Despite everything happening in Afghanistan, few talk about how the country is the largest supplier of opium. With everything those people have to go through in losing all their freedoms and human dignity and rights, add onto that having to live under the control of drug lords. We are in part 3 of what it is like to live in such city. This City is in Venezuela , on the border with Columbia.
By Maibort Petit
Casigua El Cubo is, definitely, a lawless town in which the voice of command is exercised by the Colombian guerrillas who act at ease in the area under the connivance of the civil and military authorities. A territory taken over by drug trafficking turned into the main economic activity along with smuggling, which have ended up feeding a part of the population plunged, like the rest of the country, into a tense crisis that translates into hunger and total helplessness.
In this third installment we continue to echo the few voices that dare to tell what happens there and that is vox populi, but everyone prefers to ignore what is happening around them because they need to protect their life and that of their family. Voices, then, that the authorities seem first to be the interested in keeping silent.
How do drug organizations work in the village?
(Another of the villagers who agreed to talk via facetime was Roberto, a Colombian who has lived in Casigua El Cubo for more than 20 years.)
From a very young age he was in contact with drug trafficking organizations and has been able to appreciate how things have been changing.
"Today," he says, "business is handled differently."
In this sense, he points out that since the Colombian government was forced to dismantle the big cartels,
"things had to be done differently. The scheme of work was changed, the behavior of the people involved and new direct bridges were opened with politics."
He warns that the transformations that took place make it clear that neither in Venezuela nor in Colombia
-will any politician dare to fight and exterminate the most lucrative industry known to humanity.
"As I say," says Roberto, "things didn't change for the better."
As the cartels entered a difficult stage, they created a new mechanism of operation that led them to divide the large cartels into small cells that are more complex in their operation, and as such, cost much more to combat. I can assure you that today the drug industry produces more money than in the time of Escobar himself.
He says that a part of the crops moved to Venezuelan lands and grew.
People in the industry spread in very tiny organizations, where bosses train employees to understand the process and take care of every detail. There is member training that includes advice to respond — efficiently — if they are caught by authorities who are not collaborating with the kingpins and their allies. It is as if they work in an extremely fragmented structure, where there are a small number of people who fulfill a specific role and always try not to attract attention. On these people there is a "designated" who, in turn, must mobilize to communicate with the route chief, who follows the same procedure to inform his superior.
In Casigua El Cubo, as in other towns near the border, mini cells of about 5 or 7 people who do retail business with several cartels work.
These mini cells establish contacts with other formal and informal networks that come together to do business on a temporary basis, in such a way as to avoid being discovered. They take care of and plan strategies so sophisticated and careful that they usually include what in management is known as "a business plan" in which elements are established ranging from organizational charts of safe routes for the transfer, to specialization in each of the phases of the criminal industry.
In fact, there are networks that call themselves independent workers, who negotiate with intermediaries, small amounts of drugs or services at reasonable prices.
These people often work with other networks in Colombia that in turn interrelate with those existing in other countries, with whom they establish joint venture-style agreements to do individual businesses that yield reduced profits that end up being attractive because of the frequency of them.
One of the ways that are also used at the present time is to work at the same time with several intermediaries, who in turn manage small portions of the market.
The cartels use independent networks that sell directly to Mexicans, who have the great structure to put the drug into "the great mecca of cocaine" that is the United States.
The market operates in such a way that the cartels sell the merchandise to other criminal organizations that guarantee the border routes.
With this trend, the drug industry employs more people in brokerage work and a percentage of the profit is blurred but, at the same time, the necessary complexity is guaranteed so that the anti-narcotics forces fail to discover the procedures followed by the criminals who introduce the merchandise to North America. That is, the existence of many heads that control more than 50 percent of the drugs that enter through the US border, or by sea, makes it impossible for the authorities to capture them. In turn, the profit produced by the deadly commodity is distributed in many hands that bid to keep a low profile and loyalty as a mechanism of subsistence.
Bosses build fortresses with unattractive facades Usually, big bosses hide in fortresses where they enjoy their great fortunes.
These are fortresses that are under the care of armed men who enjoy some privileges. They are structures whose exterior façade looks neglected and ugly, like an old abandoned house, but that inside overflow in luxuries, expensive objects and spaces where the capos lead a life full of excesses and lust.
