Photo: CNN retrieved

“There were pickup trucks crossing, with weapons and drugs (…) We’d be told the color and make of the truck, and the time of arrival, usually just after dawn, or at dusk.”  

He’s an anonymous low-ranking cartel employee and, according to this CNN report by Nick Paton Walsh, Natalie Gallón and Diana Castrillón, a defector from the Venezuelan military. His job, until he fled to Colombia with his family earlier this year, was to greet trucks carrying cocaine from Colombia and make sure they crossed safely to Venezuela, a task he had to perform as often as three times a week.

Once in Venezuela, the cocaine is taken to clandestine runways northwest of the country, flown to camps deep in the Central American jungle, driven to Mexico and finally sold in America. According to U.S. sources cited by the report, this process moves at least 265 tons of blow from Colombia to Venezuela every year, generating around $39 billion dollars, and a sizable part of that amount ends in the hands of Venezuelan government officials.

“Officials involved in combating the deadly trade describe a ridiculously profitable courier system for the Venezuelan government. ‘Drug smugglers are more and more exploiting the complicity of Venezuelan authorities, and more recently the vacuum of power,’ said one U.S. official.”

Once in Venezuela, the cocaine is taken to clandestine runways northwest of the country, flown to camps deep in the Central American jungle, driven to Mexico and finally sold in America.

The drug is harvested in Colombia, as evidenced by the CNN team in a helicopter flight, and then moved to Venezuela by drug dealers and guerilla groups like the ELN, through the thousands of trochas (clandestine roads) along the border.

“’The cars that crossed with both weapons and drugs were pickup (trucks),’ the defector told CNN, hiding his identity and location for fear of reprisals (…) Speaking in hiding with his family in Colombia, he said his senior officers provided precise instructions. ‘Everything was coordinated by the brigade commander. He’d send a lieutenant to tell you what needed to cross, and this was arranged high up above. Those who didn’t agree were swapped out… Automatically.’”

The Colombian military, aided by the United States, has turned illegal flights from Colombia into a memory from the past. In Venezuela, however, traffickers can use the many runways spread across the country (U.S. authorities estimate that there are around 50 only in Zulia) with the authorities complacency.

According to CNN’s report, most of the planes are bought by shell companies in auctions at the U.S., and then taken to South America where, in a very Barry Seal-ish fashion, former commercial pilots, hit by the bleak economic conditions in Venezuela, fly them to Central America.

In Venezuela, traffickers can use the many runways spread across the country (U.S. authorities estimate that there are around 50 only in Zulia) with the authorities complacency.

The process is dangerous, since pilots are forced to switch safety instruments off, and some 30 planes have crashed just in the last three months. But the operation is so profitable that it’s worth the risk. In fact, most planes are used only once, abandoned in the Honduran and Guatemalan jungles, left to be seized or destroyed by those countries’ armed forces, as the CNN team could confirm after visiting Honduras’ Moskitia region with an elite squad of the  Honduran Army.

The findings follow years of drug-trafficking accusations from the U.S. government against some of Venezuela’s most powerful figures who, of course, deny them. Furthermore, in November 2015, Nicolás Maduro’s nephews were arrested in Haiti while they tried to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine to America. They got an 18-year jail sentence for their trouble.

Now, former intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, accused of being a link with the FARC in this drug industry, has been arrested in Madrid and is allegedly negotiating with the DEA, using his load of intel as leverage.

For a more detailed account, check the full report here.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.