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2006 Intl. Narcotics Control Strategy Report


Release of the 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
On-the-Record Briefing
Washington, DC
March 1, 2006

2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report


(2:07 p.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Welcome, everybody, to our annual briefing on the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. We have with us today the new Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Anne Patterson, who is here to present this year's report. She'll begin with a few introductory comments and then be available for your questions.

Thank you, and thank Assistant Secretary Patterson.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Thank you, Adam.

Good afternoon. Today we are releasing the Administration's 23rd International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which is published annually by the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Having followed these issues in my previous posts, particularly in El Salvador and Colombia, I am proud to present this report, which is considered the authoritative report on international narcotics. I would like to recognize my staff for their efforts and professionalism in preparing it.

During the past year, the international community has continued to combat the drug trade and the activities financed by drugs: terrorism and transnational crime. We can point to significant successes attributable in large measure to increasingly united international efforts in reducing drug trafficking and criminal activity.

In the United States, research made public by the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy indicates that we lose over 20,000 Americans a year to drug-induced deaths. In 1998, at a special session of the United Nations, other countries recognized they were facing the same problem when they adopted a resolution to "significantly reduce both the supply and demand for drugs by 2008." No country now says that drugs are somebody else's problem.

The progress we can point to in this year's INCSR reflects the work of many countries to consolidate the gains against drugs and crime with many brave people throughout the world taking great personal risk. Let me highlight some important developments.

In the Western Hemisphere, U.S. and international support assisted Colombia in destroying 170,000 hectares of illegal coca, thus removing a potential 150 metric tons of cocaine valued at over 15 billion on U.S. streets. In 2005, an all-time high of 134 people were extradited from Colombia to face charges in the U.S. Mexico extradited a record 41 criminals and expelled other fugitives last year. Andean countries and Mexico seized 330 metric tons of cocaine with a street value of 33 billion. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement have worked closely to attack and dismantle cross-border trafficking organizations, including a large criminal ring engaged in trafficking and producing ecstasy. The OAS's Drug Commission CICAD is conducted hemispheric peer reviews of national drug and crime efforts. This multilateral evaluation mechanism offers concrete recommendations to the 34 OAS member countries, including the U.S., on how to strengthen counternarcotics performance.

In Asia, the size of the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan makes its elimination a daunting task, but Afghanistan's leadership, with the support of the international community, is beginning to demonstrate greater political will to eradicate this crop which puts at great risk political and economic advances. Companion programs are helping farmers adopt alternative ways to earn a living and establishing more effective law enforcement and justice systems.

Thailand, once considered a major source of opium poppy for the world's illegal heroin market, has practically eliminated its poppy crop and sharply curtailed cross-border trafficking, taking itself off the list of major heroin producing and transit countries.

While opium poppy cultivation in Laos exceeded 42,000 hectares in 1989, today, due in part to U.S. and international assistance, the level of opium production in the country is no longer significant.

In the United States, ONDCP figures show that the use of illegal drugs by teenagers has dropped by nearly 20 percent since 2001. The longer drug abuse is delayed, the less the likelihood that an individual will use drugs in the first place. From 2003 to 2004, the purity of heroin in the U.S. decreased by 22 percent while the price rose by 30 percent. Since February of 2005, a similar albeit preliminary pattern has been seen with cocaine.

Let me provide additional detail from the INCSR on countries that are of particular concern today, beginning with Colombia and Afghanistan. In 2000, Colombia and the U.S. developed a U.S. assistance package known as Plan Colombia to target illicit narcotics. During that first year while we were building up the infrastructure for Plan Colombia, coca and opium poppy cultivation reached an all-time high. Under the leadership of Presidents Pastrana and Uribe, progress in Colombia has been dramatic. Major drug traffickers extradited to the U.S. included FARC leaders and Cali Cartel leader Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela. Public safety has improved. In 2005, kidnappings were down 51 percent and homicides by 13 percent. Perhaps most telling about how far Colombia has come is its recent listing by the World Bank as one of the world's ten most attractive investment climates.

