Pubdate: Sun, 25 Mar 2007
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2007 Stabroek News
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Guyana has been identified among those countries that serve as an 
"air bridge" to facilitate the direct flow of cocaine from Colombia 
to the Caribbean.

According to an article in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, US action 
to combat the flow of drugs has denied Colombia's traffickers a once 
thriving route to Central America and Mexico, but a new air bridge 
linking airports and airstrips in Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana to 
Hispaniola - the Dominican Republic and Haiti - has been created. 
Twin-engine Beechcraft King Air business planes are used, since, with 
the passenger seats removed, they can ferry three-quarters of a ton 
of cocaine per flight.

The article points to corruption in Venezuela as well as Venezuelan 
President Hugo Chavez's decision to sever anti-drug ties with the US 
as being a new cause for concern about the US's ability to win its 
war on drugs in Colombia. It noted that at a Caribbean drug summit 
last Friday in the Dominican Republic, Vene-zuelan officials 
acknowledged the drug problem and said they would use Chinese 
satellite technology and newly purchased Russian aircraft to combat 
traffick-ers. Haitian and Dominican leaders have already issued pleas 
for help in recent months to stem the flow of drugs from Venezuela, 
but to little avail. The US has criticized the Guyana government for 
its failure to go after major drug traffickers, but President Bharrat 
Jagdeo has said that assistance from Washington has not been enough, 
and nowhere near the scale of assistance given to Colombia. "We need 
help," he told a military officer's conference recently, while giving 
the assurance that "even with our limited resources we have been 
fighting drug dealers."

In its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State 
Department has noted that Guyana is a trans-shipment point for 
cocaine destined for North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. In 
fact, for 2006, domestic seizures of cocaine were found to be 
insignificant, owing, among other things, to the government's 
inability to control its borders, a lack of a law enforcement 
presence, and a lack of aircraft and patrol boats. As a consequence 
traffickers can move drug shipments via sea, river, and air with 
little resistance.

The report also noted that the Guyana government is yet to implement 
the substantive initiatives of its $600M National Drug Strategy 
Mas-ter Plan, which was launched almost two years ago.

The Los Angeles Times article cites US and Latin American 
investigators as alleging that Venezuela has become a sieve through 
which a soaring amount of Colombian cocaine moves annually by air and 
sea. "Venezuela's permissive and corrupt environment led to more 
trafficking, fewer seizures and an increase in suspected drug flights 
over the past 12 months," Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of 
State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, was 
quoted as saying in the article. "There is systematic corruption. 
Maiquetia is wide open," a foreign counter-narcotics official added, 
referring to the airport. Close behind are smaller airports and 
airstrips in Vene-zuela's Apure, Portuguesa and Sucre states, and sea 
ports such as La Guaira and Puerto Cabello, where tons of cocaine 
leave in containers or amid bulk cargo.

The US Embassy in Caracas estimates that the amount of Colombian 
cocaine passing through Venezuela en route to the United States, 
Europe and elsewhere has quintupled to 250 tons a year since 2001. 
Depending on whose total cocaine production figures one accepts, a 
quarter to half of all Colombian drug exports use this country as a 

Venezuela has always been a conduit for Colombian drugs because it 
shares a porous 1,300-mile border with the neighbour where most of 
the world's cocaine is manufactured. But a US-funded crackdown in 
Colombia has forced traffickers to seek new routes and international alliances.

US and Colombian officials also cite escalating corruption in the 
Venezuelan security forces and Washing-ton's deteriorating relations 
with Chavez, a vocal foe of the United States.

In August 2005, Chavez announced an end to a 17-year anti-drug 
agreement with the United States. He forbade Venezuelan officials 
from sharing any information or mounting joint operations with the US 
Drug Enforce-ment Administration, whose agents he describes as spies. 
In 2006, the amount of cocaine seized in Venezuela dropped by about 
40% after having increased every year since 1999, according to the 
State Department.

Cocaine seizures by Venezuelan authorities in the last two months 
totalled 4.8 tons, a number that critics find suspiciously low, given 
the size of single shipments seized elsewhere.

"Twenty-two percent of announced cocaine seizures last year, which 
totalled 55 tons, came as a result of luck - drugs discovered at the 
border or checkpoints," said one former high-level Vene-zuelan 
counter-narcotics official who asked not to be named. "As much 
movement as there is, the percentage should be much smaller. It shows 
the lack of investigation."

The State Department worries its successes in Colombia are coming 
undone. Since 2000, the US, through Plan Colombia, has spent $4 
billion fighting drug trafficking in Colombia. "We want to work with 
the Venezuelans," said Patterson, the Assistant Secretary of State. 
"But we haven't gotten very far in recent years, and their problem is 
increasing. That's the worrisome thing about this. Success in 
Colombia has basically led to a migration of some of this into Venezuela."
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