Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jan 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Reporting from La Paz, Bolivia


The Last of the U.S. Drug Agents Leaves on President Evo Morales' 
Orders. The U.S. and Bolivia Are in a Bitter Dispute Over the South 
American Country's Anti-Drug Efforts.

The last U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents left Bolivia on 
Thursday after having been ordered out by President Evo Morales, even 
as Bolivian police report that coca cultivation and cocaine 
processing are on the rise.

Morales demanded the DEA's exit in November as part of a bitter 
dispute between U.S. and Bolivian officials that included his 
expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and the Bush 
administration's decertification of Bolivia's anti-drug effort.

The departure in recent weeks of three dozen agents ends the DEA's 
presence here after more than three decades. Senior law enforcement 
officials said it was the first time a DEA operation had been ordered 
out of a country en masse.

Officials in the DEA's office here declined to comment before 
leaving, although officials said this week that all of them would be 
reassigned to countries bordering Bolivia to continue monitoring the 
situation here.

During the agency's 35-year history, it has generally maintained good 
relations with host Latin American nations, which take advantage of 
its global intelligence network and training programs in the United 
States to fight traffickers.

Recent exceptions include Bolivia, where Morales has accused the DEA 
of engaging in espionage. Similar charges were leveled by Venezuelan 
President Hugo Chavez, who has reduced the DEA's presence from 10 to 
two agents since 2005 by refusing to renew agents' work permits.

Coca cultivation and cocaine processing in Bolivia are still far 
below the levels seen in the 1980s before Colombia began to leapfrog 
Bolivia and Peru to become the leading coca farming and cocaine 
trafficking country. Nowadays, Colombia produces about six times more 
cocaine than Bolivia, according to recent international estimates.

But the trend lines have counter-narcotics officials concerned. More 
than 7 tons of cocaine were seized here last year, quintuple the 
amount in 2006. There was also a 24% increase in the number of 
illegal cocaine labs destroyed and 55% more pounds of coca leaf 
farmed over the two-year period, according to figures kept by 
Bolivia's anti-narcotics police force.

There has also been an alarming "Colombianization" of lab methods 
used to produce higher volumes of cocaine. Bolivians arrested six 
suspected Colombian traffickers in the city of Cochabamba in May.

New evidence that more Bolivian cocaine is finding its way to U.S. 
and European markets has foreign counter-narcotics officials here concerned.

Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information 
Network, a nongovernmental agency that analyzes U.S. drug policy, 
said the decertification under former President Bush was based on 
erroneous and inflated data and that the Obama administration should 
reconsider the decision, which cost Bolivia millions of dollars in 
preferential trade benefits.

"It's important to note that the U.S. State Department's Narcotic 
Affairs Section, the much larger U.S. governmental agency that 
supervised DEA activities, has not been asked to leave, and bilateral 
drug control cooperation continues," Ledebur said. "The Morales 
administration has expressed a desire to redefine bilateral relations 
with the Obama administration, which will hopefully provide a 
framework for a more pragmatic interaction."

At a news conference Wednesday, Bolivian Foreign Minister David 
Choquehuanca said his government would like to renew ties with the 
U.S. and accept an American ambassador back into the country, now 
that President Obama has taken office.

Bolivian law allows the cultivation of approximately 40,000 acres of 
coca to supply traditional demand in this significantly indigenous 
country, where the chewing of coca leaves is an age-old custom. Coca 
tea is a common beverage used to mitigate the effects of high altitude.

But in recent years, U.S. and other foreign counter-narcotics 
agencies have complained that twice the amount of coca needed for 
traditional consumption is being grown and that the excess is used to 
produce cocaine. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake