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Drug trafficking through Venezuela has skyrocketed, says US military chief

Admiral Craig S. Faller, of the U.S. Southern Command, testifies before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on July 9, 2019. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

Drug trafficking through Venezuela has increased dramatically and constitutes a threat to the security of the region, said the admiral in charge of the U.S. Southern Command, Craig S. Faller, after opening remarks at a Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Miami on Thursday.

“Maduro’s regime has facilitated narcotrafficking,” Faller told the Miami Herald. “There’s over a 50 percent increase of narcotrafficking in and through Venezuela, and Maduro and his cronies are lining their pockets, in cahoots with the illicit narcotrafficking.”

The admiral did not say in what period of time the increase has taken place.

Maduro’s regime, which the United States does not recognize, has replaced lost income from falling oil production with the proceeds of drug trafficking and other illegal activities, several Trump administration officials have said.

Faller, the military chief in charge of U.S. national security interests in Latin America and the Caribbean, also referred to the presence in Venezuela of dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army. Those “terrorist” groups, he said, threaten to destabilize democratic countries such as Colombia.

Under Maduro, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated to the point that almost five million Venezuelans have left the country, increasing the pressure on already troubled health, education, and social services systems in neighboring countries.

“When you have over a million people pour into your country, as Colombia has,“ he said, “that stresses those systems, and I applaud the democracies of the region for how well they’ve handled it, but more needs to be done.”

From 2017 to date, the U.S. Agency for International Development has allocated more than $600 million to the crisis in Venezuela, of which $400 million was directed to provide humanitarian assistance.

Just a few days before the conference, the Southcom military chief traveled to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, following the visit of the USNS Comfort hospital ship to those countries on a humanitarian mission. In total, the ship has visited 12 Latin American and Caribbean nations and provided services to 68,000 people.

“I visited the Comfort three times and saw firsthand the stress that the Venezuela crisis — now close to five million migrants — has placed on all the systems, all the governments, all the legitimate democracies in the region,” Faller said. “We’re here to talk at our Caribbean security conference about the security challenges that we all face. And some of those underlying root causes [of security problems] are exacerbated by all things Venezuela.”

Representatives from 14 Caribbean countries are participating in the conference, focused on supporting humanitarian missions, security issues, and regional efforts to counter transnational threats. Canada, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom co-sponsor the conference, to which Cuba was not invited. The directors of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Agency and the Caribbean Community agency responsible for security and crime control also attended the event.

Among the threats to the stability of the Caribbean nations, Faller mentioned corruption, drug trafficking, the activities of transnational criminal organizations as well as environmental catastrophes, such as Hurricane Dorian, which recently razed parts of the Bahamas. He also referred to the growing presence of China in the region, which the United States eyes with suspicion.

“Nations like China have legitimate economic interests around the world and in this hemisphere,” Faller said. “We are not here to ask anybody to choose partners, but we look at ourselves and our regional relations through the lens of nations that value democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sovereignty. And we ask you to make your own judgment on whether other nations stack up with those key values.”


© 2019 Miami Herald