Under its president, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has emerged as a primary source of drug-smuggling activities, U.S. Southern Command’s director of operations, Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson, said at a recent online press conference.
“Under Maduro, Venezuela has become a criminal paradise of impunity for narcoterrorists and drug traffickers,” Tiongson said during the briefing.
Joining Tiongson during the briefing was Ambassador Jean Manes, the civilian deputy to SOUTHCOM’s commander, who described how traffickers are adapting their modes of operation to circumvent port and airport closures caused by the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic.
Detection and targeting of drug traffickers operating out of Venezuela has increased by 80 percent during the past few years, Tiongson said. Those who are apprehended and caught are turned over to partner governments in the region for prosecution. He cited the recent homecoming of the Coast Guard cutter Hamilton, which was carrying 28,500 pounds of contraband narcotics when it pulled into port in Miami.
“All of this is really underscored or built upon our partners, our partnership capacities within the region,” Tiongson said. “Enhanced counternarcotics is just one piece. The humanitarian assistance program is another piece; security building is another piece. All of these pieces come together to make … a secure, prosperous and free Western Hemisphere, which I believe … is a goal of all of us in this region.”