Officials ordered an investigation Monday into reports that Colombian drug traffickers seeking cheaper routes for U.S.-bound cocaine and marijuana may be financing local election campaigns in neighboring Venezuela.
Major Caracas newspapers reported Monday that federal investigators recently arrived in northwestern Venezuela, where a vast jungle border with Colombia has long served as a jumping off point for drug smuggling, to investigate the alleged payments to two leftist parties. The newspaper reports could not be independently confirmed.
If true, the reports would be another sign that Colombian kingpins, frustrated with Mexican smugglers who charge exorbitant prices for running drugs, are looking to shift more business to Venezuela.
The papers, citing local officials in the state of Zulia, said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was aiding the investigation. But the U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a statement Monday saying it “can affirm that no DEA agents have been in Zulia state during the month of December.”
Venezuela is a traditional transshipment point for U.S.- and Europe-bound Colombian drugs. But in recent years, up to 80 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States passed through Mexico, where traffickers often demand payment in kind from their Colombian suppliers: a kilo of cocaine for every kilo smuggled.
Tired of paying such high prices, the Colombians are increasingly returning to the Caribbean routes used during the heyday of the Medellin cartel in the 1980’s, U.S. officials say.