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US Faults Anti-Drug Efforts of Bolivia, Venezuela and Burma


A White House report Tuesday said Bolivia, Venezuela and Burma have failed demonstrably to live up to international obligations to combat the illegal narcotics trade. But Afghanistan, the world's largest grower of opium poppy, was credited with making some progress on the issue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The determination by the White House that Bolivia and Venezuela have failed to uphold anti-drug commitments comes amid a broader deterioration in U.S. relations with the two South American countries, marked by ambassadorial expulsions last week.

But officials here say the timing of the critical drug assessment of the two governments was coincidental. In both cases, President Bush has exercised waiver authority and will not cut U.S. aid to either Bolivia or Venezuela.

The annual White House report on the narcotics trade is mandated by a 2003 act of Congress. It requires the administration to identify major drug producing and drug transit countries, and authorizes a cut-off of non-humanitarian U.S. aid to those states that have demonstrably failed to try to tackle the problem.

The new report lists the same 20 countries as last year, mainly in Latin America, as major drug producers or transit centers.

The two countries cited in 2007 for failed anti-drug efforts, Burma and Venezuela, were joined this year by Bolivia, whose president Evo Morales, once headed its coca-growers federation.

At a news conference, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement David Johnson said President Morales' support for some legal coca production for traditional uses has contributed to the problem.

"President Morales continues to support the expansion of licit coca leaf production, despite the fact that current legal cultivation far exceeds the demand for legal, traditional consumption, and exceeds the area permitted under Bolivian law," he said. "Much of the surplus coca leaf production is traded in unregulated, so-called legal markets and is diverted to cocaine production."

Johnson said Bolivia has had a number of effective U.S.-supported anti-drug programs but that government actions, including the expulsion of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel last week, have caused a significant deterioration in cooperation with Washington.

Venezuela was listed as an anti-drug failure for the fourth straight year. Johnson cited official corruption and a weak Venezuelan judicial system for a growing trafficking problem, with drugs passing through Venezuela reaching Europe via other transit countries in West Africa.

Johnson said Burma's military government has done little to deal with what has become Asia's largest illegal amphetamine industry.

"The military regime has made little apparent effort to curb production of the pills, and little effect to stop poppy cultivation," he said. "Their efforts to reduce demand, interdict drug shipments and combat corruption and money laundering continue to be lackluster."

The U.S. report gauges government anti-drug efforts, as opposed to a country's illegal drug output.

It said the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has made some progress despite the country's number-one ranking in opium poppy production, which occurs largely in insurgent-dominated southern provinces.

The report commends Nigeria, a major drug transit country, and India, a major opium producer, for their anti-drug efforts.

It also compliments the counter-narcotics efforts of Ecuador, even though that country's left-leaning government has ordered an end to U.S. anti-drug surveillance flights from an airbase there by next year.

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