• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Over one ton of cocaine was found on an Air France flight from Venezuela. The cocaine was packed in over thirty suitcases that were not registered to any passengers. As Toro, Miguel and others point out, all of the baggage security at Venezuela's biggest international airport is handled by the National Guard. It's obvious the Venezuelan military played a major role in trafficking these drugs because they were the ones who had to handle the bags.
The US has long accused various Venezuelan military officials of involvement in drug trafficking. These aren't idle accusations or politically motivated attacks against an antagonistic government. It's a legitimate problem in Venezuela. There are top military officials, at times called the Cartel de los Soles or Cartel Bolivariano, who are profiting from drugs, extortion, and money laundering. They use the chain of command to move drugs across the Colombian border and then out of the country.
The Venezuelan government knows it has an image problem with this Paris cocaine seizure. They quickly arrested three lower level Guardsmen, but is there any chance that higher level officials will be held accountable? Almost certainly not. There is no accountability in the Maduro government.
If the Maduro government were serious about cracking down on corruption, this military-cartel connection would be an obvious place to start. There are only three reasons for him to avoid it:
1) He's naive. [Nicolás Maduro] believes his own conspiracies and ignores or refuses to believe the more obvious explanations.
2) He's complicit. However, I haven't seen significant evidence to suggest Mr. Maduro is involved.
3) He's scared. Maduro knows the Venezuelan military is corrupted by organized crime, but is afraid to move against them because they could threaten his own power.
It's that third scenario that is most concerning. If Maduro knows about the corruption but is too scared to act, then that's a serious criminal-military challenge to Venezuelan democracy that goes well beyond the debate over the ideological legacy of former President Chavez. If Maduro doesn't actually control the soldiers and guardsmen and can't remove the ones he needs to remove, then any future government will face a particularly tough fight to reassert that civilian control.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.