Colombia and Honduras (CNN)Cocaine trafficking from Venezuela to the United States is soaring, even as the country collapses. And US and other regional officials say it’s Venezuela’s own military and political elite who are facilitating the passage of drugs in and out of the country on hundreds of tiny, unmarked planes.
A months-long CNN investigation traced the northward route of cocaine from the farmlands where much of it is grown in Colombia, and found that the number of suspected drug flights from Venezuela has risen from about two flights per week in 2017 to nearly daily in 2018, according to one US official. This year, the same official has seen as many as five nighttime flights in the sky at once.
Planes loaded with Colombian cocaine used to depart from Venezuela’s remote southern jungle regions. Now they take off from the country’s more developed northwest region to reduce their flying time, US and regional officials also said.
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 US official. Every shipment of cocaine from South America is so lucrative that the planes flown by traffickers are cheap in comparison; most are used only once and then discarded or set on fire upon arrival.