Early August, the President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela named alleged drug trafficker Nestor Reverol Venezuela’s Minister of Justice. Though on the surface unrelated, the circumstances surrounding Maduro’s decision interlace with Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis.
Mr. Reverol directed Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office (ONA) during the years of 2008-2010, when he allegedly tipped off cartels on upcoming raids, assisted them with money laundering, and crippled American efforts of arresting traffickers. Maduro appointed Reverol as Minister of Justice a day after the U.S federal court in Brooklyn publicly solicited his arrest. The charges were first privately made in January 2015. However, Maduro claims a different story: “As interior minister, [Reverol] broke the world record for capturing traffickers; this is why they want to make him pay—the DEA and all of the US drug mafias.” Maduro believes that Reverol’s experience in the ONA will strengthen his government’s controversial crime campaign.
Reverol is just another example of a leader in Maduro’s government who has been involved in drug trafficking. Just last year, Vassyly Kotosky Villarroel Ramirez, a former captain of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), was arrested for collaborating with various drug cartels such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. In addition, two of Maduro’s nephews were arrested on November 10th of the same year under the belief that they planned to import over $20 million of cocaine to the United States.
Drug trafficking is a symptom of a larger problem: Venezuela’s economic crisis. Venezuela has been going through economic chaos for over a decade, to the point where the country constantly experiences food shortage. A fragile economy like Venezuela’s opens up to the possibility of a lucrative drug industry. By 2012 Venezuela was ranked as 8th in the world for the most cocaine seized with connections to the country and U.S intelligence fears more cartels will route their drugs through the country. To make matters worse, in 2014 Venezuela had the world’s second highest homicide rate in the world even though the country is not at war—these peripheral homicides result from a number of problems, including dangerous exchanges within the illegal drug business and the violence that results from a starved population seeking alternate ways of staying alive.