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Colombian General Ties Venezuela to Major Drug Shipments

Colombian and American officials say nearly half of the cocaine produced in Colombia is shipped through Venezuela and mostly goes to Europe. Producer Zulima Palacio traveled to Colombia to examine the drug trade. Barry Wood narrates the story.

Colombian and U.S. officials say Colombia's multi-billion dollar drug trade is finding a new and easier path through Venezuela.

Perry Holloway is the director of the Narcotics Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. He says, "We have noticed a trend in recent years of the actual trans-shipment of cocaine -- after it is processed -- going over Venezuela's air space. There has been a reduction of about 70 percent in the illegal flights over Colombia in the last four years and most of that is shifted to Venezuela," Halloway said.

The U.S. and Colombia have worked together for years in the fight against illegal drugs in Colombia, targeting remote airstrips, eradicating isolated coca fields and intercepting clandestine drug shipments.

Eastern Colombia shares a long border with Venezuela. Most of the area is sparsely inhabited jungle region, where police have uncovered numerous illicit drug labs and elements of the guerrilla group known as FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia].

The head of Colombia's anti-narcotics police says 90 percent of FARC's financial resources comes from the production of illicit drugs. General Alvaro Caro Menendes says, "It is very easy for the drug dealers to produce the cocaine and move it to Venezuela, so they can send it through Africa in a new market for Europe. At this moment all the drug produced in the east of Colombia goes out through Venezuela. We believe it is nearly 40 percent of all the drug."

The Colombian and U.S. alliance has spent $5 billion in the past five years to combat illegal drugs. Authorities from both governments say they have seen a 30 percent reduction in drug production in the past few years.

Holloway says it is still worth about $50 billion a year. "If you look at how much profit you make at an ounce [28.35 grams] of this substance, there is probably nothing more profitable in the world."

Holloway says that 90 percent of the cocaine and most of the heroine found in the U.S. comes from Colombia. General Caro admits as much, but he says Colombia is not entirely to blame. "We are the drug producers. But it is produced and sold because there is a great population of consumers," he said.

General Caro calls Colombia's drug trade his country's worst nightmare. He says, without it, Colombia would be a nation at peace and enjoy greater prosperity and development.