Bosses also make investments outside the area of action. They usually buy small businesses, movable and immovable property in other states, try to cover the management of large rivers of cash with a layer of discretion, which guarantees the success of the money laundering operation.
People who enter organizations are prohibited from showing their "economic slack" on social media.
Wealth should be enjoyed in secret, out of reach of "curious eyes", especially the press.
The case of the former fire commander who put the mayor in check
Roberto assures that there was a case "that escaped the hands of the mayor and that cost her her reputation with the guerrillas." It was the arrest and prosecution of the former commander of the Fire Department of Casigua El Cubo, Jesús María Semprún municipality of Zulia state, Anthony Benito Medina Jaimes. This highly trusted official of Lucía Mavárez, was arrested along with four other men — José Gregorio Quintana Mejía, José Orlando Lozano Achuri, Gregorio Los Santos Prado and Ernesto Luis Prieto Romero — who were linked to the illicit transport of 400 bags of fertilizers. On June 25, 2015, at the Redoma El Conuco checkpoint of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) located in the municipality of Colón, Medina Jaimes and his four companions were arrested and charged with the crimes of illicit transport of controlled substances in degree of co-authorship, association to commit a crime, induction to bribery and embezzlement of use.
In the case file it says that at 5:00 in the afternoon, Lozano Achuri and Quintana Mejía, were going in two vehicles with 400 bags of formula 34-14-05 (fertilizers) to the town of Casigua El Cubo, when passing through the aforementioned control point, GNB troops stopped them to carry out an inspection.
During the review, the military noticed the aforementioned merchandise, so when questioned about the destination, they said that it was even a farm located in that town.
The military officers proceeded to confirm the information, but the owners of the property indicated that they had no knowledge about it.
Minutes later, former commander Medina Jaimes got out of a fire department vehicle in the company of Los Santos and Prieto Romero, and offered 40,000 bolivars to the GNB official to let them continue on their way with the merchandise.
Faced with this situation, the five men were apprehended and placed under the order of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Likewise, the shipment made from Maracaibo of rifles and weapons was made public on one occasion, and they decided to transfer them in the ambulances belonging to the Mayor's Office of the Municipality, whose head, as we have already mentioned, is Mávarez.
The curious thing about the case of Medina Jaimes – a person close to the mayor with whom he shares many of his secrets, according to Roberto – is that the man and his accomplices were transferred to the Maracaibo Municipality to be tried, and due to the efforts and influences of Lucía Mavárez, the former commander of the firefighters of Casigua El Cubo was returned to the Jesús María Semprún Municipality to pay his sentence.
"Here in the town you can see him on weekends drinking beers and enjoying a freedom that can only be explained thanks to the impunity and the system of complicity that exists between drug trafficking and the judiciary," says Marcos T, a former local government official to whom we promised anonymity.
Another witness, Manuel, claims to be a personal friend of Anthony's.
"He was tried in Maracaibo, sentenced to 30 years in prison and is now free, because the mayor pressed for him to be handed over and will pay the sentence in Casigua El Cubo, a purpose he achieved. We always see it out there as if nothing had happened."
Best Paying Jobs
For his part, Juan T comments that the mafias that smuggle drugs are the ones that have the most employees and move large amounts of money, "sometimes it is so much that you see boys with wads of bills in their pockets."
He assures that – even – people linked to his family have worked for the crops.
"It happens that there is no work, and those who meet do not pay almost walk. Many people have no choice but to join the mafias so as not to starve. It's like an opportunity to survive the economic crisis."
He says that currently the highest-paying jobs are those of coca leaf harvesting.
"They grab people from the village to take them to Tibú, about 20 kilometers from here. Young people are employed by the big drug traffickers who give them food, drinks. Yes, everything is free while they work collecting the leaves. Many stay working for a month and a half and then return them and pay a million pesos to the group, [an amount] that they would not earn or work 5 years in other jobs."
The government knows where the crops are in the Tibú area, the crops in the areas of Palma Diana, Coposa and the mountains.
All civil and military authorities know this here in Casigua, but no one acts because it is part of the compromise that exists for the drug business to continue its course, warns Juan T.
