Venezuela's Hidden History
by Moises Naim.
As the world debates between horror and admiration the changes imposed by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, other less visible but equally profound transformations are taking place in that country. Venezuela has become a major center of operations for the international criminal network. What attracts to these foreign traffickers the most of Venezuela is not its local market; what they love about it is the excellent conditions offered as a platform for managing their criminal business operations. Placed in a crossroads between South America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe, Venezuela's location is ideal. Borders? Long, unpopulated and porous. Financial system? Large and with government controls very easy to evade for those who need it. Telecommunications, ports and airports? The best that oil can buy. Levels of corruption of politicians, soldiers, judges and policemen? Venezuela occupies a shameful number 162 position on the list of Transparency International, which ranks 179 countries according to their level of corruption. Has President Chavez shown an interest into facing these international criminal networks in his eight years in government? Not much.
"In 2003, 75 tons of cocaine came from Venezuela; It is estimated that this year will be 276"While this situation has so far been invisible to the world public opinion, it has not for those fighting transnational crime. A ellos no les interesan ni Venezuela ni las políticas de Chávez, sino el hecho de que desde ese país se irradian al resto del mundo los tentáculos criminales de estas redes globales. They are not interested in Venezuela or the policies of Chavez but on the fact that from there, the tentacles of these criminals global networks irradiate to the rest of the world. Y los números hablan: en 2003 salieron de Venezuela 75 toneladas de cocaína; este año se estima que saldrán 276 toneladas. And the numbers speak for themselves: in 2003, 75 tons of cocaine left Venezuela; this year it is estimated that 276 tons will leave the country. Before, the main target was the United States and the Caribbean; Now Europe is the increasing target, with technical stops in African countries like Guinea-Bissau, where a community of Venezuelans and Colombians has recently emerged.
A senior Dutch police officer told me that he and his European colleagues spend more time in Caracas than in Bogota, and that many of the major heads of criminal cartels now operate with major impunity - and great effectiveness - from Venezuela. And traffickers are not only Colombians: there are also Asians and Europeans and even from Belarus, a country that President Chavez has paid particular attention and visited several times.
Venezuela also appears on all the lists of havens for money laundering. And money moves from Venezuela not only through electronic interbank transfers: the combination of private jets, suitcases full of money and diplomatic immunity has opened up new possibilities. Recently, a member of the so-called Bolivarian bourgeoisie or boliburguesía-new group of mega riches emerged in recent years was discovered in a customs office in Buenos Aires with at least one of these suitcases full of money. Discovered but not arrested because he was traveling with a group of senior members of President Nestor Kirchner. Just a few weeks ago, Uruguay denounced illegal trafficking of arms and ammunition provided by Iranians and Venezuelans who were trying to evade the embargo imposed on Iran by the Security Council of the UN. The Colombian guerrillas seem to have no major problems in obtaining the weapons they need, many of them through Venezuela. Someone sells them to them.
And, it goes equally well for the diamant people. A recent report by Global Witness and Partnership Africa said that "Venezuela is allowing a massive smuggling of diamonds and the country should be expelled from the Kimberley Process". The Kimberley Process is the mechanism sponsored by the UN to combat the smuggling of so-called blood diamonds. Venezuela is also in the first division of the illegal trade with people and is one of the countries which gives less protection to involuntarily human beings trafficked, specially Women. It is also a major hub for transhipment of Chinese and Middle East citizens en route to other destinations, obtaining a Venezuelans passport in a matter of hours. But never free.
The great paradox of this terrible story is that, despite President Chavez's constant denounce against globalization, the revolution has not been able to avoid that Venezuela is suffering its worst consequences. These criminal gangs are globalizing Venezuela. But this is a globalization that depends on corruption, crime and death. This hidden history of Venezuela may end up being much more important in determining the future of my suffered country than the experiment of Hugo Chavez.
UPDATE: The LA Times posted another translation of this article (I imagine much better than mine, so read it).