Venezuela Targeted by White House for Not Cooperating with DEA, Despite Steady National Progress

On Monday, the White House released this year’s list of problem countries in the area of drug trafficking and production, based on information tracked by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the memo, US president Barack Obama accused the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Myanmar of having “failed demonstrably” to cooperate with international anti-drug efforts. 

By Z.C. Dutka

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The DEA task force police are a controversial presence in Latin America (archive)
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Santa Elena, September 16th, 2014, (venezuelanalysis.com)- On Monday, the White House released this year’s list of problem countries in the area of drug trafficking and production, based on information tracked by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the memo, US president Barack Obama accused the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Myanmar of having “failed demonstrably” to cooperate with international anti-drug efforts. 

The full list of countries considered problematic by the DEA include Afghanistan, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, and Peru. However, Venezuela, Bolivia and Myanmar were singled out by Obama as unable to “adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”

In 2005, late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez formally halted agreements with the DEA on the grounds that the US intelligence agency was “using the War on Drugs as a mask for spying on our government.” 

Chavez also accused the agency of aiding select drug cartels and imposing military bases under the pretense of cooperation.

At the time, a US State Department official responded by claiming “the accusations that somehow the DEA is involved in espionage are baseless. There’s no substance or justification for them.” 

However, journalists for the online publication The Intercept, which serves as a platform for documents released by Edward Snowden, revealed leaked memos indicating  “a vibrant two-way information sharing relationship” between the DEA and the US National Security Agency (NSA), possibly implying the DEA aids the NSA with non-drug-related intelligence efforts. 

In 2008, Bolivian president Evo Morales expelled the DEA from his country for the same reason, insisting “there were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage.”

Increased Drug Seizures

Both South American leaders indicated their break from the US agency did not mean they would decrease their efforts against narco traffic, nor would they cease to cooperate with other foreign drug enforcement bureaus. 

Last year, the head of the Strategic Operational Command of Venezuela's armed forces, Major General Vladimir Padrino, noted significant increases in drug seizures since the DEA was booted.

According to Padrino, the total amount of drug seizures from 2006-2013 more than doubled the amount hauled in during the last six years of Venezuela's partnership with the DEA. 

The seizures peaked in the last year of the DEA arrangement in 2004, at just over 43 metric tons, official sources say. In the first year the DEA was absent from Venezuela, drug seizures totaled over 77 tons. Additionally, over 160 drug laboratories have been uncovered and shut down in the past 6 years, according to Venezuela’s National Anti-drug Office (ONA).

Last month, the ONA reported 52 tons of narcotics confiscated so far in 2014. However, since that time, the nation’s newly enforced anti-contraband contingent has made steady progress on the Colombian border, with 408 kilos of cocaine and 8 kilos of heroine seized from individual traffickers just this weekend.

Since August 11th the 2,200 km border between Venezuela and Colombia is closed from 10 PM to 5 AM, except for medical emergencies. This decision was agreed upon bilaterally in an August 1 meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, between the two nations’ presidents, in order to combat the illicit trade of food products and gasoline affecting both economies. However, the advanced security has dovetailed neatly into ongoing anti-narco efforts.

Powerful mafias control border smuggling, making the nighttime patrols a dangerous pursuit for the Venezuelan Armed Forces (FANB). On Friday evening, a member of the FANB was fatally shot in what is presumed to be an organized attack, by unidentified assailants from a canoe on the Arauca river, which straddles Apure state and the Colombian Arauca region. 

Despite the White House’s comments, former Venezuelan vice president turned journalist Jose Vicente Rangel last week claimed to have evidence that the DEA has continued clandestine efforts in Venezuela which, he says, have increased over the past three years.