- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Several countries, including Mexico and Colombia, showed a willingness last year to confront global drug dealers, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea have fallen short in the war on drugs, a report said yesterday.

In its annual study of the international drug war, the State Department also said drug smugglers were hiding in the “shadows of an open society” to link themselves with sophisticated criminal and terrorist organizations to launder millions of dollars in illicit profits.

“As long as criminality remains in the underground of aliases, coded messages, false documents, bearer instruments and clandestine operations, it is often undetectable to even seasoned investigators,” said Anne Patterson, assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. “When criminal activity breaches this underground, it often provides leads and evidence authorities can use to unravel these cases.”

According to the report:

• In Mexico, the Fox and Calderon administrations cracked down on traffickers and drug-related violence more than any previous Mexican governments — seizing drugs, eradicating illegal crops, preventing chemical diversion and extraditing some of Mexico’s most notorious traffickers. Although work is still to be done and Mexico remains the primary corridor for drugs entering the United States, the Bush administration said it was pleased with the country’s “strong actions to address these problems.”

• Colombia continued to attack the drug trade and terrorist organizations that profit from it, eradicating a record amount of coca last year. Though cultivation persists, aggressive eradication resulted in the destruction of what could have become billions of dollars of cocaine.

• Venezuela and Bolivia faltered last year, both failing to adhere to their obligations under international narcotics agreements or to cooperate with the United States. Venezuela is now a principal transit country for Andean cocaine, and Bolivia “experienced an erosion” of previous successes.

• Afghanistan’s opium poppy cultivation increased by 59 percent, making last year’s crop the largest on record. The country produced more than 90 percent of the world’s opium and had the distinction of being the world’s largest producer and trafficker of heroin. Pakistan, beset by rampant corruption, is a major transit point for opiates and hashish, where Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are also thought to operate.

The report also noted that Iran had sought to deal with a domestic drug consumption surge but has not enacted or enforced laws to decrease demand. The result, according to the report, has been “an epidemic of opiate abuse.”

In Burma, opium production continued to fall, but its military rulers failed to meet international standards, and the nation remained the world’s second-largest producer. Burmese rebel groups continued to be a major source of methamphetamine.

The report praised China and Thailand, which border Burma, for their efforts in stemming the illicit drug trade.

“We must continue to target the financial networks that allow criminals to reap their ill-gotten gains and terrorists to finance their activities,” Miss Patterson said.

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