A new study from Transparency Venezuela says that the country’s weak criminal justice system, made worse by the government’s cooptation of public institutions, is facilitating the activities of organized crime groups, particularly cocaine trafficking.
This is the first report of the Crimjust Project, a joint initiative from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Interpol and Transparency International. The report analyzed nine countries located along strategic cocaine trafficking routes moving through Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa. For its part, Venezuela — where laws that criminalize corruption and organized crime are rarely used — received the worst results.
“Total state control, promoted by the upper echelons of power through co-opting security and justice institutions [the Attorney General’s Office and Supreme Court], has been efficient for political control but not for confronting criminal organizations,” Transparency Venezuela said during the November 6 presentation of the report in which InSight Crime attended.
The study, which analyzed the integrity and accountability of the anti-drug unit within Venezuela’s judicial police (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC), the Attorney General’s Office and the criminal division of the Supreme Court, highlights how corruption has increased over the last 20 years under the administrations of former President Hugo Chávez and current President Nicolás Maduro.
InSight Crime Analysis
The lack of independence within the criminal justice system in Venezuela — documented extensively by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) — has created a situation of extreme vulnerability that criminal groups have taken full advantage of in order to continue operating with complete impunity.
Drug trafficking, specifically regarding the cocaine routes that were subject to the Crimjust study, has found “fertile territory” in a mafia state, where the active participation of public officials in this illegal and cross-border business prevents international cooperation and effective investigations that lead to criminal convictions.
In Venezuela, police officers, prosecutors and judges are appointed and removed through connections they have. That is to say, there is no stability in these positions, which makes them even more vulnerable to political and economic pressures. In addition, the lack of ethical training and protection with which they perform their duties makes them easy prey for transnational drug trafficking groups that generally have the resources to buy their laxity, complacency and even complicity, including directly involving them in criminal activities.
Although the results regarding the other eight countries included in the study (Ghana, Nigeria, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Peru) were not revealed, Zoe Rëiter, the head of the Crimjust Project, and Transparency International Director Mercedes de Freitas confirmed that Venezuela has the worst institutional capacity to combat cocaine trafficking.
In general, the United Nations, Transparency International, and Interpol recommended “attacking the problem at the root.” That is, to recover the independence and autonomy of the justice system. However, this amounts to a return to democratic institutions, which would only be possible with a change in the country’s political leadership.