The GAO Report on U.S.-Venezuela Drug Cooperation: Revisiting the Bush Policy of Politicization

On Monday, July 21, 2009 the U.S. Office of the Comptroller General Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report about U.S.-Venezuela Drug Cooperation. The GAO is considered an independent office that works for the United States Congress. This report however, is quite the opposite, and resembles something out of the political playbook of the hostile George W. Bush administration.

On Monday, July 21, 2009 the U.S. Office of the Comptroller General
Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report commissioned by the ranking minority member of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar.

Specifically, the report was "to determine 1) what is known about
cocaine trafficking through Venezuela, 2) what is known about Venezuelan
support for Colombian illegal armed groups, and 3) the status of U.S. counternarcotics
cooperation since 2002."

The GAO is considered an independent office that works for the United
States Congress. This report however, is quite the opposite, and resembles something out of the
political playbook of the hostile George W. Bush administration.

Some of the most egregious inaccuracies are below along with some

Myth: This report shows that the
amount of drugs transiting through Venezuela has increased in the last few years
and is largely a result of Venezuela's inability to fight drugs and cooperate
with other nations.

Fact: It is true that drugs passing through Venezuela have increased.
Venezuelan officials have repeatedly acknowledged this and explained that their
location between the region's number one producer (Colombia) and the world's
number one consumer (the United States) of cocaine makes for a dangerous
situation in terms of narco-trafficking.

It is not true however, that Venezuela has lacked the ability to carry
out counternarcotics operations or to cooperate with other nations on this
important issue. In fact, Venezuela has demonstrated its clear intention to
dismantle drug operations and work together with all interested parties, as
long as they respect Venezuelan sovereignty. This is demonstrated most
obviously by the 20 extradition orders, this year alone, that Venezuela has
honored with Colombia, the United States and other countries.[1] Venezuela has
also had successful counter-narcotic partnerships with 37 countries, among them
members of the European Union, and has increased its own activities in the
fight against drugs. United Nations figures show that Venezuela has the second
highest cocaine seizure rates in South America.[2]

Moreover, as the GAO itself points out, Venezuela has shown an increase
in the destruction of drug laboratories, drug seizures, and the destruction of
clandestine airstrips. On many occasions, Venezuela has also tried to work with
the U.S., as was the case last year when the two nations were on the verge of
reestablishing cooperation, thanks in large part to the initiative of U.S.
congressmen. Unfortunately, at the very moment that these talks were taking
place, the U.S. Drug Czar publicly attacked Venezuela, halting any possible
rapprochement on the issue.

Myth: Venezuelan interdiction
efforts have drastically fallen since U.S. drug officials (DEA) were asked to leave the country for spying in
2005, and the bulk of Venezuela-U.S. drug cooperation came to a close.

Fact: False. The GAO report, based on a flawed methodology, relies on
no new research and primarily on sources from the Executive branch previously released under the openly
hostile administration of George W. Bush. The few times that alternative
sources are mentioned such as the United Nations, their statistics and findings
are not actually included as part of the data in the report.

According to the United Nations, Venezuela holds the world's 4th
highest interdiction rate [3] and the GAO itself notes that Venezuela
intercepts about 29% of the drugs (mostly cocaine) passing through its
territory.[4] According to US government statistics, the United States
intercepts roughly the same amount of cocaine in its own territory.

Moreover, in UNODC's 2008 World Report on Drug Seizures, it notes that
during the last two years of Venezuela's cooperative agreement with the US on drugs, between 2003
and 2004, a total of 63,498.32 kg of cocaine were seized in Venezuela. In the
two year period directly following that, beginning in 2005 when Venezuela asked
the DEA to leave the country and chose not to renew a variety of joint
cooperation programs, statistics show that Venezuelan cocaine seizures actually
increased by 35%.[5]

Myth: The Venezuelan government
has extended a "lifeline" to Colombian illegal armed groups and provided them with support and
safe haven along the Colombian border.

