Drugs trial exposes Venezuela’s kleptocratic elite


When a US federal judge sentences two Venezuelan drug smugglers, perhaps later this month, it will mark the final chapter of a story worthy of the Netflix series “Narcos,” say analysts Daniela Castro Romero and Laura Weffer Cifuentes.

It’s got everything: Notorious revolutionaries, corrupt generals, informants and even Uzi machine guns. And a plot to move at least 800 kilograms of cocaine through the private hangar of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, with the expected profits to fund the First Lady’s run for Parliament, they write for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP):

The course of the New York trial was avidly followed from afar. “It’s unusual,” said Elizabeth Williams, a courtroom artist who illustrated the trial. In 37 years on the job, she said, she’s never seen anything like the online reaction the case sparked in South America. “This is a big case down there.” Cousins Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores were convicted last November in a Manhattan courtroom of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Their sentencing, originally set for March 7, has not yet been rescheduled.

The harsh treatment of political opposition in society, and the forms of torture that await them in the country’s overcrowded prisons, is a worrying sign for the year ahead in Venezuela, analyst Cecile Rossi writes for Open Democracy.

Civil society groups report that some 93% of Venezuelans don’t have enough to eat, recent surveys suggest, while the rate of homicides has reached historic proportions (right). The deepening crisis suggests that it is time for change in Venezuela, observers suggest.

Democracy Imperiled

Amidst Venezuela’s burgeoning economic and humanitarian crisis is continuing evidence of the erosion of the country’s democratic institutions, processes, and norms, the Wilson Center adds:

The independence of the judiciary and electoral institutions has been undermined and the opposition-led National Assembly has been completely sidelined as the executive branch continues to concentrate power. In these circumstances, what is the path forward to resolution of the deep and multiple crises afflicting the country?

Please join a panel of Venezuelan and U.S. experts to discuss current developments in Venezuela and options for a domestic and international response. The Venezuelan experts are in Washington, D.C. for an audience with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (OAS).


Mercedes de Freitas, Director, Transparencia Venezuela

Beatriz Borges, Director, Justice and Peace Center

Alfredo Romero, Executive Director, Forum on Crime

Laurie Holt, Mother of Joshua Holt, U.S. citizen detained in Venezuela

Michael M. McCarthy Research Fellow, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, American University Author, “The Venezuela Crisis and Latin America’s Future:  Toward a Robust Hemispheric Agenda on Democratic Stability.


Cynthia J. Arnson, Director, Latin American Program

Wilson Center – March 22


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