US officials say Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers are increasingly reliant on smuggling routes that move drug shipments to Europe via West Africa.
Venezuela arrested a group of suspected cocaine traffickers, among them four Nigerians, further illustration of the importance of drug smuggling routes from South America to West Africa, and then onto Europe.
Venezuela’s National Guard and anti-narcotics police reported detaining the six suspects during two separate operations, according to Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. The detainees were found smuggling cocaine on public transport, traveling from the city of Maturin to the eastern state of Delta Amacuro. This region is well known as a departure point for illegal flights heading across the Atlantic, as well as ships.
Venezuela reported seizing 45 tons of illicit narcotics in 2012, including some 27 tons of cocaine.
United States officials have said that Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers are increasingly reliant on smuggling routes that move drug shipments to Europe via West Africa. In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Andean regional director, Jay Bergman, said that the majority of drug flights that land in West Africa depart from Venezuela. In an apparent acknowledgement of the problem, last year Venezuela signed an accord with Nigeria, agreeing to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.
Nigeria, West Africa’s largest country, is an important transhipment hub for both cocaine and methamphetamine. One indication of the increased involvement of South American criminal organizations in trafficking narcotics to Nigeria came last year, when Argentine customs agents discovered a 530 kilogram cocaine shipment on a cargo plane bound for Nigeria. In another troubling sign of the growth of the South America-Nigeria connection, between 2011 and 2012 Nigerian officials reported discovering two methamphetamine production laboratories inside the country, as well as arresting several Bolivian nationals in connection to one lab.
Other countries in South America have also reported increased evidence of drug trafficking ties with parts of Africa. Last year Brazil made several large arrests involving traffickers attempting to smuggle cocaine from Sao Paulo to Angola.
By some estimates, 13 percent of global cocaine flows now move through West Africa.