Statement of Justification: Venezuela

September 15, 2005

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Washington, DC
September 15, 2005

Venezuela failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts during the last 12 months to meet its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements and U.S. domestic counternarcotics requirements as set forth in section 489(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended.

Venezuela is a major transit country for drug shipments moving to the United States and Europe, with 150 metric tons of cocaine and increasing quantities of heroin moving through its territory annually. Despite an increase in drug seizures during the past 4 years, it is our assessment that the Government of Venezuela has not addressed the increasing use of Venezuelan territory to transport drugs to the United States. Venezuela also failed to eradicate coca and opium poppy fields found near its border with Colombia.

The overall picture is one of decreasing Venezuelan focus on counternarcotics initiatives and reduced cooperation with the United States. Venezuela has ended most air interdiction cooperation, banned U.S. counternarcotics overflights of Venezuela, and curtailed most military-to-military counternarcotics cooperation. Although cooperation continued between U.S. and Venezuelan law enforcement agencies, that cooperation has fallen off markedly since early 2005. Specifically, the Venezuelan Government pulled its key operational component out of the DEA sponsored and vetted counternarcotics task force; it did not sign a bilateral data sharing agreement under the Cooperating Nation Information Exchange System (CNIES); and it launched a negative publicity campaign against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), culminating in President Chavez’s declaration that his government would no longer cooperate with DEA. These all contributed to a significant decline in counternarcotics cooperation efforts.

Many of the Venezuelan Government’s most effective high-level officials in law enforcement and national drug policy were removed from their positions during 2005. Venezuela’s national counternarcotics director, chief narcotics prosecutor, and head of the financial intelligence unit were fired and replaced with Chavez loyalists who lack the necessary training to perform these functions.

Despite a stated intent to eliminate corruption, the Government of Venezuela has failed to take significant steps to address the problem of corruption among its law enforcement and military officials. The Venezuelan National Guard, which is the lead counternarcotics force, has been plagued by allegations of corruption; and several senior Venezuelan National Guard officials had their U.S. visas revoked in 2005 because of corrupt activities. Corrupt Venezuelan police officials have also sold seized drugs back to drug traffickers.

Implementation of money laundering legislation remains weak, and proceeds from narcotics trafficking are easily integrated into the financial system. Finally, the Organized Crime Bill -- designed to resolve the lack of legislation addressing money laundering, terrorist financing, judicial corruption and conspiracy – has been stalled in the Venezuela General Assembly for over 3 years.

The United States is very concerned about the deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela, including increased executive control over the other branches of government, threats to judicial independence and human rights, and attacks on press freedoms and freedom of expression.

A vital national interests certification will allow the United States Government to provide funds that support programs to aid Venezuela’s democratic institutions, establish selected community development projects, and strengthen Venezuela’s political party system.