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US Drug Report Stresses Problems in Afghanistan, Venezuela

The U.S. State Department's annual report on illicit drug trade worldwide, issued Thursday, said Afghanistan's opium production hit a record high last year while there was backsliding on anti-drug efforts in Venezuela and Bolivia. Iran's counter-narcotics efforts were commended. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The two volume report of more than 1,000 pages is mandated by Congress, and it sketched a generally bleak picture about soaring opium output in war-torn Afghanistan and backsliding in the fight against the cocaine trade in South America.

The report said despite four years of anti-narcotics aid to Afghanistan by the United States, Britain and others, the country's opium output jumped 25 percent last year.

It valued the illicit opium crop at over three billion dollars, a third of the country's total economic output, and said it has produced a surge in heroin traffic to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

Briefing reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Anne Patterson said the role in the opium trade by the Taleban is a particular worry for the United States, which believes that drug profits are funding attacks on U.S. and NATO forces.

Much of the Afghan opium crop is said to be shipped out through Pakistan, despite what were said to be several promising Pakistani anti-drug initiatives.

Patterson said of Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran has been the most aggressive in efforts to interdict the traffic in heroin, which she said is severely affecting Iranian society.

"They have the world's highest addiction rate," she noted. "It's some six times what it is in the [United] States, maybe more. They've been very active on the border in interdicting shipments coming in from Afghanistan. I think the Iranians view this, as well they might, as a major social and law enforcement problem."

The report said cocaine consumption in the United States has been on a decade-long decline, and praised the coca eradication and law enforcement efforts of the government of Colombia, which remains the source of about 90 percent of the cocaine reaching U.S. and other world markets.

However, Assistant Secretary Patterson said U.S.-backed anti-drug efforts in Colombia and the Andean region have pushed some trafficking flights and other smuggling operations into Venezuela.

She said while some U.S.-Venezuelan anti-drug cooperation continues, the government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has been noticeably less vigilant in this area than its predecessors:

"The Venezuelans for years did a great job on counter-narcotics, one of the best in the entire Hemisphere," she added. "If you grew coca in Venezuela, you went to jail. They vigorously enforced their laws. And frankly, that's all stopped, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me."

The report also criticized the performance of the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former leader of the country's coca growers federation who has advocated some legal uses of coca leaves.

It said while Bolivia's total coca cultivation in 2005 was only half of what it was in the late 1980's, initial U.S. estimates are that it increased last year and that the trend in Bolivia is "disquieting."

In Asia, the report said Burmese opium production continued to fall, but that the military-led government's efforts were still below international standards, and that Burmese rebel groups were a major source in the region for the synthetic drug methamphetamine.