Why Does the DEA Continue to Fail Latin America?

By Zachary Siegel 09/16/15

The global war on drugs is once again exposed as a global failure.

Evo Morales
Photo via

In Bolivia and other Latin American countries, there is an ongoing joke about America’s global policing tactics. It goes something like:

Q: Why has there never been a military coup in the United States?
A: Because there's no U.S. embassy there.

A Huffington Post report revealed the United States secretly indicted top Bolivian officials over their alleged connection to cocaine trafficking. The indictments came under “Operation Naked King,” headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which aimed to target Bolivian President Evo Morales and his innermost circle.

Though Morales kicked the DEA out of Bolivia in 2008, they didn’t leave quietly. In fact, they sought to subvert Morales’ leadership, which the DEA has long held animosity toward. Referring to Morales’ movement for election, General James T. Hill said, “We could find ourselves faced with a narco-state that supports the uncontrolled cultivation of coca."

Morales sees things differently. During a press conference on Tuesday, Morales acknowledged his decision to refuse U.S. funding for drug control, stating his reason for doing so is that the United States continues to enforce ineffective anti-drug strategies. At the government palace, Morales said, “If we are honest, U.S. policy is a failure in the fight against drug trafficking in the world."

Contrary to the United States’ fear that Bolivia would become a narco-state under Morales, the country has seen reduced coca leaf cultivation. According to the United Nations, total coca leaf production in Bolivia from 2013 to 2014 has dropped 11%. Furthermore, coca production has fallen an average of 10% since 2011 without any aid from the DEA, as they were ostracized from the country’s dealings in 2008.

Kathryn Ledebur, who runs the Andean Information Network based in Bolivia, wrote a statement to the Huffington Post. “There has long been an alarming lack of oversight of DEA operations in Latin America, including recurring mission creep and a violation of agreements with host countries."

Leaders across Latin American countries frequently disavow DEA interventions, but the United States responds by dismissing their accusations as mere paranoia. As it turns out, in this case their paranoia is real and the DEA is once again exposed as being unable to effectively carry out their only job.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.