White House: Venezuela again fails to curb drug trafficking

WASHINGTON — For the third straight year, the Bush administration on Monday placed Venezuela in the category of nations that have "failed demonstrably'' to curb drug trafficking.

Myanmar, as Burma is now called, is the only other country that shares this bottom-rung designation. Both are barred from receiving certain kinds of U.S. aid.

The administration debated the case of Bolivia, a country governed by a left-wing indigenous leader who considers the coca leaf — the raw material used to make cocaine — part of the country's cultural heritage.

In the end, the White House called Bolivia's collaboration "uneven,'' with eradication of some coca crops and interception efforts "outstripped by replanting and expansion of cultivation," the White House said in its report.

The designations form part of the congressionally mandated annual report on major illicit drug producing countries. It lists 20 nations as "majors'' in the drug business.

While countries such as Afghanistan and Colombia — the world's leading suppliers of opium and cocaine, respectively — are collaborating with the United States, Venezuela has refused to renew a drug-trafficking cooperation agreement with Washington and had become a jumping-off point for cocaine headed from South America to Europe and the United States, said Christy McCampbell, the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

She said Venezuela had developed "some new programs,'' but increased trafficking was "enabled and exploited by corrupt officials.''

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of U.S. policies, regularly dismisses U.S. designations as demonstrations of U.S. "imperial'' powers.

In Caracas, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the report "abusive'' and asked what right the United States had "to control and oversee the whole world?''

The White House, in a jab at Chavez, decided again to waive programs that assist Venezuela's democratic institutions.

Since the election of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Bolivia's government has loosened restrictions on coca cultivation but has stepped up its efforts to find cocaine labs and the precursor chemicals to produce coca paste. The United States was recognizing those efforts, said Felipe Caceres, the country's deputy minister of social defense and anti-drug coordinator, who, like Morales, is a former coca grower.

"Today, we have results that the international community recognizes and conforms to the work that has been done in a transparent and efficient way,'' Caceres said from his office in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, citing more than 13 tons of drugs seized.

The administration said it was aware of the "difficult situation'' faced by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation has risen 17 percent this year, according to United Nations figures. McCampbell said much of the north of the country was now poppy-free and that the country was seeking international assistance to fight drugs.

The administration urged Karzai to take "further steps'' to combat poppy production and that not addressing the issue could "imperil international support for vital assistance to that country,'' according to McCampbell.

(Jack Chang contributed from Rio de Janeiro.)