Bolivia hindering anti-cocaine effort: U.S. drug czar
By Mica Rosenberg
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Bolivia, the world's third largest cocaine producer, is blocking U.S. efforts to combat the drug trade, the top White House drug policy official said on Friday, Washington's latest dig at leftist President Evo Morales.
"Bolivia's done a very bad job," John Walters told reporters while on a visit to Mexico City.
"The Bolivian government has not made any ... reasonable effort to combat cocaine trafficking despite our efforts to continue to engage," he said.
In September, Washington for the first time put Bolivia -- along with Venezuela and Myanmar -- on a list of countries that have failed to help in the fight against illegal drug trafficking, but said it would not cut off bilateral aid to the Andean country.
Walter's comments could further strain U.S.-Bolivian relations after Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador last month, accusing him of fomenting opposition protests.
The United States says it has been forced to remove anti-drug agents from the country's largest coca-growing region because of safety reasons and earlier this year supporters of Morales expelled U.S. development workers from the same area.
Morales recently issued a ban on all U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration flights over Bolivia's territory, hampering the transport of Bolivian and U.S. officials for counternarcotics missions in the country.
Bolivia's first indigenous president rose to prominence as a fiery union leader of the coca farmers and wants to promote a legal market for the plant's leaves, used by natives for millennia in religious rites and as a herbal remedy.
The United States, the chief market for South American cocaine, says coca cultivation in Bolivia has risen by 14 percent in the last year, increasing potential cocaine output from 115 to 120 metric tons. Only Colombia and Peru produce more of the drug.
Morales' government admits that coca plantings have gone up but says only by 5 percent in 2007.
Walters said Bolivia's lower quality cocaine does not usually find its way to U.S. streets but has a bigger market in Europe and South America.
"Bolivia's bad behavior infects Europe, it infects Africa, because some of these routes are now going through Africa, and the Southern Cone. That's why we need cooperation," he said.
(Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia in La Paz; Editing by Eric Beech)