The collapse of Venezuela’s regular economy has created dire shortages of food, water, medicine and power, and caused more than 10 percent of its 30 million people to flee the country. Yet the illicit revenue pouring in for Maduro’s clique appears to be increasing. A recent CNN report said drug flights from Venezuela had risen from about two per week in 2017 to nearly daily in 2018; it cited one U.S. official as saying there had been up to five flights per night this year. In 2018, an estimated 265 tons of Colombian cocaine, with a street value of $39 billion, was trafficked through Venezuela, the report said.

Another new study prepared for the National Defense University by Douglas Farah and Caitlyn Yates found that even while the Maduro regime sold 73 tons of gold in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates last year to raise cash, its reserves grew by 11 tons — the likely result of illegal gold mining, including by Colombian rebel groups based in Venezuela and allied with the regime. Those sales could have raised close to $3 billion, more than enough to fund the security forces and paramilitary groups still loyal to Maduro.

Farah and Yates describe the Venezuelan regime as part of a regional network they call the Bolivarian Joint Criminal Enterprise, a “consortium of criminalized states and nonstate actors.”