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Venezuela's narcostate

Another day, another deeply damaging whistle-blowing by a former Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal magistrate. Soon after Magistrate Eladio Aponte fled the country last month and aired a terrifying amount of dirty chavista laundry on TV, his one-time colleague Luis Velásquez Alvaray (above) did him one better, releasing detailed evidence about a court system that looks more and more like a criminal conspiracy.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: To lose one Supreme Tribunal magistrate may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

Together, the back-to-back interviews (broadcast by the Miami-based, Venezuelan-exile owned TV channel SOiTV) paint a picture of a criminal justice system deep in bed with the Colombian Rebel Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas, where political interference, crooked rulings, collusion with drug traffickers, and occasional contract killings, are entirely routine. The cocaine route out of Colombia, through Venezuela, and on to the U.S. and Western Europe is simply too profitable -- and the tentacles of the trade's millions have seeped into every corner of the system.

Coming from one-time trusted Chávez confidants in a position to know, these interviews strip away whatever veneer of legitimacy the chavista justice system might have enjoyed. But while Aponte's allegations were impressionistic though largely unsupported by documents, Velásquez Alvaray has had plenty of time to organize the evidence to back his allegations: He has been in exile since 2006, having fled the country after being tipped off about a plot to murder him. Two years after his defection, his top clerk at the Supreme Tribunal was found dead under strange circumstances.

The mounting revelations paint Venezuela as a budding narcostate -- a country where big-time drug trafficking money has not just bought this and that judge, or this and that prosecutor, but has taken control of the state as a whole. Large-scale drug trafficking is a business that invariably leaves a trail of blood on its wake, and a spate of recent contract killings of army officers alleged to be deep in the business raises the possibility of a Mexican-style drug war to come.

Alas, the analogy isn't really accurate. In Mexico, the drug war pits the armed forces against the drug cartels. In Venezuela, if the former magistrates are to be believed, the drug cartels operate from within the Armed Forces. And what do you call it when one part of a country's armed forces goes to war against another? That's right: a civil war.

 

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