Chávez Being Set-Up As “Nacro Trafficker” by CIA Obama, Republicans
Venezuela Accused of Becoming ‘Narco State’
A battle over the extradition of one of the world’s most wanted alleged drug lords has cast a lurid light on Venezuela’s escalating drug-trafficking problem and strained already fragile diplomatic relations in the region.
Walid “the Turk” Makled, who is being held in a high-security prison outside Bogotá, Colombia, accused of smuggling as much as 10 tonnes of cocaine a month into the US, has accused Venezuela of becoming a “narco state” under the presidency of Hugo Chávez.
Mr Makled, who claimed in a prison interview last week that he once had 40 Venezuelan army generals in his pay, has said he will reveal “all he knows” if extradited to the US. That would help “dismantle some of the most important drug networks in the world today”, according to Richard Lugar, a Republican senator.
Mr Chávez has, meanwhile, accused the US of wanting to use Mr Makled to take Venezuela to an international criminal court.
“The empire’s game here is to offer who knows how many opportunities to this man, including protection, so that he may begin to vomit out all he wants against Venezuela and its president,” he said.
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian president, has until this Friday to decide whether Mr Makled, a Venezuelan citizen of Syrian descent, will be extradited to the US or Venezuela, although he has promised to favour Mr Chávez’s request. Both countries have lodged formal requests.
The stakes are high. On the one hand, Mr Santos wants to secure a long-delayed trade agreement with the US. On the other, he wants to improve relations with his truculent Venezuelan neighbour, which collapsed under his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
Colombia became the US’s closest ally in the region under Mr Uribe and distanced itself from Venezuela. Now Mr Santos is attempting to adjust the balance, meeting Venezuela’s president for the third time on Saturday to sign co-operation agreements.
Meanwhile, many sources agree that drug trafficking in Venezuela is deteriorating. The UN’s 2010 world drug report said Venezuela had become a shipment hub for Colombian cocaine, and estimated that more than half the maritime shipments of the drug to Europe caught between 2006 and 2008 had originated in Venezuela.
At the same time, Venezuela is grappling with worsening violent crime, which is believed to be linked to turf wars between gangs involved in trafficking. The situation is compounded by official impunity, police corruption and a flourishing illegal arms trade.
According to UN figures, there are eight times as many murders in Venezuela as there were two decades ago, while kidnappings have also greatly increased, especially in areas bordering Colombia.
While the world’s attention focuses on the bloody drugs war dragging on in Mexico, the number of killings in Venezuela was greater last year than in Mexico, despite having about a quarter the population.
Even the government’s conservative estimates put the homicide rate at about 48 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world. Some estimates put the Caracas homicide rate at as high as 118 per 100,000, with experts saying that parts of the city are worse even than Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez.
While the government has stepped up efforts to address the issue – it is in the process of disbanding the notorious Caracas metropolitan police and setting up a more centralised national force – success in checking the crime wave has been limited.
Attempts to control cocaine smuggling have produced mixed results. Mr Chávez cut ties with the US Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005, accusing it of spying, although Venezuela continues anti-drugs operations with other nations.
Since then, Venezuela’s national drug office has reported an increase in illegal drugs confiscated, while the country has deported more than 50 trafficking suspects since 2006, mainly to Colombia and the US.