The United States and Colombia understand that major challenges remain. Narcotraffickers embarked on an aggressive replanting campaign last year that nearly equaled the coca crop destroyed by eradication. The U.S. and Colombia are looking now at ways to counter this rapid replanting. This would include stepping up the aerial spray program, which sprayed a record amount of coca in 2005, and helping Colombia build its capacity to take over the program in the future.

Peru and Bolivia remain the second and third largest producers of coca. In Peru, recent surveys show that coca cultivation has increased, grown by farmers who are attracted by high prices for coca leaf. At the same time, Peru remains committed to eradicate coca -- to eradicating coca wherever it is found.

Our relationship with the new Morales government in Bolivia will depend upon the policies it adopts on a wide range of issues, including counternarcotics, which is a key component of our relationship. Bolivia has many natural resources -- hydrocarbons, ores and agricultural products -- that could with the right policies support many social sector initiatives and broad-based economic growth to better the lives of all Bolivians. More coca cultivation will only serve the interest of drug traffickers. We seek to continue in close cooperation with the new government of Bolivia in our fight against the illegal narcotics trade.

In Afghanistan, the UN estimates that the drug trade represents a significant percentage of the country's total GDP. Fostering a stable democracy in Afghanistan requires curbing the drug economy and the criminality and corruption it supports. This will be a long, hard effort. The good news in 2005 of a 48 percent drop in opium cultivation from the 2004 level is tempered by reporting that poppy planting is again on the rise. To counter this trend we are working with our international partners to implement a five-pillar program which includes a public information campaign, alternative development, crop eradication, effective interdiction, and police and justice sector reform.

President Karzai has expressed his commitment to stemming illicit drug production and trafficking and has welcomed international help in building the technical capacity for a successful counternarcotics program. Just as importantly, the U.S. continues to engage the Government of Afghanistan on the need to crack down on corruption at all levels. Reflecting an extremely important step against the drug trade in October of 2005, Afghanistan for the first time ever extradited a major trafficker to the U.S.

The second volume of the INCSR, devoted to money laundering and terrorist financing, describes the status of these activities in more than 130 countries and these countries' efforts to improve anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes. Of special interest is the jurisdictional table which divides 195 countries, including the United States, into categories of primary concern, concern and other. No official sanctions are taken against countries based on their designations, but many companies review the designations when considering future business relationships.

Since September 11th, we have become more aware that terrorists use underground methods to move money or transfer value. They are attracted to these "alternative remittance systems" such as the hawala system in Asia and the Middle East because they allow them to avoid financial reporting requirements. In Latin America, the black market place of exchange distorts legitimate commerce by laundering drug proceeds through trade.

Responding to this challenge, INL funded the Department of Homeland Security to establish three trade transparency units in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. A pilot program in Colombia demonstrated direct links between the laundering of narcotics proceeds via trade and the terrorist organization, the FARC. We anticipate expanding this program to other parts of the world.

I have highlighted select portions of the INCSR and developments in 2005. However, as we look to the future, we must be flexible to confront rapidly new issues. Let me mentioned several:

Anticorruption -- December 15th marked the entry into force of the UN Convention against Corruption. Fifteen years ago there was no international agreement on corruption and some countries even argued erroneously that corruption was acceptable in some cultures. Today, we have a new comprehensive global treaty and are continuing to develop effective anticorruption programs.

Synthetic drugs -- Today, we are particularly concerned about synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, which present medical, social and law enforcement challenges in Asia and North America, particularly in our own country. The easier production of these drugs will generate similar problems throughout the world. We are working at home and internationally, especially on border controls with Canada and Mexico, to ensure that laws and law enforcement can deal with illegal production and with the diversion of essential precursor chemicals used to make these drugs. Synthetic drugs that are produced in small toxic labs with readily available substances indicate why we must be vigilant in controlling essential precursor chemicals, especially ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine. We are working closely with Canada, Mexico and with bulk export countries to control the movement of chemicals used to make synthetic drugs.

Youth gangs -- According to the Department of Justice's 2006 national drug assessment, many street gangs have evolved into well organized, profit-driven criminal enterprises. These activities include not only retail sales of drugs, but also smuggling and wholesale distribution. We are working closely with other countries, especially in Central America, to confront the social and security problems posed by these gangs. The largest of these, including Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gang, are now recognized as full-blown criminal organizations.

