By Jason Shechter, Risk Management Advisor, SightSpan Inc. 
March 2, 2017

Venezuela’s Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, has become the highest-level public official to be sanctioned under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act[1]. The move by the US Treasury comes amidst a deteriorating situation in a country plagued by food shortages, hunger, crime, and growing instability.

El Aissami is believed to have been involved in the movement of large amounts of cocaine originating from Colombia. The drug is then alleged to have been shipped from ports and air bases in Venezuela to customers including Los Zetas, the notorious Mexican drug cartel[2].

Others named in this round of sanctions include associates of El Aissami who are alleged to have participated in the laundering of proceeds and in running the operation that facilitated the movement of drugs.

El Aissami, as well as President Nicolas Maduro, have since responded by describing the sanctions as a provocation and by promising to lodge a formal protest to the US government[3]. This should come as no surprise as the country has been a target for sanctions in the past.

In 2015, President Obama issued an executive order creating sanctions for certain individuals who are thought to be responsible for a dismal human rights situation in Venezuela, including members of the military, government, and intelligence community[4].

Human rights have been an issue in Venezuela since the Presidency of Hugo Chavez, who curtailed the press and used violence and intimidation to silence his opposition[5].

Previously issued sanctions, as well as widespread corruption and mismanagement, have caused Venezuelan society to face unprecedented crises. The country is experiencing significant economic instability which has contributed to a long recession as well as inflation[6].

The most worrisome issue currently affecting Venezuelan citizens is that of food shortages. A government program of food rationing has caused long lines and a scarcity of staples such as bread. Thus, hunger and malnutrition are spreading, and citizens have begun fleeing[7].

This instability is pushing Venezuela towards becoming a failed state. In these kinds of environments, organized crime syndicates, drug cartels, and even terrorist groups can thrive.

It will be incumbent upon law enforcement agencies and governments worldwide to help combat the threat these groups can pose.

By issuing sanctions and seizing the property of those involved in these activities, governments can do their part to prevent this instability from spreading and stop those involved from profiting as others suffer.