The arrest of two major cocaine brokers will further sour US-Venezuela relations and tarnish Hugo Chávez's image.
The arrest of two major cocaine brokers, José Joaquín Montes Ovalles and María Lilian Castellanos Boveda, both of whom identified themselves as ‘top representatives’ of the FARC in emails to an undercover DEA operative, will further sour US-Venezuela relations and tarnish the image of Pres. Hugo Chávez.
Montes and Castellanos face charges of conspiring to smuggle 1,000 kilograms of the drug from airstrips in Venezuela to points northward. While Chávez claims he needs greater power over the ports and is surprised to learn that Venezuela is a major transit point for Colombian cocaine, in 2005 he suspended almost all counternarcotics cooperation with the DEA, claiming they were spies aiming to destabilize his government.
However, last September the two countries skirmished so badly over US Treasury Department (which controls the DEA) accusations that two top Venezuelan intelligence officials provided weapons and protection of cocaine shipments for the FARC, they kicked out each others’ ambassadors. This arrest further fuels those fires.
Extradition to the US is the Colombian drug trafficker’s greatest fear, and these two will be under extreme pressure to name their FARC and Venezuelan colleagues.
Growing evidence of cooperation by Chávez government officials with the FARC, a terrorist organization, could make Venezuela a state sponsor of terror – complete with draconian travel and investment restrictions. Although reliance on Venezuelan oil makes that possibility remote, you should watch this space for interesting repercussions.