When the first edition of the INCSR was published, Latin American narcotics-producing countries were just reporting the first signs of drug abuse in their own countries. Today, the international community understands that drugs and crime are a problem which we all face and we also recognize the insidious links of the drug trade to money laundering, terrorist financing and organized crime. We know criminals learn quickly from their mistakes. The challenges are daunting, but increasingly the international community has been working together to confront them and America is playing a pivotal role. We understand that only through common cause will we be able to contain and diminish the threats of drugs and organized crime which are impediments to our efforts to advance political and economic freedom.

Thank you. And I would be happy to answer your questions.

MR. CASEY: George, you want to get it started?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Hi, George.

QUESTION: Hi. Late in the Clinton Administration, Tom Pickering, the Under Secretary, said at the outset of Plan Colombia that it would take three to five years for Plan Colombia really to kick in. Can you say whether you are now where you wanted to be at that time? Have you turned a corner in Colombia, would you say?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: I think in Colombia, the effect on Colombia, Plan Colombia has been nothing short of a dramatic success, more than I ever would have anticipated when I went there in 2000. And it's been a dramatic success in, I think, ways we didn't fully anticipate, which is to restore security in the country. As I mentioned, homicides are down, kidnappings are down. Kidnappings have a wildly disproportionate effect on foreign investment. The fact that they've been reduced so significantly means that Colombians will bring their money back and foreign investors will come in. FARC desertions are up. The police have been expanded to 1,000 communities where they weren't before.

So I think the impact on Colombia is very significant. I think the impact on the United States is less dramatic, but I do think it's there. Certainly, hundreds of tons of potential cocaine have been taken away from our market. And remember how we started Plan Colombia. The production was growing so rapidly that it threatened to swamp our treatment programs with cheap cocaine and that has been reversed. We've seen some promising signs, as I mentioned, particularly on heroin price and purity in the United States and we're beginning to see the same the same thing on cocaine, which we hope will be sustained. So yeah, I've been pleasantly surprised.

QUESTION: Yes. There's one omission at least in the first volume of Iraq. I don't believe it's listed here and I was wondering is there any particular reason for that and what is your evaluation of the situation there.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Our evaluation on the narcotics side is we don't know very much. When I was out there recently and I was talking to the Ambassador, he's concerned about the fact that we don't know very much and we're starting to set up a special counternarcotics unit. But we just don't have the capacity to acquire the data that would enable us to know what's going on there. Common sense would suggest that narcotics are coming across the border, but we don't have very good information on that.

QUESTION: That's why it's not in there? Is that it?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Yeah, yeah.

MR. CASEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The ONDCP in January reported that in spite of all the efforts of this Department, cocaine is, as they put it, widely available throughout most of the country. You made the same remark about heroin. You made the same remark about marijuana. So what are you really accomplishing here?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, first, we're accomplishing a lot there and I know that that may not be as much of a -- let me say what we are accomplishing in Latin America. These were countries that were about to go -- to put it bluntly -- go belly up. Colombia was facing a narcotics-funded insurgency that was presenting a severe threat to the government. Bolivia was in the same position some 10, 15 years ago, as was Peru.

Yes, narcotics is still readily available. We actually think demand on these products has begun to stabilize. But as I mentioned, if we weren't doing these programs, the situation would be very dramatically worse. And we're seeing this, by the way, with Afghan heroin in Europe and in neighboring countries; when the price goes down, addiction goes up. And we would have that phenomena in this country with cocaine if weren't doing these efforts in Latin America. I'm totally convinced of that.

QUESTION: Yes. A specific question on Mexico. For the first time, I'm very surprised with the reports says that the Mexican authorities handling well and combat narcotraffic when the governors at the borders, like Governor of New Mexico yesterday, for example, was complaining that the Mexican authorities are not doing enough to combat the narcotraffickers on the border. So my question to you is why is this change in the policy of the U.S. Government toward Mexico? It seems to me like the Mexican authorities wrote this chapter.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Mexico is a huge challenge, much like the rest of Latin America, Bolivia and Colombia, it too has enormous ungoverned spaces. But in our view, the Mexican Government -- and most of the cocaine that comes into this country, as well as a lot of the precursor chemicals for methamphetamine enter through Mexico. But it's our judgment that the Mexican Government has come a long way in recent years. I worked on Latin America in the bureau some 10 years ago and there were huge bilateral issues on law enforcement between us, most appreciably the extradition issue, and now Mexico has extradited 41 criminals to the United States. The Mexican supreme court has just waived the provision that you can't extradite anyone to the States who would be subject to life imprisonment. So there's been very considerable progress.

