The report, written by the paper’s correspondent in Caracas, Harriet Alexander, explains how despite widespread optimism that President Juan Guaidó would oust Maduro from power and instigate a transition to democracy, he has been unable to do so because of a “vast drug trafficking industry that has captured the state” and allowed the regime to retain power. Maduro has refused to vacate the presidential palace or hand over the military despite not legally being president since January.

According to some American estimates, a quarter of Colombia’s cocaine production travels through Venezuela, making it a key transit post in the global drug trade. However, unlike other countries affected by drug cartels and the brutal violence that accompanies them, such as Mexico and Colombia, the Venezuelan state apparatus itself reportedly leads the drug-trafficking efforts for its own benefit, rather than enabling or ignoring a separate drug trafficking organization.

In an interview with the Associated Press in June, the former head of the state intelligence agency (SEBIN) General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera explained how the Maduro regime was effectively a “criminal enterprise.”

“I never saw the country’s situation and the government’s corruption as closely as I did during my last six months,” he said at the end of June, having defected and fled to the U.S. “I quickly realized that Maduro is the head of a criminal enterprise, with his own family involved.”

Allegations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of the Venezuelan regime are nothing new, with Washington imposing sanctions against senior socialist officials as far back as 2008 when Hugo Chávez was in power. However, the former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Mike Vigil, told the Telegraph that production has “gone stratospheric” since Maduro seized power following Chávez’s death,

“Chavez allowed his generals and high-ranking officials to engage in drug trafficking,” Vigil explained. “He turned a blind eye. But when Maduro came in, the country took a sharp downward spiral, into the abyss of morality.”

“It was my opinion, and the opinion of many, that towards the end of the Chavez years Venezuela became a narco-state. Now, under Maduro, it’s much, much worse,” he added. “It’s gone from a narco-state to a mafia state; the government and military are no longer controlled by the cartels, they actually run them.”

Two of the regime’s most senior officials, National Constituent Assembly (ANC) leader Diosdado Cabello and Industries Minister Tareck El Aissami, have been sanctioned by the U.S. for their involvement in the Cartel de Los Soles (Cartel of the Suns). As well as siphoning off drug profits, the two are believed to have systematically financed the safety, training, and operations of Islamic and communist terrorist proxies including Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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