Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mixed Signals from the U.S. on Venezuela’s Anti-Drug Efforts

Yesterday, just two days after the White House criticized Venezuela for failing to pull its weight in the fight against drug trafficking, a top State Department official cushioned this criticism somewhat.

On Monday the State Department released a statement saying that the White House had issued a memo naming Venezuela as one of the three countries (alongside Burma and Bolivia) that “failed demonstrably” to meet their international counterdrug obligations in the past year. The announcement was not terribly surprising, as both Venezuela and Bolivia have consistently made this list for the past four years at least.

As they have in the past, Venezuelan officials reacted strongly to the classification, accusing the U.S. of using the War on Drugs as a “means of domination and violation of the sovereignty of our countries [in Latin America], as an excuse to maintain military presence in our territories,” El Nuevo Herald reports.

On Wednesday, however, State Department anti-narcotics official William Brownfield made an interesting concession in remarks to reporters in Panama. “Now, I have to admit something, starting a year and a half or so ago, efforts have been detected by the Venezuelan government to control and reduce the transit of illicit drugs through their territory,” said Brownfield, according to the AP. “There is little collaboration with the United States at least, but I have to admit that there is evidence of serious efforts to control it.”

The news agency notes that the remarks come as Jay Bergman, DEA director for the Andean region, is posed to Venezuela to begin high-level talks over restarting cooperation with U.S. anti-drug efforts. The visit is the result of nearly two years of preparation by both governments.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday’s Senate debate in Colombia regarding former President Alvaro Uribe’s links to drug traffickers and paramilitaries proved to be more lively than expected. Surprisingly, Uribe actually showed up in person, and while he initially stormed out in protest of Ivan Cepeda’s allegations of his paramilitary ties, he later returned and took the mic to --as he put it -- defend his honor. Still, while the debate made headlines in Colombia, both La Silla Vacia and the AP note that most of the evidence and testimony presented by Cepeda was largely public knowledge.
  • The government of Venezuela said yesterday that it would be moving to revoke the citizenship of actress Maria Conchita Alonso, who has been a high-profile critic of President Nicolas Maduro. The NYT notes that in a recent interview with Voice of America she said she wished the U.S. “would invade with bullets to remove all those wretched communists from Venezuela,” a comment which the government has used to portray her as a violent extremist.
  • Animal Politico and Fusion report on the shockingly high incidence of rape and sexual assault reported by Central American migrants women during their journey to the border. According to estimates by migrant aid workers, more than half and as many as 80 percent of all women are victims of sexual assault along the way north.
  • Guatemalan news site Plaza Publica profiles a unique immigration trend in that country: a growing number of transgender Hondurans have fled to neighboring Guatemala not only because the economic conditions are better and the crime rate somewhat lower, but also in response to a hostile, discriminatory environment. However, many say that the level of discrimination they face in Guatemala is just as bad.
  • In response to the government’s calls for a public demonstration of support, a major demonstration of supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa took place yesterday in Quito, EFE reports. According to El Universo it was joined by separate opposition protests by certain unions and indigenous groups, and authorities say 74 people were arrested yesterday.
  • InSight Crime has published a partial transcript of an interview conducted by Jerry McDermott with Paraguayan drug czar Luis Rojas. In it, Rojas laments the lack of technical knowledge over the exact size of the country’s illicit marijuana crop, despite the fact that Paraguay has long been South America’s largest source of the drug. Rojas is also surprisingly self-critical of Paraguay’s anti-drug approach, frankly calling for a more comprehensive approach to the problem. “90 percent of our resources in repression of the drug trade, and not attacking the problem at its roots, which are also social,” he said.  
  • Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva has granted her first interview to a foreign news agency since replacing her late running mate Eduardo Campos as the Socialist Party’s nominee. In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, Silva discussed her desire to address the dissatisfaction voiced by many Brazilians in last year’s June protests, as well as her view of some of Brazil’s foreign policy priorities. According to Silva, if victorious she would press Brazil to be more vocal regarding human rights abuses abroad in places like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.
  • Argentina took a step further in its efforts to prosecute Dirty War-era abuses yesterday, as a trial against three doctors accused of facilitating the theft of babies of captured dissidents went underway. As Pagina12 reports, the three allegedly helped military officials mask the identity of babies born to captive mothers in the 70s and 80s, signing false birth certificates permitting them to be put up for adoption.
  • In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Argentine writer Pola Oloixarac describes how President Cristina Fernandez’s battle with the so-called “vulture funds” has raised her profile and boosted her flagging popularity. Oloixarac claims this is the result of a national Argentine “weakness for defiant characters.”