That said, of course there's a lot that remains to be done, particularly in terms of precursor chemicals like ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine, and much of that has been pushed into Mexico because of our successes in places like Canada and in the U.S. States.

QUESTION: But you don't even mention the problem with the Mexican military personnel crossing the border, the narcotraffickers working inside of the United States territory. Why is that? I mean --

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, I don't think we could ever prove the issue of the Mexican army. I think, in fact, that was disproved. But let me ask my colleagues.

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary Chertoff a couple of weeks ago, he just give us a list with the number of incidents. So it's very surprise that for the first time you are saying --

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: We're saying that Mexico cooperates on a wide range of issues but there's a lot more that could be done across all these issues. Of course, border violence is severe. It has been for years. We're working with the Mexicans. We have a lot of established interagency groups that consult with the Mexicans across all levels of these. The bilateral relationship is very tight on these issues.

QUESTION: I'd like to follow up on another -- I have a question on Afghanistan. But your Ambassador is pretty -- your Ambassador's comments are pretty much to the opposite. I mean, you know, he's focusing on the lack of cooperation and the problem with the cross-border violence and the inability of the Mexican Government to get a handle on it and de-emphasizing the cooperation part of it.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, you know, we can put the emphasis where -- the emphasis may change. I think if you read our report, we certainly mention cross-border violence, we mention these issues, we mention the cartels in Mexico. These are all huge issues. I mean, but we're trying to -- what we're trying to do is basically take a snapshot over the past year of how things have changed, and in our view they've improved.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, I mean, what you say as far as the implementation of the five part plan, I've heard that -- I think the exact same language -- last year that you are working to implement it. I mean, at what point do you consider it implemented and it's kind of in the -- you know, not in the works but being actually practiced, and how much has this plan worked over the last year?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, last year, keep in mind that cultivation went down very significantly last year and production -- I'm saying it's going up this year. Cultivation went down less because yields were up. But this is a new plan and it's based on forced manual eradication led by governors. That's the fundamental change. And if you read the report, the report outlines a lot of very specific things that have happened last year: the new counternarcotics law, the new special units of prosecutors, the new special units -- vetted counternarcotics units. These are all counternarcotics projects that we do elsewhere in the world, and I might say with considerable success.

Now, eradication is going to be a huge challenge in Afghanistan and let's not underestimate that. This is a country that suffered 30 years of disruption and civil conflict. We're working closely with the British, who are the lead country on counternarcotics. There's an international coalition involved in this. There is going to be a very aggressive eradication campaign that's going to get underway very shortly in Helmond Province within the next few days. It will involve for the first time -- and this is a challenge anywhere -- Afghan ministries working together -- the police, the military, the Ministry of Counternarcotics.

Again, I don't want to underestimate the difficulty of this because Colombia is paradise next to Afghanistan. This is going to take years and years and years but it's important to do not only because of the security of Afghanistan and Afghanistan's democratic institutions; it's also important to do because of the cheap heroin that's spreading into neighboring countries and Europe. So we're going to stick with this.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about the growing political clout of coca growing associations in Bolivia and Peru where cultivation is up? And also, in Bolivia, what's your prognosis for Bolivia and how the Morales government is going to deal with coca cultivation?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: My own view is that these coca federations are not any stronger than they've been for many, many years. I think in Bolivia what you're seeing is simply more publicity because the president of the country used to be the president of one of them. But I think they've always had a strong role and eradication is always messy in all these countries because people don't want to have their crop eradicated. So we can't underestimate the difficulty of this.

