Cocaine’s Flow is Unchecked in Venezuela
William Neuman in the New York Times:
Cocaine’s Flow Is Unchecked in Venezuela
LA MACANILLA, Venezuela — The Venezuelan government has trumpeted one major blow after another against drug traffickers, showing off barrels of liquid cocaine seized, drug planes recovered, cocaine labs raided and airstrips destroyed.
But a visit this month to a remote region of Venezuela’s vast western plains, which a Colombian guerrilla group has turned into one of the world’s busiest transit hubs for the movement of cocaine to the United States, has shown that the government’s triumphant claims are vastly overstated.
Deep in the broad savanna, one remote airstrip the government said it had disabled in a recent army raid appeared to be back in business. The remains of two small aircraft set on fire by the army had been cleared away. Traffickers working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which operates with surprising latitude on this side of the border, appeared to have reclaimed the strip to continue their secret drug flights shuttling Colombian cocaine toward users in the United States.
There were no signs that soldiers had blasted holes in the runway or taken other steps to prevent it from being used again.
For years, the United States has been working with friendly governments in Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and other countries in Latin America, spending billions of dollars to disrupt the flow of drugs northward. But because of antagonistic relations with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, the reach of American drug agents, and the aid that comes with them, does not extend here.
“Our airspace has been taken over,” said Luis Lippa, a former governor of Apure State who plans to run again as an opposition candidate in elections in December. Referring to the grip of traffickers on the border region, he said, “Our national territory has been reduced.”
A map of flight tracks made by a United States government task force using data from long-range radar makes the point vividly: a thick tangle of squiggly lines, representing drug flights, originates in Apure, on Venezuela’s border with Colombia; heads north to the Caribbean; and then takes a sharp left toward Central America. From there, the drugs are moved north by Mexico’s well-established traffickers.
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