[News] Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Fight Against Drugs

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 3 15:56:14 EDT 2008


Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Fight Against Drugs

On September 16th 2008, less than a week after 
Bolivian President Evo Morales declared US 
Ambassador Philip Goldberg “persona non grata” on 
the grounds that he helped foment political 
divisions in Bolivia, the Bush White House 
released its annual list of Major Drug Transit or 
Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries. For the 
first time, Bolivia was designated as having 
“failed demonstrably” over the past year to 
combat drug trafficking. According to the 
so-called “Majors List,” only Bolivia, Venezuela, 
and Burma failed to meet their international 
obligations in the fight against drugs, with 
Venezuela and Bolivia cited mainly for cocaine trafficking.

Venezuela has been on the Majors List for the 
last four years, despite having achieved the 
fourth largest number of cocaine seizures of any 
country in the world.[i] In early September, 
INTERPOL praised Venezuela and the officials of 
its National Anti-Drug Agency for their capture 
of an internationally wanted Colombian drug lord and his accomplice.[ii]

Bolivia has also earned the praise of the 
international community in recent months. The 
United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, in its 
2008 World Drug Report, notes that current coca 
cultivation in Bolivia remains “well under annual 
totals during the early and mid 1990s.”[iii] Time 
Magazine confirmed Bolivia’s anti-drug success, 
pointing out that “coca cultivation is under 
control and drug trafficking interdiction is up.”[iv]

Data cited by the UN demonstrates ongoing efforts 
by Bolivia and Venezuela to fight drug 
trafficking, and directly contradicts the claim 
made by the White House that these countries 
failed to meet international  standards. Experts 
have highlighted this discrepancy. “I’m not at 
all surprised because the drug certification 
process has been so tainted and archly 
politicized,” said Larry Birns, Executive 
Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC.[v]

Indeed, the decision to blacklist Bolivia and 
Venezuela demonstrates the Bush administration’s 
patent disregard for facts in its quest to 
demonize the governments of these two countries. 
In addition, it calls into question the wisdom of 
U.S. drug policy, which sponsors failed 
eradication programs abroad while doing little to 
reduce the huge demand for illicit drugs within its own borders.


  Analyses of the question of drugs in Latin 
America too often pass over the historical 
context of the region. In the Andes, the 
cultivation and consumption of coca leaves dates 
back over 4,000 years to the pre-Columbian 
civilizations. Coca leaves are chewed and used in 
spiritual and social settings, as well as for 
medicinal purposes in herbal teas and 
poultices.[vi] Communities have continued to rely 
on this traditional crop to help cope with the 
extreme environmental conditions in which they 
live, particularly the high altitudes.

Given the legitimate uses of the coca leaf and 
the historical importance of this plant in the 
Andean region, the use of coca-bush eradication 
as the primary means to limit cocaine production 
is misguided and ineffective. As part of its “War 
on Drugs,” the U.S. strongly promotes coca 
eradication in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia – the 
three countries which produce the vast majority of the world’s cocaine.

In 2007, global potential cocaine production 
reached 994 metric tons (mt), with 600 mt,  60% 
of total production, coming from Colombia, 
followed by 290 mt from Peru, and 104 mt from 
Bolivia. Colombia, the country with the largest 
cocaine production in the world, saw a 27% 
increase in coca cultivation between 2006 and 
2007, despite full cooperation with the DEA 
through Plan Colombia, a counter-narcotics 
program in which the U.S. has invested nearly $5 
billion over eight years.[vii] Meanwhile, Peru 
and Bolivia saw much smaller increases in 
cultivation, just 4% and 5% respectively.[viii] 
Despite massive U.S. spending on Plan Colombia, 
the initiative has largely failed due to its 
emphasis on aerial spraying and other ineffective 
eradication techniques. In 2007, coca eradication 
in Colombia simply led to the crop being planted in other parts of the country.