Fact: The statements cited to back these incendiary claims up come from
U.S. officials under the Bush administration and Colombian officials that both have a political
interest in linking the government of Venezuela with the FARC. Moreover, the "primary sources" of evidence
for these claims, as defined by the GAO, come from the infamous computer
laptops "captured" by the Colombian National Army in March of 2008. The problem
of course, is that the GAO regurgitates the highly politicized statements made
by the Colombian government as if they are fact, when in all actuality the
contents of the laptops were never authenticated by any independent party. Interpol
said as much during their investigation of the events when they stated that
they had never analyzed "the content of documents, folders or other material on
the eight seized FARC computer exhibits. The accuracy and source of the user
files contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits are and always have
been outside the scope of Interpol's computer forensic examination."[6] Therefore,
the claims made as to what exists on these files are left solely up to the
Colombian government to decide.

Myth: Corruption linked to
drug-trafficking is rampant at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government,
including the ministerial level.

Fact: Corruption is still a problem in Venezuela, as in many developing
nations throughout the world. However, using outdated and politicized US government reports to
reiterate this claim provides no real sense of the situation and is just poor
investigation. Moreover, the only other sources referred to are entities that are
openly hostile to the government of Venezuela such as Transparency
International who ranks Colombia, where more than 60 legislators have been
labeled official suspects in that country's para-politics scandal, as less
corrupt than Venezuela. Finally, given the Colombian government's relationship
with the FARC, whom they consider a domestic terrorist group, the alleged
testimony extracted from FARC prisoners during closed interrogation sessions
should at a minimum be looked upon with some measure of doubt.


This report was leaked to the press before its formal publication, in
an obvious attempt by certain right wing sectors of the previous
administration, to set the parameters of the debate before Venezuela had the opportunity
to review it. According to the Venezuelan embassy, the GAO was made aware of
the situation but still refused Venezuela the right to access the report before
its official release date set for Monday, July 20th.

Although the GAO did not make any official recommendations, after
receiving the report, Republican Senator Lugar stated that the findings reflect
"corruption in that country's government" and "require at a minimum
a comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards Venezuela."[7]

The government of George W. Bush politicized all possible areas of
cooperation between Venezuela and the United States. As the Financial Times
points out, while paraphrasing Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, "the
main sources for the study – which describes corruption at the highest levels
of government as well as being widespread in the national guard – were from
within the former US administration, which enjoyed notoriously poor relations
with Mr. Chávez and even backed a failed coup against him in 2002."[8]

By using a mediocre methodology that relies solely on old information
and lacks a variety of credible sources, the GAO has done nothing but replicate this politicized modus
operandi. It is unfortunate that during a time when many saw improved relations between the Chavez and
Obama administrations within reach, the GAO has allowed itself to be used to
put forward a poor report that will only serve to sow more seeds of mistrust.


[1] Jones, Rachel. "Venezuela to Deport Top Italian Mafia Suspect."
Associated Press, June 23, 2009.

[2] "Venezuela Has Second Highest Number of Cocaine Seizures in South
America." Embassy of Venezuela in the United States, July 16, 2009.

[3] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. http://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2008/SEIZURE_Tables.pdf

[4] US GAO Report "Drug Control: U.S. Counternarcotics Cooperation with
Venezuela Has Declined," Government Accountability Office (GAO), July 20, 2009.

[5] 2008 World Drug Report, p.25, United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime. http://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2008/SEIZURE_Tables.pdf

[6] "INTERPOL's Forensic Report on FARC computers and hardware seized
by Colombia," Press Statement by Ronald K. Noble, Interpol Secretary General,
May 15, 2008. http://www.interpol.int/Public/ICPO/speeches/2008/SGbogota20080516.asp

[7] Chris Kraul, "Venezuela's anti-drug efforts fall short, U.S. says"
Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2009. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-venez-drugs21-2009jul21,0,3075773.story

[8] Mander, Benedict. "Venezuelan Slams US Report on Drugs," Los
Angeles Times, July 23, 2009. HTTP://WWW.FT.COM/CMS/S/0/6C69BF84-77CF-11DE-9713-00144FEABDC0.HTML