Venezuela VP Named as Drug Trafficker by Treasury

Venezuela and the United States have, for a long time, had a difficult and contentious relationship. Going back decades, even before the inflammatory back-and-forth between the Bush and Chavez Administrations, these two fundamentally different political powers have had a hard time seeing eye-to-eye on nearly every major issue. This week, the relationship got worse when the US Treasury Department blacklisted one of Venezuela’s top leaders, Vice President Tareck El Aissami. The move comes amid claims that El Aissami oversaw narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) from Venezuela, some of which ended up in Mexico and the US.

Experts acknowledge that the move does little to promote tangible prevention of trafficking in the region, but insist that it signals a more realistic approach to dealing with countries with a reputation for high-volume international narcotics distribution. That the United States government is acknowledging that high-level officials in certain countries are involved in narcotics trafficking is, by itself, significant; however, it’s worth examining just how deep this problem runs and what the new administration plans to do about it, going forward. The sanctions levied against El Aissami include the freezing of his assets in the US and his restriction from entering the country. His US assets are reported to be worth an estimated $3 billion.

Recognizing and sanctioning high-level government-sponsored drug trafficking can be an effective move in a climate where much of the United States’ narcotics supply comes in from other countries. The State Department reports that growing cooperation to prevent international trafficking between the US and Venezuela had decreased considerably in 2014, following the arrest and subsequent release of retired Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal in Aruba, who was indicted in the United States in 2011 and 2013 for alleged drug trafficking. Venezuela’s  National Anti-Narcotics Office (ONA) reported the seizure of 65.76 metric tons (MT) of illegal drugs during the first eight months of 2015, a 132 percent increase compared to the same period in 2014.

In an age when drug addiction represents a pervasive public health issue not only in the United States, but across the globe, international cooperation and monitoring are key to curbing border trafficking. It’s important to remember that the drugs that originate in Venezuela, Mexico and various other countries very often find their way into New York, Indiana, Florida Texas, Ohio and the rest of the United States. Fighting this scourge may very well begin with taking a realistic look at the records and practices of our international neighbors, and acting accordingly.