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In Latin America, leftist leaders evict US drug warriors

Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela push back on US operations.

(Page 3 of 3)

"Relations between Bolivia and the US have been severed in more ways than people understand," says Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University.

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Some see an effort in Latin America to reassert national sovereignty. "[The] region as a whole has greater suspicion of US unilateralism," says John Lindsay-Poland, codirector of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean. "It's a blow to the [old US] approach, and I do think it's an opportunity to take a different tack."

Whether geopolitically that can hold is another question, he notes. "The cost for asserting self-determination can be really high," Mr. Lindsay-Poland says, pointing to the rescinding of Bolivia's ATPDEA benefits, which could impact thousands of jobs.

Ms. Ledebur agrees there is an opening for fresh thinking. "The way the war on drugs has been structured in the Andean region hasn't worked for anyone," she says.

She condemns the conditions placed on US aid, saying it doesn't address the poverty, for example, that often drives coca production.

Others say the US is too focused on supply, and needs to target demand in the US.

But Mr. Gamarra is dubious. "Any approach that we've used has not worked," he says. "You can make the argument that ... if only we had well-funded addiction-treatment programs in the US ... [but] even that doesn't work. Recidivism among addicts is very high, treatment is very expensive. We've gone around and around on this debate."

On Thursday, Morales said that Bolivia can take over antidrug operations on its own. He recently announced that Bolivia had met its goal of eradicating 12,300 acres of illegal coca this year – the amount required under law. A UN report from June shows that coca crop cultivation in Bolivia increased by 5 percent in 2007 – compared with 27 percent in Colombia, which is among the US's most loyal allies.

The impact of expelling the DEA will be more heavily felt in transit countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, as well as Europe, where the majority of cocaine from Bolivia heads. Less than 2 percent makes it to the US market, according to a State Department official familiar with counternarcotic programs in the region.

"It takes away our eyes and ears in country itself," says Mr. Courtney. But he says through partnerships with other law enforcement agencies in the region, they will find their way around it. "The same thing happened in Venezuela; we work around it," he noted.