US Singles Out Bolivia, Venezuela Counternarcotics Failures

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US President Barack Obama has once again named mostly Latin American countries as being those most responsible for drug trafficking or production and has singled out the anti-narcotics efforts of the United States’ biggest political adversaries in the region for the most criticism.

In his annual memorandum to the secretary of State titled Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries, dated September 12, President Obama named 17 Latin American countries out of a total of 22 nations. He singled out Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela as the countries that have “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to the obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.”

There has been no change in the list from last year. The countries designated as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries are: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The memorandum did note “a growing international consensus that counternarcotics programs must be designed and implemented with the aim of improving the health and safety of individuals while preventing and reducing violence and other harmful consequences to communities.”

The new consensus was evident at the April 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), the “first high-level, global gathering on counternarcotics in a generation,” the memorandum says. It added that the United States would attempt to achieve “better balance” in drug policy by “expanding its domestic and international funding for drug treatment and recovery support programs,” and through “stepped-up promotion of effective alternative development programs for farmers and others who agree to stop illegal drug cultivation.”

In terms of recent developments, the statement says the use of heroin and other opium poppy derivatives as “the greatest worldwide drug problem today” and the “greatest drug threat in the United States.” It says most heroin found in the United States comes from Mexico, where poppy cultivations have increased from 11,000 hectares in 2013 to as much as 28,000 hectares in 2015. Although relatively small, there has also been some poppy cultivation detected in Guatemala and Colombia.

There has been barely any change in the routes that drug traffickers use to smuggle product into the United States. The statement says that cocaine is primarily transported by land, air and sea from producing countries in South America via Central America and the Caribbean.

Finally, the president highlighted Colombia’s 42 percent increase in coca crop cultivations between 2014 and 2015. Colombia is still responsible for most of the cocaine that is sent to the US. The Colombian government’s suspension of aerial eradication is seen as one of the possible explanations for this sharp increase in coca crops.

InSight Crime Analysis

Latin America is once again topping the charts as the region with the most involvement in drug production and transit, accounting for 77 percent of the listed nations. This is true despite the counternarcotics efforts of most of the countries named in the memorandum getting passing grades from President Obama.

Bolivia was singled out for criticism even though the UN has reported on the small yet successful decrease in that country’s coca cultivation over the past year. Bolivian Minister of Autonomy Hugo Siles has pointed out that since Bolivia expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the country in 2008, the United States has been “against the efforts and achievements of Bolivia with regards to drug trafficking.”

 SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

InSight Crime’s monitoring of the region indicates that neither Bolivia or Venezuela are major players in terms of the US market for illicit drugs. And it is unclear how Bolivia’s anti-narcotics efforts are any worse off than those of Colombia, which has seen a major boom in the production of cocaine for the US market. The countries appear to have been singled out for failing to play ball with US counter-narcotics officials or fall into line with US drug policy and strategy.

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