Two members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard–the state police–have been arrested after being accused of aiding drug trafficking by the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, run by the now-fugitive Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The two men have been identified as 43-year-old Vasily Kotosky Villarroel Ramírez, a former capital in the state police, and 32-year-old Robert Alexander Pinto Gil, a former lieutenant. Villarroel, authorities say, was involved in “permitting and making links between Mexican and Colombian cartels.” Pinto Gil, meanwhile, was in charge of “organizing groups dedicated to the illicit trafficking of drugs operating in Carabobo and Anzoátegui [Venezuelan states].” The two were allegedly linked to high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel that had been working to ship cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and the United States.
The arrests place a spotlight on Venezuela’s state police at a time when the Sinaloa Cartel is making international headlines, thanks to its leader’s escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico this month. Guzmán’s whereabouts are currently unknown after he employed a complex series of tunnels to escape police captivity. It is his second such escape from prison.
The two arrests are only the most recent ties uncovered between Guzmán and Venezuela. In November 2013, authorities destroyed a Mexican airplane in Venezuelan territory reportedly working to transport drugs from Colombia to markets in the north. The plane was found on the Venezuelan/Colombian border.
While the ties between Venezuelan officers and the Sinaloa Cartel specifically are new developments, suspicions have surrounded the highest levels of Venezuelan leadership for months. In particular, the nation’s second-in-command has been widely rumored to lead a rival drug trafficking operation. Diosdado Cabello, the head of the Venezuelan legislature, has been identified by a former security official for late dictator Hugo Chávez as the capo of the Cartel de los Soles, so called because of the sun medal that Venezuelan soldiers wear on their uniforms. Cabello is the highest ranking military official in the country. While President Nicolás Maduro has not been identified as having any involvement in the operation of that cartel, which is believed to traffic only in cocaine, some reports have speculated that Maduro’s presidential campaign was funded partially by money from the cartel, as many of his allies are suspected of working with the cartel, particularly those in the Venezuelan military.