With the new Morales government, as I mentioned, we are trying to work closely with them. Counternarcotics is a key component of our bilateral relationship. We think where Bolivia was 15 years ago or even 10 years ago, there's been enormous progress in Bolivia even though cultivation has gone up somewhat in the past year. Much of the revenue has been stripped out of the counternarcotics business in Bolivia. So we want to work closely with President Morales. Our Ambassador and Mr. Shannon, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere, have met with him a number of times to engage with this, but we'll just have to see how it goes.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, in the report it's outstanding that in Venezuela could be no be longer certified as a country who cooperate with against drug. But in 2005 in Venezuela there was an increase of amount of drug confiscate went up to 73 tons, 50 percent of in a year. How do you -- can U.S. justify the decertification in Venezuela with that?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, decertification isn't based solely on seizures. There are a number of other issues and my colleague would be happy to talk to you. Tony Arias, my colleague, would be happy to talk to you in Spanish if you want with more details.

But Venezuela was decertified because of the lack of cooperation by Venezuelan authorities across a whole range of -- across the counternarcotics issues and basically the threats against our Drug Enforcement Agency.

We hope, of course, that will change. Venezuela is in a pivotal spot for Latin American counternarcotics cooperation. We fear that some of the fights are being driven over -- they're for certainly are being driven into Venezuelan territory. Venezuela for many years has an excellent record on counternarcotics cooperation and threw people in jail when they planted coca leaves. So we hope that we can reverse this situation, but it's not just seizures that decides the level of counternarcotics cooperation.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, why in your introduction under the title major laundering countries you're also including Greece and Cyprus? Could you please be more specific which exactly are the charges against those two countries?

And also, how do you explain the fact that in the same list you do not include, i.e., Albania and Bulgaria, countries very well known in the entire Balkans about their involvement in the major laundering money activities according to the press?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: I can't answer that in detail, but the fact that you're on the list does not mean -- the United States is on the list too. It would offer -- and I can't answer your question on the Balkans, but it also has to do with the size of your market, the size of your financial market and the financial controls that you have in place. So it's not solely a decision that we think dirty money is going through there. It has a number of other factors that go into the classification on this list and we can explain those in greater detail to you. And I can't answer the question on the Balkans, but we'll get you an answer.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, the 48 percent drop-off this year, how much of that was really due in large measure to the market pressures due to the previous year's bumper crop? Because you cite the eradication as a huge challenge but yet it seems like there was basically a minimal impact by eradication efforts this year. And can you also discuss what new information you have that indicates that the crop is actually rising this year?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: The UN has done a survey, which I think you can get on their website, indicating that -- isn't it out now? I think it is out. It's on their website, indicating that cultivation is going up in a number of provinces. And what it says, and this makes perfectly good sense I think, is that the threat of eradication is a key factor in whether growers plant or not. So that's a very good source. We also have a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cultivation is going up. So what you need, and this has been proven over and over again throughout the world, is you need a credible threat of eradication to get people not to grow coca or poppy or whatever illicit drug they plan to grow. It's a very good report.

MR. CASEY: Let's go to this gentleman here and then we'll go way in the back.

QUESTION: The 40 percent decline in cultivation in Afghanistan, although it's a welcome sign, but do you think it is below the levels under the Taliban government before it folds? And if not, why didn't the Karzai government with the U.S. help -- U.S. forces help succeed in implementing some of the efforts that the Taliban did? And what is the situation concerning the Arab world and Iran?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: The Taliban -- yes, they got coca cultivation down to a very low level, but I think they used methods that would not be acceptable for most civilized governments. And let's be clear about that; the Taliban gets this sort of free ride as they were really bad but at least they were good on counternarcotics. That seems to be totally untrue. What they were trying to do was drive up the price by reducing supply. And it was very effective because prices of heroin during this period went up very dramatically in places like Europe. So why did it go down? And so the efforts were successful last year in getting cultivation down. Yields went down less because of weather and some other factors. But we think we have a strategy in place that, again, is going to be multi-year and going to take a long time to show results, but we think over time it will show results.

QUESTION: And the Arab world and Iran?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: The Arab world and Iran vis-à-vis the Afghanistan heroin thing? The Iranians -- what we understand is that Iran has been a major victim of Afghan heroin, that levels of addiction have soared in Iran and soared in some of the neighboring countries and that Iran is working pretty well with Afghanistan and other countries to interdict the border. But they're sort of a first-line state here and the first victim of this outflow of cheap dope.

