United States “anti-drug” policy faces a major setback in Venezuela this week, and the drug warriors are loosening their ties as the heat rises. At the State Department’s press briefing yesterday, Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli responded to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s warnings on Sunday that Venezuela would no longer work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Chávez said that, far from abandoning efforts to combat trafficking and money laundering in his own country, his government had decided that – as Narco News has reported for over five years – the DEA’s war on drugs has nothing to do with actually shutting down the business, but is rather part of a strategy of political intervention in Latin American affairs.
Ereli’s limp response was to charge that Venezuela’s statements about DEA crimes are merely noise designed to distract from what he said was the country’s own increasingly poor performance on drug control, a claim which the U.S. government’s own past statements and reports show to be untrue. Ereli furthermore revived one of the U.S.’s oldest political weapons in the drug war, threatening to end Venezuela’s certification as a country participating in anti-drug efforts.
Ereli told the press in Washington:
Well, first of all, the accusations that somehow the Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in espionage are baseless. There’s no substance or justification for them. And as for reports that Venezuela is going to end cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Agency on fighting drug trafficking, those are certainly regrettable.
First of all, cooperating in the fight against illicit drug trade is beneficial to both United States and to Venezuela and failure to cooperate only benefits narcotraffickers.
Second of all, we, for our part, want to continue counternarcotics cooperation but I would note that over the past several months, we’ve seen a steady deterioration in the Government of Venezuela’s commitment on this front.
Looking ahead, I mean obviously, a decision—if Venezuela did indeed go forward with severing this or ending cooperation, that would obviously have an impact on deliberations concerning our annual decision-making process regarding Venezuela’s counternarcotics cooperation efforts under the International Narcotics Control Act.
If Venezuela has been “steadily deteriorating” in its anti-narcotics work, why are we just hearing about it now? U.S. officials jump at the chance to disparage the Venezuelan government, consistently repeating allegations with “no substance or justification,” by any standard, that Chávez funds Colombian rebel groups or engineers protests in Bolivia or any number of other claims. So why wasn’t the U.S. making a stink about this earlier?
The fact is that the U.S. has repeatedly, though without much fanfare, recognized the success of the Chávez government in this area, despite some law enforcement corruption problems similar to those that affect all countries through which narco-dollars move. Some key excerpts from the State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) for 2005:
Cocaine seizures during the first six months of 2004 equaled the amount seized in Venezuela during all of 2003, thanks in large part to two multi-ton seizures made by Venezuelan task forces that worked closely with USG and UK law enforcement. The GOV also carried out some 400 cocaine and heroin seizures during the first half of the year. Several important cocaine and heroin trafficking organizations were effectively attacked during 2004, and several important extraditions were made.
The GOV recognizes that drug consumption is high in Venezuela and is working hard to reduce it. There are dozens of private, state, and NGO demand reduction and treatment groups in Venezuela. These are organized into larger associations that meet and cooperate on a regular basis. By law, all private companies employing more than 200 workers must donate one percent of their profit to public awareness and demand reduction programs. There is no shortage of resources in Venezuela for demand reduction.
DEA and British law enforcement work closely with vetted GOV counternarcotics units. These units continue to be very successful, not only in seizing multi-ton loads of cocaine, but also in breaking apart the organizations that traffic drugs in and through Venezuela. The GOV affords complete operational latitude to these vetted units.
And as Gregory Wilpert reports in Venezuelanalysis.com:
According to the 2003 annual report of the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela, drug interdiction efforts in Venezuela increased dramatically when Chavez came into office. For example, the interdiction of cannabis more than doubled in the first four years of Chavez’s presidency, relative to the four years prior to his presidency. Also, the interdiction of heroin more than tripled in this time period.
The U.S. Embassy stopped posting annual drug control reports on its website in 2003. According to this last report, the Venezuelan government managed to improve its drug control work despite the political upheavals that took place in 2002. “the number of interdictions was high, to a large degree thanks to the implementation of a variety of new programs.”
As for the certification process that Ereli alluded to, the record is pretty clear that “certification” from the U.S. on either drugs or human rights is essentially a political exercise, meant to reward countries cooperating with U.S. interests and pressure those from whom the U.S. wants certain concessions. Colombia is a perfect example of this; see this interview with former Colombian Attorney General Gustavo de Greiff in the Mexican newspaper Por Esto!:
The government most interested and invested in the policy of the drug war and at the same time is its grand promoter, he said, is the United States government, which has used the policy to subjugate the countries of Latin America. On one end they use the “de-certification” process. De Greiff notes: “They’ve used this on multiple occasions as a threat when U.S. conditions that have nothing to do with the drug war are imposed, as was the case in 1995 when the U.S. Ambassador in Colombia conditioned that country’s certification on changes in a banana export agreement with Europe.” On the other end they use political and military intervention, more and more, to try and maintain domination and protect the warehouse of cheap natural resources for the United States.
(See also this 2002 report by Al Giordano on a typical case of certification hypocracy in Mexico.)
In fact, coincidentally enough, Colombia’s “human rights certification” has just been approved after nearly a year-long holdup (see this report at the Center for International Policy for more details). And after those chummy moments between Bush and Uribe in Crawford, Texas, you can bet Colombia ain’t gonna have too many problems with its drug war certification for a while either. Never mind that, among other things, the new “peace and justice law” in Colombia is essentially encouraging paramilitary traffickers to sell off their cocaine stocks, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to hold on to their profits while they legally reenter society.
On the one hand, the “de-certification” threat is a pathetic one, as it appeals to the old logic that a country had to bend over backwards to win approval from the U.S. in order to maintain international legitimacy. Chávez has been one of the principal people to break that trance, and such a move won’t faze him or his supporters. But read between the lines and there is the further threat of violence that Chávez has so often denounced and U.S. officials so indignantly dismiss. The United States has only ever denied counter-narcotics certification to two Latin American countries. One is Colombia. The other is Panama, and that certification denial was quickly followed by a bloody U.S. invasion.