President Evo Morales of Bolivia has in recent 
years garnered media attention for advocating the 
legitimate uses of the coca leaf and the right of 
farmers to grow the crop for traditional reasons. 
However, he has not been the first Bolivian 
leader to do this. At a World Health Organization 
Assembly in 1992, then President Paz Zamora noted 
that “coca is an Andean tradition while cocaine is a Western habit.”[ix]

In 2006, after President Morales was elected, 
Bolivia destroyed significantly more coca 
maceration pits and coca processing laboratories 
(both used to create cocaine), than in previous 
years.[x] While the Bush administration accuses 
Bolivia of failing to fight drugs, the 2008 UN 
World Drug Report makes clear that cocaine 
seizures are actually on the rise in Bolivia.[xi] 
Seizures of cocaine in Bolivia have risen from 14 
tons in 2006 to 17 tons in 2007, meanwhile, Peru 
and Colombia conducted fewer seizures.[xii]

There has been a significant increase in targeted 
coca eradication in Bolivia; between 2006 and 
2007, the amount of coca crops destroyed went 
from 12,528 acres to 15,491 acres.[xiii] Still, 
President Morales has promoted the 
industrialization of legitimate coca-based 
products, such as tea, medicine, shampoo, and cookies.

President Morales has been successful in limiting 
coca crops grown for illicit use while permitting 
limited cultivation for legitimate use in small 
1600-square meter plots called catos. This policy 
has been successful in large part due to the 
cooperation of coca growers. Elmerjildo Chávez, a 
coca grower from the Yungas region, said, “we 
make sure no one is growing too much, and that 
our coca is being sold to people who sell it for 
traditional uses and not for cocaine.” By 
monitoring crop tallies and buyer licenses, coca 
grower unions are able to limit how much of the 
plant is being produced, while making sure that 
the coca leaves are sold for legitimate purposes.[xiv]


Quite different from the case of Bolivia is that 
of Venezuela, a country that does not produce 
cocaine but is vulnerable to drug trafficking 
because of its geographic positioning between the 
world’s largest producer – Colombia – and its largest consumer – the U.S.

In order to address these circumstances, 
Venezuela’s counter-narcotics efforts have been 
aggressive, making it the country with the fourth 
largest amount of cocaine seizures in the world. 
Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) 
has made policing more difficult for Venezuela by 
blocking the sale of chemical reagents needed to 
detect cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines, and 
instead requiring the country to produce its own 
reagents for drug enforcement.[xv]

The U.S. has also complicated Venezuela’s 
anti-drug efforts by imposing an embargo  on all 
military equipment containing U.S. parts. This 
measure has blocked the sale of anti-narcotics 
vehicles including Spanish patrol boats and 
Brazilian aircraft. Nonetheless, since 2005, when 
Venezuela ended full cooperation with DEA agents 
allegedly involved in espionage, cocaine seizures 
have risen from an average of 27.1 mt annually 
between 2002 and 2004 to an average of 43.2 mt 
per year between 2005 and 2007.[xvi]

In order to reduce cocaine smuggling in and out 
of the country, the Venezuelan armed forces have 
detected and destroyed 223 illicit landing strips 
so far in 2008.[xvii] Furthermore, Venezuela is 
installing seven Chinese-made radar stations 
throughout the country that will make it easier 
to detect and stop planes carrying illicit drugs.[xviii]


The U.S. remains the largest market for cocaine 
in the world. By UN estimates, 460 metric tons – 
or 46% of all cocaine – was consumed in North 
American markets  in 2006.[xix] U.S.-backed coca 
eradication programs (namely aerial spraying) are 
largely perceived by experts as ineffective, 
unfair. and discriminatory. This is because they 
fail to reduce coca production while negatively 
affecting the health and welfare of peasants, 
whose fields are sprayed regardless of whether or 
not they are involved in the cocaine trade.

