U.S. Drug Report Criticizes Venezuela and Bolivia

The Bush administration once again accused Venezuela’s Chavez government of a lack of cooperation in the war on drugs, to which Venezuelan officials responded by saying that their drug inforcement has improved since ties with the US DEA were broken.

Caracas, March 4, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— The Bush administration once again accused Venezuela’s Chavez government of a lack of cooperation in the war on drugs, in a report released on Thursday. Venezuela’s Minister of the Interior, Pedro Carreño, responded that while Venezuela no longer cooperates with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) it has increased its drug interdiction.

On Thursday the U.S. State Department released its 24th International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR). In the report, the Bush administration sharply criticized what they define as a lack of cooperation on the part of Venezuela in the war on drugs. Bolivia was also targeted for its increased cultivation of coca. On the other hand, the report applauded the efforts of Colombia and Mexico in the battle against drug trafficking.

Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said an increase in trafficking was due to "Venezuela’s permissive and corrupt environment." She also mentioned a lack of "political will" on the part of both Venezuela and Bolivia. According to the Secretary, Venezuela has "demonstrably failed to adhere to its obligations under international narcotics agreements."

Interestingly, the report finds fault with Washington’s two biggest opponents in the region, Venezuela and Bolivia, while praising the efforts of its two closest allies, Colombia and Mexico.

Colombia, the largest producer of cocaine in the world, was commended for attacking the "drug trade and the terrorist organizations which profit from it." This statement comes in the wake of a huge political scandal in Colombia which led to the implication of various government officials for their connections to paramilitaries, forces known for their involvement in drug trafficking.

The recent resignation of Colombian Foreign Minister María Consuelo Araújo shed light on the high levels of penetration into the political and state apparatus that the paramilitary forces have in the country. The recent revelation of a computer of one of the paramilitary leaders showed a complex network that connects businessmen, drug traffickers, political leaders, and paramilitaries in almost every department of the country.

The Assistant Secretary also insisted that Mexico was "confronting the drug trade head on," although she admits that Mexico is still the "primary corridor for drugs entering the United States." The report also states that Mexico has seen an increase in methamphetamine production, drug related violence, and homicides in the last year. However, the report commends the work of the Calderon administration who just assumed the presidency in December.

The Venezuelan government, on the other hand, assures that it has continued to fight against the traffic of drugs in the country. In 2006, Venezuela ended its program of cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States, the DEA. In a climate of increased tensions between Washington and Caracas, Venezuela President Hugo Chávez terminated the program, accusing the DEA of carrying out acts of espionage in Venezuela in order to destabilize his government.

Nevertheless, Venezuelan authorities affirm that they have increased the capture of drug shipments and the detention of drug traffickers since breaking relations with the DEA. According to Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug office, drug interdictions increased from 43.2 tons in 2004, to 77 tons in 2005. For 2006 Venezuelan authorities captured 60.3 tons.

Venezuela’s Minister of the Interior and of Justice, Pedro Carreño, said on Friday that the Chavez government has no interest in cooperating with the DEA because it suspects it to be involved in drug smuggling itself. “We no longer continue to work directly with the DEA, since we have determined that via this organization a large quantity of drugs left our country by way of the delivery of confiscations, of which we were never informed,” said Carreño.

On previous occasions, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has answered U.S. criticisms. At the United Nations last September he held up a coca leaf and said, "This is coca. This is not cocaine," emphasizing that cultivating coca does not mean they are producing cocaine. The coca leaf is a staple of indigenous communities in the Andean region. "This is part of our national identity," he said.

And southern nations also have their own criticisms of the United States. Morales has made the point several times that coca is made into cocaine only because there is a huge demand for cocaine in the industrialized world. The majority of that demand comes from the United States. "I would ask the industrialized nations to understand that there is a necessity to reduce the demand. If we don’t, the cocaine trade will continue," said Morales.

Many South American leaders, including Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, and recently-elected President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, have also criticized the U.S. fumigation programs in Colombia. "They have spent huge sums of money on this, but what has been the result? Almost nothing," said Morales last September. "Repressive or military actions are not the solution."

Instead of spending so much money on fumigation activities in Latin America, they insist, they might better use this money for drug treatment and prevention inside the United States, the biggest market for drugs in the world.