Venezuela Says DEA Stole Equipment

Venezuela's Director of Drug Enforcement said that the DEA had donated equipment for tapping cell phone systems to his agency, but that it later removed this equipment, despite several requests to return it. Problems with the DEA began in 2002 when a cooperation agreement was rewritten.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 18, 2005 —The director of Venezuela’s drug control agency, the National Commission Against Illicit Drug Use (Conacuid), Luis Correa, said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) removed equipment from the building it shared with Conacuid. Correa said the equipment involved 13 devices for tapping cell phone systems, which the DEA had donated to Conacuid several years ago.

Correa made the accusation to the press and to a National Assembly hearing yesterday. Jesse Chacon, the Minister of the Interior and of Justice, had also mentioned this issue during a press conference he held on Wednesday.

Correa explained that he had sent two letters to the DEA requesting the equipment be returned to his agency, but has so far not received a reply.

The governments of Venezuela and the U.S. have gotten into a dispute recently about their efforts to control drug trafficking in Venezuela. President Chavez accused the DEA of spying and of over-stepping its authority while working in Venezuela. U.S. officials rejected the accusations, charging instead that Venezuela was not cooperating well with DEA agents.

Minister Chacon pointed out yesterday, though, that despite the problems with the DEA, Conacuid and the National Guard have consistently broken records with regard to the volumes of drugs they have confiscated.

Correa explained that part of the problems the Venezuelan government was having with the DEA had to do with changes that his predecessor made in 2002, which enabled the DEA to act outside of Venezuela’s legal framework. From 1978 to 2002 Venezuela and the U.S. had a very fruitful relationship, but in 2002 the agreement was re-rewritten and special intelligence units were created, “that gave way to a configuration that violated a part of the country’s sovereignty, as the DEA was given functional and operational autonomy within Venezuelan territory,” said Correa.

Correa emphasized, though, that Venezuela has not yet suspended the bilateral agreements with the DEA, but that they are being revised, so that they fit within Venezuela’s current legal framework. “Venezuela welcomes all possible help in this area, always when it is adjusted to the internal legal norms,” emphasized Correa.

U.S. State Department Weighs In

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said today that one of the reasons the U.S. was dissatisfied with Venezuela’s cooperation on drug trafficking was that the Chavez government “refused to sign an agreement with the United States for the use of a cooperating nation information-exchange system to track trafficking movements of suspect aircraft,” said McCormack.

McCormack also stated that the certification of Venezuela as a country that is cooperating with the U.S. was coming up in September. That certification, if denied, would mean that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Venezuela, such as voting against any credit requests Venezuela makes with International Financial Institutions. Venezuelan officials, such as Minister Chacon, have indicated that they believed that the U.S. would decertify Venezuela, but that this decertification was not of much concern to them.

Asked if Venezuelan drug interdiction had suffered due to the poorer cooperation between the two countries, McCormack said he could not answer that question, but that what he is talking about the “political side of the ledger. And on that side of the ledger, we have seen some negative trends,” said McCormack.

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