Cocaine found on bus carrying Venezuelan militias

AP News
Posted: Apr 14, 2011 5:37 PM

Police seized 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of cocaine aboard a bus transporting members of Venezuela's government-organized militias, authorities said Thursday.

Federal Police Chief Wilmer Flores Trosel said the cocaine was discovered when the bus was stopped on Wednesday near the presidential palace in Caracas, where the militia members were slated to participate in an event celebrating President Hugo Chavez's return to power following a 2002 coup.

Five suspects, including the bus driver and his assistant, were arrested, Flores Trosel said.

The suspected smugglers "thought they would get through without being discovered," Venezuela's state-run AVN news agency quoted Flores Trosel as saying. "They took advantage of the fact that militiamen were traveling inside the bus."

Chavez marked the anniversary of the failed 2002 coup on Wednesday by rallying thousands of supporters and militia troops outside the presidential palace. That two-day coup ended when Chavez returned to power amid protests by supporters.

Venezuela is a major hub for drug traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine to Caribbean countries, the United States and Europe.

Chavez claims his government is doing everything it can to stem the flow of drugs through Venezuela.

U.S. officials argue Venezuela's anti-drug efforts have been inefficient, claiming Chavez's government has failed to crack down on corrupt officials who take bribes from smugglers.

Critics in Washington point to the case of Walid Makled, a reputed drug kingpin who has publicly accused high-ranking Venezuelan officials of involvement in cocaine trafficking.

Makled is currently being held at a Colombian prison. He's awaiting extradition to Venezuela to stand trial for drug trafficking and murder. Makled alleges he paid $1 million a month in bribes to senior Venezuelan officials.

Chavez calls Makled a liar.