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Uruguay "continues to make counternarcotics policy a priority," report says

State Department's 2004 narcotics control strategy report cites progress in region

Posted: March 7, 2005
Related item: Uruguay among major money laundering countries, report says
Related links: > Uruguay segment of the State Department's report  
                       > State Department's 2004 International Drug Control Strategy Report (South America segment)  

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 issues.

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 in Colombia."

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 laws."

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 report notes.

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 observes.

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 Department warns.

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.


Lauren Monsen
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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