- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration has decided to waive penalties against the world’s third leading producer of coca, finding that Bolivia has done enough to fight the production and sale of the cocaine precursor to warrant a reprieve.

A report sent to Congress on Friday mentions the decision and lists 20 nations, including Bolivia, as “major drug-transit” or “major drug-producing” countries that can be subject to punitive measures from the United States.

But it finds that Bolivia, which has long been a concern, has taken adequate steps to stave off the sanctions. Last year, there was heated debate about whether the government in La Paz deserved a pass, and Washington delayed a decision.

The report, to be released tomorrow by the State Department, was obtained by the Associated Press ahead of its official release. It concludes that the same 20 countries as in 2006 are the world’s leading producers or transit points for drugs.

Apart from Bolivia, the others are Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

Under U.S. law, countries on that list found to have “demonstrably failed” to combat the spread of illicit narcotics may be punished with cutoffs in certain aid.

For the third year in a row, only Burma and Venezuela were identified as having met that failing standard this year, according to the report. It says Burma continues to be the largest producer of methamphetamine in Asia, has done little or nothing to crack down on the trade and remains a leading source of opium. Venezuela is accused of failing to take steps to curb the transit of narcotics through its soil to the United States and Europe, the report says.

The report says Bolivia made some progress last year, despite a continued strong showing of traditional coca production.

“Bolivian counternarcotics cooperation has been uneven,” it said, noting discrepancies between the government’s stated anti-drug policies and tolerance of coca production.

“We strongly encourage the government of Bolivia to make its No. 1 priority the reduction and eventual elimination of excess coca crops,” it said.

Earlier this year, leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales, a backer and still the leader of a major coca-growers union who has campaigned for some legal use of coca, drew U.S. criticism in an interim report for failing to deal with increased production.

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