The State Department already recognizes that the 
problem begins at home; the 2008 International 
Narcotics Control Strategy Report states that 
“the need for demand reduction is reflected in 
escalating drug use that takes a devastating toll 
on health, welfare, safety, security, and 
economic stability of all nations.”[xx]

With this in mind, reducing the enormous demand 
for cocaine within U.S. borders should be made a 
priority. Also, instead of funding ineffective 
and expensive crop eradication programs with 
taxpayer dollars, the U.S. could take a 
leadership role in anti-narcotics by funding 
programs to help countries better detect drugs at 
their own ports, locate and destroy drug 
processing facilities, and halt money laundering by drug traffickers.


The decision by the White House to label 
Venezuela and Bolivia as countries that “failed 
demonstrably” to combat drugs is a politically 
motivated one that lacks factual basis. Bolivia’s 
success in fighting drug trafficking has been 
well documented by the media as well as 
international agencies. Important in this 
struggle, though, has been the search to avoid 
dismantling the traditional practices centered 
around the coca plant in Bolivia.

Meanwhile, cocaine seizures have risen 
significantly in Venezuela over the past few 
years and authorities in that country have 
demonstrated their commitment to the fight 
against drug trafficking through initiatives such 
as the destruction of an unprecedented number of illicit airstrips.

In addition to these efforts, leaders in 
Venezuela and Bolivia have called for much more 
significant measures to be taken to diminish the 
demand for cocaine abroad. Both countries 
recognize that there must be a dramatic decline 
in the demand for cocaine in order for any 
permanent reductions in supply to be achieved. 
Instead of dedicating resources to ineffective 
and unfair drug eradication policies in other 
countries, the U.S. would be wise to increase 
efforts to reduce demand for cocaine and other 
illicit drugs through increased drug education, 
prevention, and rehabilitation programs at home.

[i] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations Office 
on Drugs and Crime. 

[ii] “INTERPOL lauds Venezuelan capture of 
suspected Colombian drug lord and accomplice,” 
September 8, 2008. 

[iii] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations 
Office on Drugs and Crime. 

[iv] “Bolivia’s Surprising Anti-Drug Success, ” 
Jean Friedman, Time Magazine, August 5, 2008. 

[v] “US Lists Major Drug Producing and 
Trafficking Countries, Names Only Bolivia, Burma, 
and Venezuela as Not Complying, ” Council on 
Hemispheric Affairs, September 19, 2008. 

[vi] “Coca: An Andean Cultural Tradition,” John 
H. Burrows, Center for World Indigenous Studies. 

[vii] “President Bush Vows to Fight Drug Trade in 
Latin America,” Online NewsHour, PBS, March, 12, 

[viii] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations 
Office on Drugs and Crime. 

[ix] “Coca: An Andean Cultural Tradition,” John 
H. Burrows, Center for World Indigenous Studies. 

[x] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations Office 
on Drugs and Crime. 

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] “Bolivia dice a EEUU que sus éxitos 
antidroga superan los de Colombia y Perú,” AFP, 
September 28, 2008. 

[xiii] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations 
Office on Drugs and Crime. 

[xiv] “Bolivia’s Surprising Anti-Drug Success, ” 
Jean Friedman, Time Magazine, August 5, 2008. 

[xv] “Venezuela to use nationally produced 
chemical reagents to detect drugs,” Bolivarian 
News Agency, September 2, 2008. 

[xvi] “Venezuela’s Fight against Drug 
Trafficking,” Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic 
of Venezuela. 

[xvii] “Venezuela destruyó 223 pistas 
clandestinas en su combate al narcotráfico,” AFP, September 11, 2008.

[xviii] “Venezuela’s Fight against Drug 
Trafficking,” Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic 
of Venezuela. 

[xix] 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations 
Office on Drugs and Crime. 

[xx] “2008 International Narcotics Control 
Strategy Report,” United States Department of 
State, February 29, 2008. 

The <http://www.veninfo.org/>Venezuela 
Information Office is dedicated to informing the 
American public about contemporary Venezuela, and 
receives its funding from the government of 
Venezuela.  Further information is available from 
the FARA office of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

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