Bolivia, the world’s third-largest cocaine producer, is blocking US efforts to combat the drug trade, the top White House drug policy official said on Friday in Washington’s latest dig at leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales.
“Bolivia’s done a very bad job,” John Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters while on a visit to Mexico City.
“The Bolivian government has not made any ... reasonable effort to combat cocaine trafficking despite our efforts to continue to engage,” he said.
Last month, Washington for the first time put Bolivia — along with Venezuela and Myanmar — on a list of countries that have failed to help in the fight against illegal drug trafficking, but said it would not cut off bilateral aid to the Andean country.
Walters’ comments could further strain US-Bolivian relations after Morales expelled the US ambassador last month, accusing him of fomenting opposition protests.
The US says it has been forced to remove anti-drug agents from the country’s largest coca-growing region because of safety reasons and earlier this year supporters of Morales expelled US development workers from the same area.
Morales recently issued a ban on all US Drug Enforcement Administration flights over Bolivia’s territory, hampering the transport of Bolivian and US officials for counternarcotics missions in the country.
Bolivia’s first indigenous president rose to prominence as a fiery union leader of the coca farmers and wants to promote a legal market for the plant’s leaves, used by natives for millennia in religious rites and as a herbal remedy.
The US, the chief market for South American cocaine, says coca cultivation in Bolivia has risen by 14 percent in the last year, increasing potential cocaine output from 115 tonnes to 120 tonnes. Only Colombia and Peru produce more of the drug.
Morales’ government admits that coca plantings have gone up, but says only by 5 percent last year.
Walters said Bolivia’s lower quality cocaine does not usually find its way to US streets but has a bigger market in Europe and South America.
“Bolivia’s bad behavior infects Europe, it infects Africa, because some of these routes are now going through Africa, and the Southern Cone. That’s why we need cooperation,” he said.
Walters added that Mexico’s drug cartels were crossing the border to kidnap and kill inside the US, and promised that an anti-drug aid package to help Mexico to fight the gangs would be ready soon.
Walters was in Mexico for two days to discuss efforts with local officials to stem killings, weapons trafficking and money laundering by Mexican cartels and their US associates.
“Some of these groups not only engage in crime and violence not only in Mexico and along the border, but they come across and kidnap, murder and carry out assassinations,” Walters told reporters. “These groups do not respect the border.”
Walters said some of the US$400 million in US drug aid approved for Mexico earlier this year under the Merida Initiative could be ready in a matter of days.
Walters praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon for mounting a police and army offensive against the cartels, whom he called “terrorist criminals.”
“They have a choice: Come in and face justice, or die,” he said of the drug gangs.
He also said the US did not object to the Calderon administration’s current legislative proposal to allow people caught with small amounts of some drugs to seek drug treatment rather than prison terms.
“There has been an impression left that this is legalizing the possession of amounts of drugs. That is not what Mexican officials tell me the bill does,” Walters said. “For the lower quantity, for use, you will still face jail time, you’ll be given an option if you’re an addict to get treatment.”
“I think the parameters and the intentions, that is exactly what we do in the United States,” he said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently called Walters “stupid” for saying cocaine smuggling through Venezuela had quadrupled in four years.
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