White House expands drug watch list to include all Central America
President Barack Obama has included El Salvador and Belize on the list of 22 countries ranked as "Major Illicit Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2012"—for the first time placing all seven Central American nations on the annual list that identifies countries that "significantly affect the United States" through their role in the drug trade. The reports finds that 90% of the 700 metric tons of cocaine that leaves South America bound for the US annually passes through Central America. Four metric tons of cocaine passed through El Salvador in 2009, according to the report assessment. Belize, with a population of only 330,000, saw some 10 metric tons pass through its territory. Perversely if perhaps not intentionally, the new report was released on Sept. 15, El Salvador's Independence Day, and just six days before the Belizean Independence Day ceremonies, in 6 days.
In total, 22 countries were included on the list, and three were deemed to have "failed demonstrably" in the fight against drugs—Burma, Bolivia and Venezuela. The report admits that (NATO-occupied) Afghanistan remains the world's top opium producer, but asserts that poppy cultivation has fallen by a third in Helmand province due to an incentive program for farmers and increased enforcement. The report also singles out West Africa, asserting that the region has become a gateway for about a third of all cocaine destined for Europe. (Amandala, Belize, Sept. 16; McClatchy Newspapers, BBC News, AP, Sept. 15)
The White House findings are based on the more detailed International Narcotics Control Strategy Report produced each year by the State Department. In recent years it has also singled out Burma and Venezuela, while adding Bolivia to the list in its 2009 report.