World News

Venezuela raids cocaine labs on Colombia border

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities raided eight drug laboratories near the Colombian border on Thursday, seizing 4.5 tonnes of cocaine in one of the largest hauls in recent times, the interior minister said.

Two Colombian traffickers escaped across the border when Venezuelan helicopters swooped on the site in the state of Zulia, officials said.

“This is one of the most important and biggest operations against illegal trafficking gangs in our nation,” Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami told state television.

Venezuela is a major transit route to Europe and the United States for Colombian-produced cocaine.

Accused by critics of leniency in the drug fight and collusion with Colombian rebels who depend on smuggling for financing, the government of President Hugo Chavez counters it has stepped up efforts against producers and traffickers.

It reported that 60 tonnes of drugs were confiscated in 2009 and says anti-narcotics operations have actually improved since cooperation ended with the United States in 2005 as bilateral relations deteriorated. U.S. officials dispute that.

Chavez, Latin America’s leading critic of Washington, frequently says consumption in the United States and Europe is the main factor driving the illegal drug trade.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by John O’Callaghan