U.S.: Venezuelan Officials Involved In Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Venezuela's left-leaning government has been at odds with the U.S. for years.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now federal prosecutors are investigating top officials in Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal reports suspicions that Venezuelan officials have let their country become a transit point for U.S.-bound drugs.
INSKEEP: They think this goes much higher than ordinary corruption. Juan Forero is one of the general reporters on the story.
JUAN FORERO: What investigators in the United States are saying is that drug traffickers are finding the situation where, you know, they can easily find cooperation from high officials in the Venezuelan government as well as in Venezuelan military. In other words, if you need to move cocaine through Venezuela, you need to grease the wheels. You need a partner. And in Venezuela, you can easily find that.
INSKEEP: So I'm trying to put a map in my head here. I'm thinking of Venezuela. It's there at the top of South America. It's next-door to Colombia. How exactly is it used as a hub to transport drugs to the United States?
FORERO: Well, I think geography is vital here. Colombia and Venezuela are at the northern tip of South America, both of them geographically strategic. Now what happened is that the United States helped Colombia, and Colombia very aggressively has battered the drug trade. Doesn't mean that it's over, not by a long shot. But certainly, drug traffickers can't operate with the same level of freedom in Colombia that they used to. They'd found much more cooperation, free space, in Venezuela.
INSKEEP: Is that open space in Venezuela because there's a lot of politically economic chaos?
FORERO: It does play a role here in the sense that now these prosecutors and investigators in the United States - the DEA and so forth - are finding that they have cooperants, meaning informers, ex-officials, people who know about what's happening in Venezuela who are looking for a way out and who are willing to go to the United States with information, and also drug traffickers. Drug traffickers are even turning themselves in.
INSKEEP: Turning themselves in and saying, I have a Venezuelan official I can give up?
FORERO: Yeah, that's not so uncommon. It sounds kind of far-fetched, but when drug traffickers feel cornered, they think, you know, I'm going to get killed, I'm going to get arrested or a rival is going to do me in. They're ready to make a deal. And if you've got information, the United States - well, when I say the United States, I mean prosecutors - are willing to listen.
INSKEEP: Well, how ferocious has the government's response in Venezuela been to this story then?
FORERO: What was interesting was that in the National Assembly, which is their Congress, all the assembly members backed Diosdado Cabello. He is the president of the assembly and the second-most powerful man in Venezuela, and he is the top target in these investigations. And so they basically spoke about how this was not true, this is not happening, that this is part of a cartel of media that is trying to destabilize Venezuela.
INSKEEP: What are the implications if, in the end, an indictment is unsealed and it says that a grand jury in the United States is publicly accusing a top Venezuelan official, or several of them, of felonies?
FORERO: Oh, I think it would bring relations between Venezuela and the United States to its lowest level ever. And Venezuela would also do its best to marshal up support in Latin America where it has found the support of countries as big as Brazil and as small as Nicaragua that have been allies of Venezuela and eager to take on the United States. So I think if something like that were to come down, it would be a very big international story.
INSKEEP: Juan Forero of The Wall Street Journal, pleasure talking with you again.
FORERO: It's a pleasure, Steve. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.