FILE ID:97030310.LAR

(From State Department Report)  (700)

WASHINGTON -- Following is the text of the State Department's
explanation for the president's decision on drug certification for

(Begin text)

Venezuela continued to be a major transit country for cocaine shipped
from Colombia to the United States, and for chemicals transhipped
through Venezuelan ports, as well as a money laundering center. Law
enforcement agencies estimate that between 100-200 metric tons (mt) of
cocaine are shipped through Venezuela to the United States and Europe.
The Government of Venezuela (GOV) seized only about six mt of cocaine,
almost identical to the amount it seized in 1995. Heroin seizures
declined by 27 percent, from 96 kilograms (kg) in 1995 to 70 kg in

A significant decision this year was President Caldera's appointment
of a politically powerful drug czar and elevation of this position to
a cabinet rank. However, the GOV must produce more concrete
counternarcotics results to match this demonstration of political will
during the next year.

Venezuela's main port, Puerto Cabello, is a favored point for illicit
smuggling by narcotics trafficking syndicates. The same is true of
other ports along Venezuela's long coastline. Venezuela's airspace
offers further opportunities for trafficking. Traffickers transport
cocaine by small aircraft primarily to Venezuela's border states of
Tachira and Apure. Traffickers risk little by transporting cocaine
through Venezuela due to weak and ineffectual law enforcement
interdiction efforts.

The United States designated Venezuela as a recipient of more than $12
million worth of USG drawdown defense equipment. The Venezuelan Armed
Forces adopted a counterdrug strategy, which defines its role as
supporting the National Guard (GN) and police forces. The GOV is
working with the United States to create a Joint Police/Military
Counternarcotics Intelligence Center. However, much more needs to be
done to improve communication and coordination between the GN and the
Navy, Air Force and Army to implement the strategy.

Maritime cooperation was disrupted by GOV denials of four USG requests
from United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments from third
country vessels to board suspected Venezuelan narcotics trafficking
vessels in international waters. However, USG and GOV authorities are
currently seeking to broker a maritime agreement.

Although the GOV lacks effective controls over certain precursor
chemicals, it made significant seizures of chemicals at Puerto
Cabello. The GOV also continued to make significant progress against
illicit cultivation. Venezuelan authorities identified replantings of
about 500 hectares (ha) of coca and opium poppy fields in the Sierra
de Perija region on the border with Colombia. With USG assistance,
those replantings were eradicated. Since 1994, joint efforts have
reduced estimated illicit plantings from 1,000 ha to 200 ha.

The GOV permitted the basing of United States military assets and
personnel in Venezuela in an effort to cooperate on Operation Laser
Strike, a United States Southern Command regional air interdiction

Money laundering in Venezuela continued in its financial network of
banks and non-bank institutions because of weak banking supervision
and regulatory authority. Although Venezuela passed a drug law in 1993
that included provisions on money laundering, key provisions are
lacking, including one on conspiracy.

Allegations of corruption plague the judicial branch and some
elements-of the GN. Law enforcement agencies believe that corruption
in the GN is a problem, hobbling the effectiveness of counternarcotics
efforts. These shortfalls have raised the USG's concern about
trafficking through Venezuela to the United States Venezuela must move
swiftly to reform its judicial branch, whose corruption threatens to
prevent Venezuela from combatting its drug problem and from protecting
its democratic institutions and national territory from international
drug traffickers.

Despite such problems, eradication efforts, the elevated rank of the
drug czar, Venezuela's first national epidemiological survey, and
other counternarcotics efforts reflect the GOV's spirit of cooperation
to advance the goals and objectives of the 1988 U.N. Drug Convention
and bilateral agreements with the United States. However, the USG will
scrutinize Venezuela's efforts in the coming year and will expect the
GOV to be vigorously engaged in increased cooperation on drug
interdiction, money laundering, chemical control, anti-corruption
efforts and conclusion of a comprehensive bilateral maritime
cooperation agreement.

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