposed , specially Roy , turtler and Cruzader’s pieces , even if I dont readily agree with many of the things they say , it makes for wonderful reading. I am not that sanguine that just legalizing drug use generally will solve the problem , maybe some drugs can be legalized without much peril to social functioning , others made more accesible under certain controls and the use of yet others definitely discouraged thru all possible means . But there are dozens of other measures that could be taken to make their negative impact on society less of a problem or to dissuade people from using them , just takes a bit of imagination , but going thru them would make this piece overlong……. .
    On the US independence topic I am convinced that without the intervention of french help (from their organized army and fleet) independence would probably never have been achieved , in fact the idea for that crucial victory at Yorktown came from the Admiral in charge of the French Fleet , Washington understood it inmmediately and moved quickly and effectively to help set it up.
    About the key importance of having control of an organized armed body to ensure an authoritarian rule that defies popular opinion , is something that our recent Venezuelan experience has shown to be true ………, of course in time the control may be weakened or even made inoperative where strong seditious opinion infiltrates that organized armed body allowing for such authoritarian rule to be toppled……, but the romantic notion that the spontaneous rage of the people is by itself enough to topple an established govt is one which inspires me with some skepticism !! it can happen but dont normally count on it…….the need for organization and a methodical plan of attack and a fired up population is crucial to any subversive effort that does not rely on the help of highly organized and equipped armed bodies.

    • Hi Bill, I would love to have the chance to convince you about drug prohibition one day.

      On liberation struggles, I once read that (and I am paraphrasing, since I don’t recall it verbatim) any occupying power can continue to subjugate a people only so long as they continue to have the stomach for killing them. In this case, the Chavistas stomach for killing “oligarchs” and “esqualidos” is of cast iron. I don’t see an internal solution. As fo an external one, I don’t see that happening until the body count gets much larger.

  6. Methodical and organized plan of attack YES
    Does ot necesarili mean armed conflict.

    In our case this would also not be feasible.
    It is important to understand where your power is, and use it in your advanctage. (Read David and Goliat)

    In venzuela’s case, it will be very hard to get the Cuban invasion to get remorseful and disgusted with killing more Venezuelans, agreed, but the Venezuelan agents of the occupation, the armed forces do have a weak spot, and that spot is their families.

    Messaging and values like those from MCM may erode the support of the armed forces “special ones” and in the diminished and diminishing loot and bribe scenarios, eventually trip the unstable equilibrium.

    We are controlled not only with arms and fear, but with greed and corruption. We manage to change te narrative with hope and love for country and perhaps courage springs from key players.

    Not being comeflor, just pragmatic. LEase Mandela, lease ghandi. Am I?

    • Now THAT is the most useful and thoughtful comment I have seen in awhile. LuisF should have been in the “private” meeting the Opposition just held.

  7. I’m disturbed by mixing up a Venezuela unique case and comparing with the USA (right to bear arms – don’t mess with my 1911 -, army, drugs, war, etc.) – the funniest piece is about the independence of Venezuela, did that ever happen?


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