The same man says that he met a woman from the town named Josefina Barrera, "the husband was head of a route [and] as he did not deliver the money they went to kill him and then her.
It was appalling, but no one said anything, not even the press."
Juan T assures that "the Bolivarian National Guard, the Municipal Police and the mayor's office, escort the drugs and distribute the route.
I know that [because I've seen it] personally. The military has its routes, the generals , in 3 Bocas, where there are several routes. There is so much complicity, that I have seen when the mayor's office sends food, medicine to the guerrillas, and stops inside the ambulances of the firefighters."
"The drug is carried in ambulances and fire trucks, trucks of the mayor's office, with the support of the military," says this man who according to the sources consulted moves in the middle commands.
Juan T explains that the mafias use the form of the hitman to "put to bed the one who is left over or betrays" (give him death).
He comments that an ex-escort of the mayor named José Antonio Chaparro, was attacked by two hitmen when he entered his house in the Las Palmeras 2 neighborhood and without words they shot him four times. That happened months ago and still no one has given an explanation about this event. "Here it is like this. Nobody speaks, everyone sees, fear is the first victim, it paralyzes the whole people."
"Chaparro had told me," he says, "that the bosses sent a group that worked with the mayor to bed, because they had kept some real ones.
There was a big fight between two sides and Chaparro stopped being the mayor's escort and preferred to work on her own.
Demobilizing the Colombian guerrillas is a very difficult task to accomplish because there is a lot of money involved and, in addition, the guerrillas have dominated the territory on the Venezuelan side for many years with the support of the authorities.
Casigua El Cubo has become a guerrilla base of operations for many years, and today is key to sustaining the drug trafficking business, says Carmen, a professor who worked as a researcher at the University of Zulia and now lives in Bogota.
Carmen says that although Venezuela became the most important country to move drugs from the area of crops and production to the ports of shipment (air, sea and land), now "here coca is planted and the drug is manufactured in the laboratories that are hidden in the mountains."
He assures that there are many people who have died to cover the Bolivarian guard and the mayor's office.
"On the mayor's side," he says, "there are many casualties, usually people from the town who pointed to drug trafficking as a vehicle to escape poverty, hunger and misery."
"Thanks to the power they have accumulated, they managed to set up a camp where the drug is produced, distributed and the whole business is coordinated."
Everyone here knows, but nobody says they do anything. Here you can see vehicles of the mayor's office, including ambulances, transporting drugs and no one dares to denounce for fear of being shot to death, "says the teacher. He said that one of the largest camps in Casigua El Cubo is located at the head of Rio de Oro, and there hides the head of the area that, in general, usually changes from time to time.
The woman assures that on the day of the presidential elections that took place in April 2013, "I know that they grabbed the voting machines and took them to the camp and there the guerrillas voted.
They picked up people in Quibú and other localities to go and vote. The issue here is that there is an agreement and while the guerrillas give them the votes, they must give them public offices and protection."
The smugglers make theirs in the area
In Casigua El Cubo the mafias are varied.
Those of the drug are the most powerful and violent, however, the smugglers have a part of the power and are even able to change military of their positions.
With the crisis that Venezuela is experiencing, gangs have emerged that smuggle food and gasoline.
There are also those who are dedicated to the smuggling of clothes, Venezuelan bills, gold, weapons, car parts and other goods that move well in the market.
Carmen assures that she met in life the brother-in-law of the director of the Mayor's Office of Casigua El Cubo, Jhon Sánchez.
"One day when he was parked in front of a market, the hitmen arrived and killed him. No one investigated the motive for the murder, because the police knew it was a drug trafficking reckoning. Jhon Jairo Sánchez was part of the gangs, he used to ride a motorcycle through the streets of the town until he was killed in front of the Los Chinos market. The killers shot him 10 times in the head and chest."
He says that that day the market was full and there were many who saw the murder, but when the Zulia police arrived and asked the witnesses what the subjects who murdered the man were like, they all said they had not seen or heard anything.
It just so happens, he warns, that Jhon Sánchez also worked as an escort for Mayor Mavarez and was the brother-in-law of the mayor's director, Aureliano Sierra.
