Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2005 —President Chavez confirmed earlier reports that Venezuela will suspend its cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States. Chavez accused the DEA of being engaged in espionage and drug trafficking. He made the comments during a press conference shortly after he cast his ballot for city council members.
Chavez assured that Venezuela would continue to combat drugs, but that it would do so without the help of the DEA. That is, Venezuelan officials would cooperate with other foreign drug enforcement agencies, such as those of Colombia, France, Spain, Russia, and China. “The DEA isn’t absolutely necessary for the fight against drug trafficking,” said Chavez.
The reasons for the withdrawal are several. Chavez mentioned that, “in the case of the DEA we have detected intelligence infiltrations that threaten the security and defense of the country.” Last week, Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel suggested that the DEA was violating Venezuelan sovereignty when he said, “We have freed ourselves from the DEA for now and so [the relationship to the U.S.] has improved noticeably. We are placing the relationship on the level of sovereignty, which had been very affected by the less than clear relationship with the DEA.”
Two weeks ago Minister of the Interior and of justice, Jesse Chacon, was the first to announce the break-off of the government’s cooperation with the DEA, saying that the DEA was operating above Venezuelan law and outside of the control or oversight of Venezuelan authorities in Venezuela. “The war on narco-trafficking will be conducted from Venezuela territory under parameters defined by the Venezuelan government and that means that no international organ is above the Venezuelan law,” said Chacon. “If the DEA wants to work with the Venezuelan government, it should do so under defined parameters or at least on the basis of a bilateral agreement that respects the principle of reciprocity,” he added.
Venezuelanalysis.com writer Eva Golinger reported late last June that internal Venezuelan government reports had raised concerns about the DEA for quite a while now. According to Golinger, “DEA agents in Venezuela have been involved in acts of sabotage, drug trafficking, infiltrations and violations of law intended to reflect poorly on Venezuela’s international reputation as a fighter of narco-trafficking. The reports evidence what has been proven in other parts of the world, that the Drug Enforcement Agency is used as yet another political tool of the United States government to promote its interests abroad. In the case of Venezuela, evidence demonstrates DEA agents have appropriated illegal drug shipments, bungling Venezuelan government efforts to seize and process drug traffickers, and have sabotaged numerous attempts to catch drug smugglers and traffickers.”
William Brownfield, the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, responded to these series of Venezuelan complaints by saying, “there is only one group that wins, and that group is the drug traffickers.”
Today the U.S. State Department also commented on the Venezuelan move, when spokesman Adam Ereli said, “If Venezuela did indeed go forward with severing or ending cooperation, that would obviously have an impact on deliberations concerning our annual decision-making process regarding Venezuela’s counter-narcotics cooperation efforts under the International Narcotics Control Act.”
In response to Venezuela’s accusation that DEA agents are acting improperly in Venezuela, Ereli said, “I think it’s pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself or not what they state is the problem. The motivation is an effort to detract from the government’s increasingly deficient record of cooperation.”
Venezuelan officials, though, deny that the Venezuelan government has been negligent in cooperating with U.S. officials and point out that drug interdiction efforts are up for 2004, relative to the previous years. For many years Venezuela has been an important transit point for drugs being shipped from Colombia to the U.S. and Europe.
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, despite the political upheavals that took place in 2002, "made progress in its overall counternarcotics program. Seizures were high in all categories, thanks in large part to the implementation of several new programs."