Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jul 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul,  Reporting from Caracas, Venezuela
Referenced: The GAO report


A Report From the General Accounting Office Blames Corruption and Lack
of Cooperation With the U.S. for an Increase in Cocaine Trafficking.
Venezuela's Ambassador Calls It a 'Poor Analysis.'

A breakdown in anti-drug
cooperation between Venezuela and the United States has contributed to
an alarming surge in cocaine trafficking from Venezuela, according to
a report issued Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The volume of drugs passing through Venezuela more than quadrupled
from 66 tons in 2004 to 287 tons in 2007, the GAO said.
U.S.-Venezuelan counter-narcotics cooperation ended in 2005, as
friction intensified between the Bush administration and leftist
President Hugo Chavez.

Although Venezuela was already a major corridor for Colombian cocaine
before Chavez took office in 1999, the volume has increased to the
point that in 2007, one-quarter of all Colombian cocaine produced
passed through Venezuela, according to estimates.

The GAO said trafficking has increased in part because of Chavez's
alleged tolerance of Colombian rebels in Venezuelan territory and
because of widespread corruption in his military and police ranks.

"Venezuela is caught between the world's largest producer of cocaine,
Colombia, and largest consumer, the United States," the report
concludes. "Nevertheless, absent greater initiative by the Venezuelan
government to resume counter-narcotics cooperation with the United
States, U.S. efforts to address the increasing flow of cocaine through
Venezuela will continue to be problematic."

Venezuela denies it has failed to hold up its end of the drug fight,
saying that it only chooses to no longer work with the United States.
In an interview Monday, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Bernardo
Alvarez, said the report is "poor analysis that relies on old news and
slanted sources."

"It's another reflection of a Cold War mentality against Venezuela.
Colombia and the United States are exempted from blame. According to
the report, it's all Venezuela's fault," Alvarez said.

Venezuela seizes 28% of all drugs passing through, a higher rate than
the United States, Alvarez said.

Luis Fernandez, assistant director of Venezuela's anti-narcotics
police, said the country has seized 25 drug-ferrying airplanes and 30
tons of cocaine this year, and has invested in a $250-million Chinese
radar system to detect drug flights.

"We reject this unilateral report from a country that pretends to be
the judge of the world," Fernandez said.

The report was commissioned in early 2008 by the U.S. Senate Foreign
Relations Committee to look into allegations that Venezuela was
becoming a cocaine trafficking hub.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said in an e-mailed statement that the
report's details reflect "corruption in that country's government" and
"require at a minimum a comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards

In any case, the GAO report amounts to a harsh official condemnation
of what the U.S. sees as Chavez's failure to stem the rising flow of
drugs across Venezuela. American officials usually prefer to discuss
the issue off the record for fear of exacerbating already troubled
relations between the countries.

After hitting a nadir last year, when each country expelled the
other's ambassador, U.S.-Venezuelan relations have improved since
President Obama took office, and full diplomatic relations were
restored early this month. But the subject of narcotics is likely to
remain a thorny one.

In 2005, Chavez reassigned more than 30 agents who had received
training in the U.S., forbidding joint undercover sting operations and
recalling intelligence officers working in the United States. He has
also winnowed the number of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
agents by not renewing their work visas, referring to the agents as

Former Venezuelan anti-drug czar Mildred Camero said Monday that
once-excellent cooperation between the countries began to go downhill
after the short-lived April 2002 coup against Chavez, in which the
fiery president believes the United States had a hand.

The GAO report accuses the Chavez government of throwing a "lifeline"
to drug-trafficking Colombian rebel groups by affording them
"significant support and safe haven" along the border.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is thought to
control as much as 60% of Colombian cocaine production and
trafficking, the report says. In condemning Chavez for supporting the
rebel group, the report relies on the Colombian government's
representations of e-mails recovered in the laptop of FARC commander
Raul Reyes, who was killed by Colombian armed forces in a March 2008
raid into Ecuador.

Although Interpol declared a selection of the e-mails as legitimate,
Chavez denies giving the FARC refuge and claims the e-mails were part
of an elaborate disinformation program to discredit him.
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