Tue, Jan 05, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Caracas touts anti-narcotics efforts

DEFLECTING CRITICISMVenezuela has been accused of leniency in the drug fight and stopped cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency a few years ago

REUTERS , CARACAS

Venezuela said on Saturday that 60 tonnes of drugs were confiscated last year, an 11 percent bigger haul than the previous year, and said anti-narcotics efforts had improved since it ended cooperation with the US.

The South American nation is a major transit country for Colombian cocaine to Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US.

Cocaine and marijuana accounted for nearly all of Venezuela’s drug confiscations last year.

Accused by critics of leniency in the drug fight and collusion with Colombian rebels who depend on smuggling for financing, the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez counters that it has stepped up interdiction notably in recent years.

‘MOST EFFECTIVE’

“The 2009 figure shows the government’s performance in battling drugs and makes Venezuela one of the most effective countries in this respect,” state news agency ABN said.

Amid deteriorating bilateral relations, Chavez stopped cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005.

Venezuela’s National Drugs Office head Nestor Reverol said that the higher levels of drugs’ confiscation and destruction since then “shows the US government had a policy of obstruction, to prevent the reduction of this social ill.”

Washington’s leading critic in Latin America, Chavez frequently says consumption in the US and Europe is the main factor driving the illegal drug trade.

The drug office’s latest statistical breakdown indicated that between Jan. 1 and Dec. 24 last year, cocaine accounted for 27.5 tonnes or 45.9 percent of the drugs captured, while marijuana was 32.2 tonnes or 53.8 percent.

In 2008, the cocaine haul was 33.6 tonnes or 61.5 percent of the total, and marijuana 20.7 tonnes or 37.9 percent.

US REMARKS

In November, a US official said the problem of drug smuggling through Venezuela had grown worse since Chavez ended cooperation with the US.

Most of the Colombian cocaine smuggled out of South America by air for the US market was moved through Venezuela, said David Johnson, the assistant secretary of state who heads the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

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