The White House says that Venezuela and Bolivia “failed demonstrably” in anti-drug efforts in the last year. But while there are clear signs that these countries are growing drug hubs, diplomatic considerations played a role in singling them out for criticism.
On September 15, the United States released a memorandum listing the countries that are considered major drug transit points or narcotics producers in fiscal year 2015. The report singles out Venezuela and Bolivia — along with Burma — as having failed to comply with international counternarcotics agreements over the past 12 months, and states that supporting aid programs for Venezuela is “vital to the national interests of the United States.”
Of the 22 countries listed as drug producers or transit points, 17 are from Latin America or the Caribbean. The list has not changed since last year.
The latest report also flagged up heroin trafficking as a growing challenge, citing a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) study which found that heroin seizures at the US-Mexico border had increased 324 percent between 2009 and 2013.
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The report reflects not only Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s record in combating the drug trade, but also their left-leaning governments’ shaky diplomatic relations with the United States. Last year, Venezuela expelled three US diplomats on claims of conspiracy. Bolivia took a similar action in 2009, as well as expelling the DEA in 2008, accusing it of supporting a coup attempt.
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No such accusations are leveled against Colombia and Peru, both allies of the US, despite the fact that the bulk of the world’s cocaine supply continues to come from these two countries.
However, it is certainly true that Venezuela and Bolivia are hubs for the drug trade, and that the actions of their governments have contributed to this situation.
In Venezuela, corrupt officials complicit in drug trafficking make up a shadowy group known as the Cartel of the Suns, which has never been effectively tackled by the government. Last year’s seizure in France of more than 1 ton of cocaine flown out on a commercial plane from the military-run Caracas international airport, for example, implicated various members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).
In Bolivia, the continued over-production of coca is a point of concern, and the cultivation limit set by the government means that more is legally produced than is absorbed in licit uses of the leaf. The country has become an important regional transit hub for cocaine moved out of Peru by air, and hosts a growing presence of international criminal groups.