Venezuela blasts U.S. criticism over drugs

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 15, 2012 7:32 PM
Venezuela blasts U.S. criticism over drugs

By Hugh Bronstein

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Saturday rejected as unsubstantiated a new U.S. report that accused President Hugo Chavez's government of failing to fight the drugs trade.

Chavez, a socialist seeking re-election next month, is a ferocious critic of Washington, and his nearly 14-year rule has been characterized by frequent bilateral spats and incidents.

Narcotics has been a thorny issue in between the oil-producing country and the United States, its main client. In 2005 Chavez kicked U.S. drug enforcement agents out of the country, accusing them of spying on his "Bolivarian Revolution".

This is the fourth straight year that Venezuela figured in Washington's list of drug interdiction underachievers.

The country remains "one of the preferred trafficking routes out of South America," thanks to its "porous western border with Colombia," a top cocaine producer, according to U.S. President Barack Obama's annual drugs memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, published on Friday.

The memorandum also singled out Bolivia and Myanmar as having "demonstratively failed" to fight the drugs trade.

The Chavez government was having none of it.

"As the biggest drug consumer on the planet, the United States lacks the moral authority to judge the policies of other countries," Venezuela's Foreign Ministry shot back in a statement on Saturday.

Obama's memo exemplified Washington's "permanent aggressiveness against independent governments such as Venezuela's in order to impose, through intimidation, its policy of international domination and abuse," the statement said.

The statement also called the drugs memorandum "plagued by false statements".

U.S. enforcement officials say Colombian cocaine has passed through Venezuela on its way to transshipment points in Africa for final distribution in Europe. Venezuela's location on the Caribbean and Atlantic seaboard of South America makes it an ideal takeoff place for drug flights bound for Africa, they say.

The U.S. memo went on to mention Venezuela's "weak judicial system, inconsistent international counter narcotics cooperation and generally permissive and corrupt environment."

Bolivia, Myanmar and Venezuela are on a list of more than 20 countries - including Afghanistan, Colombia and Mexico - called "major drug transit and/or major illicit drug producing countries" in the 2012 memorandum.

Accused by critics of collusion with Colombian rebels who depend on smuggling for financing, the Chavez government counters that anti-narcotics operations have actually improved since the 2005 end of cooperation with the United States.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; editing by Christopher Wilson)