Bolivia has turned to Venezuela as it continues its search for partners to replace the United States in providing anti-drug aid, in what may prove an unwise choice given that corruption is rife in the Venezuelan security forces.
The Bolivian government’s first request of its political ally was for helicopters, which will be used to strengthen Bolivia’s anti-drug forces by allowing the rapid deployment of troops. According to the country’s top anti-drug official Felipe Caceres, aerial support is key for the manual eradication of illegal coca crops, which are often in remote locations with no road access, reported the Prensa Latina.
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The plea for support comes shortly after the US announced the closure of its anti-drug office in Bolivia, bringing a tempestuous era of anti-narcotics cooperation to a close. The US-Bolivia relationship was highly strained since President Evo Morales threw out the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2008 after accusing the agency of spying.
It is unsurprising that Morales has turned away from US anti-narcotics assistance due to the political tensions between the two countries. However, while Morales may now be free of any political strings attached to that aid, Bolivia will struggle to find a partner that will provide the same levels of funds, technology, and expertise.
In recent times, Morales has turned to Brazil, Russia, and even Iran in his search for partners in anti-narcotics operations. However, the decision to increase cooperation with Venezuela is a worrying sign.
Venezuela has taken on an increasingly important role in drug trafficking over the last decade. This is partly due to the presence of Colombian narco-paramilitary groups such as the Rastrojos, and guerrilla groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
However, the biggest contributing factor has been institutional corruption. From the low-level members of the military that wave through drug shipments along the border, to the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns) — a drug trafficking network made up of high-ranking military officials — the Venezuelan security forces are far from ideal partners in tackling drug trafficking.