Venezuela captures bigger drug haul in 2009
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela reported on Saturday 60 metric tons of drugs were confiscated in 2009, an 11 percent bigger haul than the previous year, and said anti-narcotics efforts had improved since it ended cooperation with the United States.
The South American nation is a major transit country for Colombian cocaine to Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Cocaine and marijuana accounted for nearly all of Venezuela's drug confiscations in 2009.
Accused by critics of leniency in the drug fight and collusion with Colombian rebels who depend on smuggling for financing, the government of President Hugo Chavez counters that it has stepped up interdiction notably in recent years.
"The 2009 figure shows the government's performance in battling drugs, and makes Venezuela one of the most effective countries in this respect," state news agency ABN said.
Amid deteriorating bilateral relations, Chavez stopped cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005.
Venezuela's National Drugs Office head Nestor Reverol said the higher levels of drugs' confiscation and destruction since then "shows the U.S. government had a policy of obstruction, to prevent the reduction of this social ill."
Washington's leading critic in Latin America, Chavez frequently says consumption in the United States and Europe is the main factor driving the illegal drug trade.
According to the drug office's latest statistical breakdown, between January 1 and December 24 of 2009, cocaine accounted for 27.5 metric tons or 45.9 percent of the drugs captured, while marijuana was 32.2 metric tons or 53.8 percent.
In 2008, the cocaine haul was 33.6 metric tons or 61.5 percent of the total, and marijuana 20.7 metric tons or 37.9 percent.
In November, a U.S. official said the problem of drug smuggling through Venezuela had grown worse since Chavez ended cooperation with the United States.
Most of the Colombian cocaine smuggled out of South America by air for the U.S. market was moved through Venezuela, said David Johnson, the assistant secretary of state who heads the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, by Jackie Frank)