While Venezuela and Bolivia dismissed recent criticism from the United States of their anti-drug efforts as political attacks, their close ally Nicaragua has made a name for itself cooperating with US counter-narcotics strategy in the region.
On September 14, the office of US President Barack Obama issued a memorandum identifying both Venezuela and Bolivia as “countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”
The governments of both countries have responded harshly to the criticism. Bolivian President Evo Morales told reporters that it meant little coming from a government which “lacks the morality, authority necessary to speak about the war on drugs.” The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry responded by issuing a statement condemning the memo as full of “false statements, political preconceptions and veiled threats,” and accused President Obama of furthering “a permanent line of aggression against independent sovereign governments.”
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The United States’ criticism of Venezuela and Bolivia is interesting when contrasted with its close counternarcotics work with Nicaragua which, like the other two, is led by a leftist president who clashes with the US on foreign policy more often than not. While the US recognizes Nicaragua as a major drug transit country, it works extensively with the Nicaraguan military on counternarcotics operations, according to the State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2011. The report noted that the Nicaraguan government “protected its territory as best it could with limited resources” against drug traffickers.
And this does not appear to be empty praise. Nicaragua military statistics indicate that from January 2011 to August 2012, officials conducted 182,526 counternarcotics operations and seized 6.7 tons of cocaine, 93 vehicles and 41 boats, as well as arresting 1,288 people.
Ultimately this casts doubt on claims that the US is pursuing a political agenda in singling out Bolivia or Venezuela. Indeed, as InSight Crime has pointed out in the past, both countries appear to face worrisome deteriorations in their security environment, with drug cartels deepening their activities in Bolivia, amid evidence of high level collusion with drug trafficking in the Venezuelan military.