MANAGUA – Less than a month after President Daniel Ortega publicly slammed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as “corrupt,” he met with top U.S. drug officials last week to discuss new cooperation in the war on drugs.
“This is an issue we have to work on,” Ortega told DEA Chief of Operations Michael Braun, adding that he hopes to establish a “new stage” in joint U.S.- Nicaraguan drug-enforcement efforts.
The meeting at Sandinista headquarters in Managua came as the U.S. Congress debates a $550 million aid initiative to beef up anti-narcotics efforts in Mexico and Central America.
In Ortega’s State of the Nation address Jan. 10, he publicly accused the DEA of having Nicaraguan cops on its payroll, adding that the DEA is “very dangerous.” The U.S. State Department denied the allegation.
Ortega is a close ally to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a staunch foe of the United States who has banned DEA agents from Venezuelan soil.
Despite Ortega’s recent tough talk, Nicaragua, a key transition country for drugs being smuggled from South America to the United States, has been making record drug seizures since the Ortega administration returned to office last year. Nicaraguan cops seized a record 20 tons of cocaine last year.
Christy McCampbell, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for counter-narcotics, thanked Ortega for his efforts to “keep drugs off the streets.”
McCampbell told Ortega she would like to hear more about the “new strategy” that the Sandinista government has reportedly prepared to combat drugs.
Before meeting behind closed doors with Braun, McCampbell and other U.S. drug officials, Ortega told reporters that Nicaragua is better at fighting drugs than Colombia, a country to which Nicaragua recently lost an international territorial dispute over the Caribbean islands of San Andres, Provincia and Santa Catalina.
Colombia has also been the recipient of more than $1.3 billion in U.S. anti-drug trafficking aid under the so-called “Plan Colombia.”
“We’ve given drug trafficking some major blows…despite limited resources,” Ortega said.
Nicaragua’s poorest region, the Caribbean coast, could use help for social programs to prevent Nicaraguan youth from falling into drug additions and smuggling, he said.
Ortega also mentioned that he would like to get his controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) in on the fight against drugs.
He said he wants to increase citizen participation with the neighborhood groups to make for a “more effective battle” against drugs.