Written Responses to Senator Lugar’s Questions
For the public record
Specific extract on Venezuela
1. What are your views on increasing the level and frequency of dialogue with Venezuelan Government officials regarding attempts to restart cooperative programs between the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Venezuelan counterpart authorities?
Our friends and partners in Latin America are looking to the United States to provide strong and sustained leadership in the region, as a counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region. Our relationship with Venezuela should be designed to serve our national interest, which means to speak out clearly on issues of concern to the United States, while seeking cooperation where it is important to our interest, as is the case in fighting the increasing flow of illegal drugs.
2. In your view, have actions undertaken by the Government of Venezuela undermined the success of United States counternarcotics assistance to Colombia (Plan Colombia)? What are the potential implications of Venezuelan drug policy for the effectiveness of the Merida Initiative its Central American counterpart and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative?
Venezuela is one of the principal drug-transit countries in the Western Hemisphere. Counternarcotics successes in Colombia have forced traffickers to shift routes through neighboring Venezuela, whose geography, rampant corruption, weak judicial system, and lack of international counternarcotics cooperation make it vulnerable to illicit drug transshipments. The increasing preference of drug traffickers to transship cocaine through Venezuela undermines the overall counternarcotics effort. The new administration supports both assistance to Colombia through the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (while updating it to meet evolving challenges) and a well-designed and implemented Merida Initiative. More effective counter-narcotics cooperation by Venezuela is critical to address the drug problem and to improve Venezuela’s relationship with its neighbors and the US.
3. Given what is known of President Chavez’s support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the alleged relationships between senior Venezuelan National Guard officials and narco-traffickers, does the administration intend to pursue direct talks with President Chavez?
The Obama administration intends to pursue clear eyed diplomacy with Venezuela including direct contacts when they serve our national interests. Those interests include ending Venezuela’s ties to the FARC and cooperating on counter-narcotics. For too long, we have ceded the playing field to Chavez whose actions and vision for the region do not serve his citizens or people throughout Latin America. We intend to play a more active role in Latin America with a positive approach that avoids giving undue prominence to President Chavez’ theatrical attempts to dominant the regional agenda
It remains to be seen whether there is any tangible sign that Venezuela actually wants an improved relationship with the United States. No decision has been taken with regard to the appropriate manner and level at which to engage with the Venezuelan government.