Washington -- The countries of South
America vary widely in terms of their experience with the
illegal drug trade, and while many have made significant
strides against drug trafficking, serious challenges persist
in the region, says the U.S. State Department's International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2004.
The report is issued in compliance with
the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which requires the U.S.
president to annually submit to Congress a list of those
countries determined to be major illicit narcotics-producing
and/or narcotics-transit countries, and to assess those
countries' cooperation with the United States on counternarcotics
Released March 4, the report notes that
the Andean nations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia remain
the focus of greatest concern because the overwhelming majority
of the region's drug producers and traffickers are concentrated
within those three countries. According to the report, other
South American countries may serve as transit routes for
illegal drugs, but production is far less widespread than
in Colombia, Peru or Bolivia.
Despite "impressive gains against narcotics
trafficking in 2004," Colombia "remains a major
drug-producing country," the report says. The State
Department estimates that "Colombia is the source of
over 90 percent of the cocaine and 50 percent of the heroin"
entering the United States. However, under the leadership
of President Alvaro Uribe, Colombian authorities "prevented
hundreds of tons of illicit drugs from reaching the world
market through interdiction," while spraying the coca
and poppy crops that are used to make cocaine and heroin,
respectively, and performing manual drug-crop eradication,
the report adds.
The State Department points out that Colombia's
decades-old civil war is a troublesome factor that complicates
the nation's drug-fighting efforts. The "normal problems"
associated with fighting narcotics trafficking "are
compounded in Colombia by the presence of various illegal
armed groups that are fighting the government" for
control of territory, and these groups are largely financed
by the drug trade, as the report explains. "These groups
... control areas within Colombia with high concentrations
of coca and opium poppy cultivation, and their involvement
in narcotics is a major source of violence and terrorism
Although "drug use in Colombia is increasing,"
the Colombian government has responded with "a very
active demand-reduction program," says the State Department
report. But even with stiff hurdles to overcome, Colombia
-- with substantial U.S. government support -- "has
had significant successes" since its comprehensive
national strategy, Plan Colombia, was instituted in 1999
as a means of combating the illegal drug trade and rebuilding
Colombia's economy, the report observes.
The Bush administration is encouraged by
the results, thus far, of Uribe's aggressive approach to
fighting the drug scourge, says the report. "If the
[Colombian] effort is sustained and [U.S.] assistance bolstered
for the next few years, the trend of increased [drug crop]
cultivation and increased interdictions will continue,"
the State Department predicts.
Neighboring Peru is both a source of cocaine
and a transit country for illegal drugs. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that Peru is experiencing a rise in opium poppy
cultivation, and the State Department warns that "dense
coca cultivation is increasing in new areas outside the
traditional source zones" within Peru.
At the same time, there are some welcome
developments in the country that partially offset such worrisome
trends. The Peruvian National Police "eradicated almost
100 hectares of opium poppy in 2004," the State Department
says in its report. And "in a positive move,"
Peru's Congress "passed a new law to control precursor
chemicals used in cocaine processing, which will go into
effect in 2005," the report says. "Less positive
is the increased support by members of [Peru's] Congress"
for coca farmers' demands "for more permissive coca
Meanwhile, Bolivia is also working to curb
illicit drug production and trafficking, often in the face
of steep obstacles. In 2004, the government of Bolivian
President Carlos Diego Mesa reaffirmed its commitment to
longstanding counternarcotics policies, says the report.
Some coca farmers in Bolivia's Chapare region
have successfully converted to other crops through alternative
development programs. From 2001 through 2004, however, "there
has been a steady increase in coca cultivation" in
the region, and Bolivia "is also now a significant
transit country for Peruvian and Colombian cocaine, since
its borders run along the most remote and least controlled
territories of its five neighboring countries," the
The State Department suggests that political
instability and persistent poverty are the main obstacles
to enforcing the rule of law in Bolivia. While "the
Mesa administration solidly supports both forced [drug crop]
eradication ... and aggressive interdiction," the impact
of a volatile political environment on "the Bolivian
government's ability -- or even its willingness -- to fulfill
its [counter-drug] obligations over the coming years ...
is difficult to predict," the report concludes.
Other South American nations are used primarily
as transit points for drug shipments, and are generally
not major drug-producing countries. The Argentine government
has taken concrete steps toward combating narcotics trafficking
and consumption, and cooperation between the U.S. government
and Argentine authorities, "both federal and provincial,
continued to be excellent in 2004," the State Department
Similarly, "bilateral cooperation on
counternarcotics" between the United States and Brazil
"has never been better," says the report. And
though "Brazil is a major transit country for illicit
drugs shipped to Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United
States," Brazil works closely with its South American
neighbors "in an attempt to control the remote and
expansive border areas through which illicit drugs are transported,"
the report finds.
The United States also actively assists
Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela in their
counternarcotics efforts. Each country has a unique set
of circumstances and needs, and none is a major producer
of illegal drugs. U.S. support for Chile is focused mainly
on the nation's criminal justice system reforms, enhancing
police investigation and intelligence capabilities, reduction
programs, and anti-money-laundering initiatives. At the
same time, the report indicates, the United States "is
helping the government of Ecuador to strengthen the rule
of law and to improve civil security," and "special
emphasis will be given to the detection and prosecution
of money laundering, expanded training of police, prosecutors,
and judges, and the interdiction of illicit chemical precursors"
for narcotics production.
In Paraguay -- a transit country for Colombian,
Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine destined for Argentina, Brazil,
Europe and Africa -- "combating official corruption
remains a considerable challenge" for the government,
the report notes. Here, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
continues to work with Paraguay's Anti-Drug Secretariat,
"providing guidance on operations and investigations,"
says the State Department.
Uruguay's strategic location and increased
poverty after a recent recession renders it vulnerable to
infiltration by foreign drug traffickers. Yet Uruguay "continues
to make counternarcotics policy a priority," the report
says. The United States looks forward to continued cooperation
with Uruguay, and hopes to assist the new Uruguayan government
in tightening the country's sea, air, and land border controls,
in educating the public about drugs, and in providing counternarcotics
enforcement training, the report adds.
Venezuela shares a border with Colombia
-- and for this reason, Colombian drug cartels and other
smugglers "routinely exploit a variety of routes and
methods to move hundreds of tons of illegal drugs into Venezuela
every year," says the State Department report. Cocaine
is smuggled from Venezuela to the United States and Europe,
and Venezuela also produces a small amount of opium poppy
and coca leaf along its border with Colombia.
In the State Department's assessment, the
administration of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has
a mixed record on combating illegal drugs. "Cocaine
seizures during the first six months of 2004 equaled the
amount seized in Venezuela during all of 2003," but
"corruption in [Venezuela's] law enforcement facilitated
some narcotics trafficking; at the judicial level, it sometimes
impeded investigations and prosecutions," the State
In 2005, says the State Department, the
U.S. government "plans to expand its [counter-drug]
support" to Venezuela, and the Bush administration
urges Venezuelan authorities to define and criminalize such
activities as money laundering, official corruption, and
illicit enrichment, and to crack down on document fraud,
enforce court-ordered wiretaps, and conduct drug-crop eradication
efforts "at least annually."
The full text of the South America segment
of the State Department's International Drug Control Strategy
Report for 2004 can be viewed online at: http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2005/vol1/html/42363.htm.
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
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