QUESTION: And the Arab world?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: And the Arab world, I don't know. We can probably get that for you. I just don't know.

MR. CASEY: Let's go way in the back here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) reports that the government (inaudible) criminalize (inaudible) they'll be silencing of those local newspapers.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: I can't hear. I'm sorry, I can't hear you.

QUESTION: You said in the report that a government of Brazil should criminalize (inaudible) offense. And also Brazil should increase the security in the tri-border region. The Brazilian Government has said many times that there isn't any evidence of terrorist activity -- terrorism activity in its tri-border. How concerned is the U.S. about these terrorist activities in the tri-border?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: The terrorist activities in the tri-border region?

QUESTION: Yeah.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: I think we have very considerable information about that. And that's a very good example of where the old-fashioned contraband, because that area's been another ungoverned space for many generations and has been a locus of contraband and smuggling, is now being used to facilitate terrorist financing. And that's why I think these trade transparency units, given what we've seen in Colombia, I think they could be very effective in sort of bringing this to the surface and identifying some of the issues in the tri-border region. But we have pretty good information about that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Yes, yes. And I can't go into it here, but we're confident of our information.

MR. CASEY: We have time for just a couple more. This gentleman has been waiting a long time.

QUESTION: Back to -- staying on Latin America. In your Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposal there are considerable cuts in bilateral anti-drug aid to many Latin American countries. How does that sort of square with your concerns over interdiction? And Evo Morales has actually suggested that some of that aid be reinstated. So what are the reasons behind that -- those cuts?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: The reasons behind the cuts are that it was a difficult budget year all around, particularly in Latin America, because of the demands elsewhere in the world. And we've seen those reports that this was somehow retaliatory for the election of President Morales and they're just flatly untrue. The budget was designed months in advance of President Morales's election.

Basically in Peru and Bolivia both we had tried to get and we thought we were getting to sort of a sustainment level of financing. And you know, in my judgment, we'll always be in Bolivia because the Bolivians do not have the resources to support these counternarcotics units that we've provided over the years. But it was just a difficult budget year and we had to ratchet back somewhere and those were the places that were -- and it's more obvious because those are larger programs.

You'll notice, too, that there have been cuts in global programs in Asia and regional programs elsewhere.

MR. CASEY: Last one. Jesus, I think we'll give you the last one.

QUESTION: Yes. Just a follow-up with what you say to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. It seems to me that you are using the same language that the U.S. Government used to use when Ernesto Samper was the President of Colombia. Do you see the same level of threat to the U.S. interest in anti-narcotic efforts in that part of Latin America?

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, Venezuela has never been a producing country like Colombia is and was, but Venezuela has a critical role to play because of the long, basically unguarded border between Colombia and Venezuela and the fact that production is -- drugs are increasingly -- have been transiting through Venezuela. So no, it's not a threat, to answer you bluntly. But what it is is a hole in our whole counternarcotics strategy in Latin America. If you can go through Venezuela, you don't need to go through Colombia. If the flights coming up from Peru or Bolivia or Brazil can go through Venezuela into the Caribbean and dump the product near the United States, you don't need these other roads. So it's never a good thing. It's never desirable to have a hole that traffickers can take advantage of, and that's what we don't want Venezuela to become.

MR. CASEY: Last, last question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Venezuela again. How useful do you think it could be in the fight against drug -- the last month's cooperation agreement between U.S. and Venezuela?

MR. CASEY: She said the cooperation agreement signed between Venezuela and the U.S. last month. Just signed -- it hasn't been signed.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: It hasn't been signed. Yes, that was what I was thinking. My colleague Tony Arias can talk to you. But when you -- I don't -- it has not been signed.

QUESTION: It's not been signed but it's in the hand of the Ambassador -- U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela Brownfield.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: I don't think that's accurate. Let us run this down for you, but I just talked to him two weeks ago and --

STAFF: It's under discussion.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Yeah, yeah. That's --

STAFF: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Thank you.

2006/239

Released on March 1, 2006

ENDS


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