The Guard arrested some guerrillas and then he let go of them
A note published by the newspaper La Verdad, written by journalist Juan José Faría, tells that when the National Armed Forces arrested 10 foreigners for the conflicts that occurred on the border. The note states that the authorities were going to determine if there was a link between these people and the guerrillas. It was established that the commander "Abigail" would be one of the most powerful insurgents in the sector of Casigua El Cubo.
Later the journalist cites the statements of a lawyer from the municipality jesús María Semprún, who denounced that the presence of the Colombian guerrillas on Zulian soil is an old situation and an issue that everyone knows, but that nobody talks about.
"They're all over the place. They are the law. They don't kidnap anyone, but they control everything."
He points out that the guerrillas arrived in the town some years ago.
They settled there since the armed conflict forced them to leave the Colombian jungles. "Along with arriving, they were given a Venezuelan ID and it's here, as if nothing had happened." Later he highlights that "some residents linked Mayor Lucía Mavárez with the insurgents.
But no one says anything because several of them work for her and take care of her."
The complaints are varied.
According to the source, in Casigua El Cubo there is a sector called El Paseo de la Gracia de Dios, where several guerrilla commanders are in a small space. "The presence is such that the villagers know how to identify them. There are the militiamen. That's what they call the informants. They see what's going on in the village and go to El Cruce to tell the commanders."
The main objective is to sow terror with their presence.
In addition to the towns closest to Colombia, they are on small islands that form in the Catatumbo River. "There they form cambuches and several of them have been dismantled by the Army. That's where they find the drug labs."
The economic activity of the guerrillas depends on the trafficking of gasoline and the transfer of drugs.
"They don't kidnap. They are rather looking for the kidnapped, because it is the paramilitaries who take the cattle ranchers. A guerrilla can be hired as a hitman or to collect some debt," says the press review.
Among the guerrillas there are conflicts in which no one gets involved.
A year ago, commander "Yadira" was assassinated in El Cruce, a town near Casigua El Cubo. He was shot seven times in the head for a stash of drugs that was lost. A little earlier, and according to the source, Commander "Abigail", with his own weapon, shot Commander "Idael" and his militiaman, "Gordo Urdaneta", for the same reason for which they murdered "Yadira".
"Nobody gets into that.
That's their problem. That has nothing to do with anyone." But the mere presence creates fear. A teacher had problems with a neighbor and the visit of one of these insurgents was enough for everything to end. "They told her they were going to kill her, so she lost the piece of land she was fighting," the report by The Truth newspaper said.
The guerrillas who make life in the area, guard the traffic of gasoline from that area to La Pista, in the Colombian department of Norte de Santander.
They also move the drugs there. "They are paid by the farmers to take care of them.
They are like an insurer. The mere presence is intimidating. No one is going to confirm their presence because they are afraid." He assures that most of them, because they have a Venezuelan card, have legal businesses and have made full life in the South of the Lake. ParamilitariesThe paramilitaries also have their presence in the region, some are in Casigua El Cubo, but there are many in the El Guayabo sector, in the municipality of Catatumbo.
They are being pointed out for kidnapping agricultural producers and sowing terror. "The paramilitaries do not go to El Cruce and the guerrillas do not reach El Guayabo. " It has never happened that they kill each other, but there is a certain respect." The note from the Journal of Truth can be read in full here.
All the people we interviewed for this installment agree that the mayor, Lucía Mavarez, representative of the PSUV has not been able to move anyone from the post since she arrived in 2008.
According to them, the alliance with the guerrillas and the drug mafias guarantees his political position.
In the 2013 elections he won with 4,544 votes, and according to the low-sound complaints, a part of those votes came from the guerrillas who have an identity card and are registered with the CNE.
The candidates who challenged him for the position such as Gustavo Díaz or Gregorio Ramírez did not achieve their goal. Alliances weigh heavily when it comes to deciding who is the mayor of this town where mafias reign, said Jesus, a man who worked on the campaign and says he knows the reason why the elections are a mere brushstroke of legitimation. In the midst of this climate, Casigua El Cubo stands as a bastion of drug trafficking under the protection of political power and the Colombian guerrillas who, apparently, are here to stay and impose their law in this forgotten town in the southern confines of Zulia State.