The U.S. State Department issued its annual report on the global drug trade Monday, saying that narcotics trafficking threatens the security, health and safety of people in the United States and around the world.
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David Johnson, says the illicit drug trade presents a global challenge that affects all nations where drugs are produced, trafficked or consumed.
"Consumption of drugs is an international phenomenon," said David Johnson. "The country, regrettably, with the highest usage is Iran, and has substantial efforts under way themselves to help deter this. But among the fastest-growing cocaine markets is not the United States. They are the ones in Europe. So it is a global problem."
Johnson says Colombia's cocaine production continues to decline significantly, even though the nation remains the largest coca-producing state in the Andes. Still the report highlights Colombia as a key international success story, saying the nation's decade-long effort to wrest control from drug-trafficking insurgents has been remarkable.
But Johnson says Colombia's neighbor, Venezuela, has not shown a similar commitment to fight drug trafficking.
"What I would say is that if you look at the evidence on the ground where narcotics are emanating from, transiting into the Caribbean or to Africa and then onward into Europe, you see an extraordinary path of particularly aviation exports out of the Venezuelan area next to the border of Colombia," he said.
Johnson says he has not seen a significant effort on Venezuela's part to stop that traffic.
The State Department report says Venezuela does not cooperate consistently with countries working to reduce the flow of illicit drugs. And it says armed groups in Colombia are linked to narcotics trafficking through Venezuela.
Two nations highlighted in the previous report as particularly worrisome - Mexico and Afghanistan - were again discussed this year.
Johnson says U.S. counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan has shifted away from poppy eradication to focus on alternative livelihoods, particularly in agriculture.
Johnson says narcotics trafficking throughout Afghanistan continues to present a challenge. But he says poppy production areas declined by about 30 percent between 2007 and 2009. Even so, Afghanistan produced more than 90 percent of the opium used to manufacture heroin last year.
Closer to home, Johnson stresses that the impact of Mexico-based drug cartel operations is felt in the United States well beyond the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The spillover, if you will, is more broadly into the United States," said David Johnson. "And some of the border communities can be, you know, not nearly as affected as some of the more inland areas are."
The report praises Mexico's President Felipe Calderón as well as the nation's police, judges and citizens for confronting the Mexican drug cartels. It points out that high-level traffickers were arrested last year and that Mexico is strengthening its police force with U.S. assistance.
In addition to the regions that are routinely associated with the narcotics trade, this year's drug report says West Africa, which had been largely ignored by drug traffickers, now serves as a major corridor for cocaine consumed in Europe.