Venezuela arrests more than 12,000 for drug crimes
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has detained 12,376 people for drug-related crimes this year, about 40 percent more than in 2009, as the South American nation continues to be a major shipment route, authorities said on Monday.
Venezuela's government says the figures show the success of its anti-narcotics policy. But the figures also illustrate that Venezuela remains an important route for drugs -- mainly from Colombia -- to reach consumers in Europe and the United States.
"The security forces' success against illegal drug trafficking proves the contribution Venezuela is making in the fight against this global curse," state news agency AVN said.
This year's number of arrests, up to mid-December, compared with 8,741 throughout 2009, the National Drugs Office said.
Some 24.6 tonnes of cocaine were confiscated this year, down from 27.7 tonnes in 2009. But the amount of marijuana confiscated rose to 38.4 tonnes from 32.6 tonnes last year.
Cocaine and marijuana account for nearly all the drugs found.
Accused by critics of leniency in the drug fight and of collusion with Colombian rebels who depend on smuggling for financing, President Hugo Chavez's government counters that it has stepped up interdiction notably in recent years.
The socialist leader, who is Washington's fiercest critic in the region, stopped cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005 amid bilateral tensions.
(Reporting by Diego Ore and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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