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White House Faults Venezuela's Counternarcotics Efforts

Cooperation with Bolivia since October 2005 also a concern

Washington -- Venezuela has "failed demonstrably" during the past 12 months to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements, according to the White House.

Under U.S. law, the White House is required to compile an annual list of major drug-transit or drug-producing countries and assess these governments' efforts to combat illicit drugs.  The "majors list" released September 18 includes Afghanistan, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

A country's presence on the list is not necessarily an adverse reflection of its government's counternarcotics efforts or level of cooperation with the United States, but on September 18 the White House faulted Venezuela for not adhering to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.

The White House explained that the decision on Venezuela reflects the country's unresponsiveness to U.S. requests for counternarcotics cooperation, as well as the Venezuelan government's continued lack of action against drug trafficking through and within its borders.

"Venezuela's importance as a transshipment point for drugs bound for the United States and Europe has continued to increase in the past 12 months -- a situation both enabled and exploited by corrupt Venezuelan officials," the White House said in a memorandum.  "Venezuela has not used available tools to counter the growing drug threat."

The White House specifically faulted the Venezuelan government for not prosecuting corrupt officials in a meaningful way, not renewing formal counternarcotics cooperation with the United States, and not using judicial wiretap orders to investigate drug cases.  The White House also noted that seizures of illegal drugs transiting the country have dropped, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In 2005, Venezuela was also said have to "failed demonstrably" as a partner in the war on drugs -- in part, because it ended most air interdiction cooperation, refused U.S. counternarcotics overflights of Venezuela, curtailed military and law enforcement cooperation, replaced its most effective counternarcotics officials, and failed to implement its own money laundering and organized crime legislation.  All these problems persisted in 2006, the White House said.

Although countries found to have "failed demonstrably" in their counternarcotics efforts are, according to U.S. law, ineligible for many types of U.S. foreign assistance, the White House has expressed deep concern over the deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela and has issued a vital national interests certification that will allow the U.S. government to provide funds that support Venezuela's democratic institutions and political party system.

Bolivia

The White House also expressed concern over the decline in Bolivian counternarcotics cooperation since October 2005.

The White House noted that Bolivian government policies allowed the expansion of coca cultivation and slowed the pace of eradication until mid-year, when eradication efforts picked up.

Furthermore, the White House said that the Bolivian government's "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policy has focused primarily on interdiction, to the near exclusion of complementary policies on eradication and alternative development.

While the White House applauded Bolivia's efforts in seizing cocaine and decommissioning laboratories, it encouraged the government of Bolivia to refocus its efforts on eliminating excess coca, the source of cocaine.

This refocus, the White House added, would include eradicating at least 5,000 hectares, including in the Chapare region; establishing tight controls on the sale of licit coca leaf for traditional use; implementing strong precursor chemical control measures to prevent conversion of coca to cocaine; and the reforming or rescinding of certain laws pertaining to coca.

The White House plans to review Bolivia's performance in these and other specific areas within six months.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)