- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Afghanistan remains by far the world’s top producer of illegal opium poppy used to make heroin, according to the State Department’s annual report on global trends in the illicit narcotics trade, which also pinpoints Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela for having “failed demonstrably” to uphold international counternarcotics agreements.

The report, which the State Department quietly released and submitted to Congress last week, also highlights Nicaragua as a major drug transit country and claims that more than 80 percent of illegal cocaine entering the U.S. gets smuggled through the Central American corridor.

The 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report cites Mexico as a “center for money laundering” along with high ongoing rates of drug trafficking. But it also points to “signs of improvement” in the security situation in Mexico where more than 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006.

On Afghanistan, meanwhile, the report says “smuggling of heroin into India from Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to increase in 2012” and that “drug-trafficking organizations in India use human couriers and commercial package services to send illicit drugs overseas, both to Europe and the Americas.”

With U.S. military forces preparing to exit from Afghanistan in 2014, the nation’s ongoing and high level of illicit drug production remains a subject of debate in the world’s foreign policy and counterterrorism circles — since profits from the illicit drug trade have for years been known to finance international terrorism.

The report notes that “nearly all” of Afghanistan’s opium cultivation is now occurring in the war-torn nation’s southern and western provinces, where instability “allows criminal networks, insurgent groups, and illicit cultivation and drug production to thrive.”

But researchers also cited progress in the effort to beat back opium growth in Helmand Province — Afghanistan’s largest cultivation area — though overall poppy cultivation across Afghanistan actually “increased by 57 percent” from 2011 to 2012.

The world’s next most-productive opium cultivator is Myanmar. Claims by the Myanmar government that its officials have destroyed an increasing amount of opium crop “cannot be verified.”

But the U.S. policy toward Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has softened dramatically during the past year, as the nation’s leaders have undertaken significant democratic reforms.

The State Department report notes that “while in the past U.S. policies have limited direct assistance to the Myanmar government, in September 2012, [President Obama] signed a national-interest waiver which allows for the possibility of providing such direct assistance in the future.”

The report calls for similar waivers to be granted to Venezuela and Bolivia on grounds that U.S. support for programs aiding the three nations are “vital to the national interests of the United States.”

The report cites a lack of counternarcotics coordination with Venezuelan authorities, but added that, “as in prior years, the United States remains prepared to deepen cooperation with Venezuela to help counter the increasing flow of cocaine and other illegal drugs transiting Venezuelan territory.”

With regard to Bolivia, the report maintains that “most Bolivian cocaine flows to other Latin American countries, especially Brazil, for domestic consumption or onward transit to West Africa and Europe.”

“Approximately 1 percent of cocaine seized and tested in the United States originates in Bolivia,” according to the report.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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