Venezuelan government officials under drug trafficking investigation

High-ranking Venezuelan government officials are under investigation by US authorities suspected of playing a key role in a drug trafficking and money laundering criminal network. Three federal indictments opened window onto accusations of ties between Venezuelan military and law enforcement officers and Colombian narcotics traffickers, a connection that officials in Washington have long warned about and that has been roundly dismissed by the authorities.

The investigation focuses on Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly President, accused of being the leader of a cartel operation trafficking cocaine to both the US and Europe. Cabello has emphatically denied that he heads a drug cartel composed of senior government and military officials and has promised to sue the local and international outlets that have published reports related to the investigation.

US authorities are using evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, informants once close to top Venezuelan officials, as well as defectors from the Venezuelan military, to build their case against Cabello. Apparently, the investigations have also resulted from a boom in drug trafficking in Venezuela, following the shift in operations by many Colombian traffickers after a government crackdown. Despite evidence, Cabello has denied the accusations and called them part of an “imperial” and “far-right” campaign to destabilise socialism in Venezuela. Moreover, he has promised to sue the local and international outlets that have published reports related to the investigation. United States prosecutors are on a slippery slope using the evidence they collected: Washington and Caracas have long had strained relations, making it unlikely that the authorities in Venezuela would hand over high-profile leaders if they were charged.

These accusations could add additional instability to Venezuela, a country afflicted by worsening economic crisis, inflation, high murder rate, and shortages of basic consumer goods. The fact that Caracas does not cooperate could be interpreted as a symptom of the sick political establishment that is closing the country within itself, condemning the intrusions of foreign states or external institutions in its domestic affairs.

Given that, it is important to underline that Venezuela would benefit from increased collaboration with Washington: Maduro seems to be having trouble imposing drastic political and economic reforms that could have positive outcomes for the population but potential negative effects on part of the Venezuelan leadership. In order to enact these radical reforms, Venezuela needs to recover from its disastrous economic state, eliminate resistance from the military, and opposing elite needs to be removed from the political establishment.

Apparently, the relationship between Caracas and Washington seems to show signs of rapprochement lately, as U.S. and Venezuelan representatives met in Haiti on 16 June. The ambiguous element of the meeting was the presence of Diosdado Cabello himself; he met with senior US State Department official Tom Shannon in order to work on the normalisation of the diplomatic relations between the two countries. After the meeting, Cabello declared to Venezuelan media that, as long as the Bolivarian government and its officials are respected and taken into positive consideration, the two countries could start re-establishing bilateral cooperation based on mutual respect. US representatives also described the meeting as positive and productive. Nevertheless, as several members of the US political establishment and civil rights activists highlighted, the fact that US representatives officially met with a man accused of being the leader of a major Venezuelan drug organization and suspected of gross human rights may be considered contradictory, ambiguous and contemptuous of those Venezuelan political prisones who are hunger-striking to protest against Maduro’s corrupted government.