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Venezuala Quickly Becoming Latin America's Drug-Trafficking Hub, Congressional Report Claims

According to a July 19, 2009 Washington Post article ("Venezuela's Drug-Trafficking Role is Growing Fast, U.S. Report Says"), a report prepared for "the U.S. Congress on drug smuggling in Venezuela concludes that corruption at high levels of President Hugo Chavez's government and state aid to Colombia's drug-trafficking geurrillas have made Venezuela a major launching pad for cocaine bound for the United States and Europe." Although the Post states that "U.S. administrations have considered Venezuela a key drug-trafficking hub" since 1996, the report claims that "the amount of cocaine flowing from Venezuela to [neighboring] Colombia, [...] the world's top producer of the drug, has [recently] skyrocketed." The Post claims that the report "represents U.S. officials' strongest condemnation yet of Venezuela's alleged role in drug trafficking," primarily because it states that the country "has extended a 'lifeline' to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States estimates has a hand in the trafficking of 60 percent of the cocaine produced in Colombia."

The report did not go unnoticed by President Chavez. As the article states, "Speaking to reporters in Bolivia on Friday [July 17], the populist leader characterized the report as a political tool used by the United States to besmirch his country. He also said that the United States, as the world's top cocaine consumer, has no right to lecture Venezuela." Additionally, Chavez "added that [his country's] geography [...] makes it vulnerable to traffickers" and "asserted that Venezuela had made important gains in the drug war since expelling U.S. counter-drug agents in 2005."

But U.S. officials were not swayed by Chavez's arguments. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who commissioned the report, "said the findings 'have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government.' He said the report underscores a need for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward Venezuela," a move that, according to some adminstration staffers, could destabilize efforts to improve relations with Latin America.


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