WASHINGTON -- While the Bush White House publicly brags about reduced coca production in South America's Andean region, there is dismay behind the scenes in the U.S. intelligence community. A recent classified National Intelligence summary reported there is not any scenario under current conditions that will continue aggressive eradication in Bolivia of coca, the crop used to produce cocaine. That threatens the unraveling of the long-standing U.S. anti-drug program based in Colombia.
The problem with the program, begun by the Clinton administration and continued under President Bush, is focusing South America entirely on counter-drug objectives rather than counter-insurgency concerns. The result in Bolivia has been deepening political turmoil after pro-coca forces helped oust a pro-American president. Although Bush policymakers look the other way, Latin America specialists in the government fear all progress made in Colombia will be undermined by narcotics operations based in Bolivia.
U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East and Central Asia ignores what is happening next door amid rising influence of a new clique of leftist, anti-American leaders. Evo Morales, Bolivia's rising radical, and Fidel Castro, Cuba's communist dictator, both were in Caracas Dec. 21 and 22 to meet with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez. That was preceded by Jimmy Carter's visit to Bolivia where the former president, praising Morales as an "impressive" leader with a great future, undermined U.S. counter-drug policies.
These ominous developments have not been mentioned publicly by official Washington. "White House Hails Drops in Coca Cultivation in Bolivia, Peru," trumpeted the State Department propaganda apparatus on Nov. 25. A close reading of the handout reveals that coca production in Bolivia, not linked with Peru, actually increased in 2003.
Beyond numbers, the official U.S. line has little to do with reality. The backlash to U.S.-sponsored coca eradication in Bolivia was behind the violent ouster Oct. 17 as president of Washington's friend in La Paz, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. U.S. officials who have been there believe the momentum is rising. Since September, according to human rights groups, more than 120 have been killed in Bolivian political deaths (not to mention the "disappeared").