Cocaine Sows 'Corruption, Death' in Bolivia, He Warns : Perils of Drug Traffic Stressed by Pope

Times Staff Writer

Pope John Paul II, appealing for urgent action against drug trafficking, warned Bolivians on Friday that the illegal trade is sowing "corruption and death" in their country.

The warning apparently was aimed at refuting the notion, widespread here, that cocaine is a problem only in countries where it is heavily consumed.

Santa Cruz, a prosperous city in Bolivia's eastern lowlands and a major trafficking center, has reaped huge benefits from cocaine. The drug puts an estimated $600 million a year into the national economy, about as much as all other exports combined. Bolivia is the world's No. 2 source of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, after neighboring Peru.

The U.S. government has been seeking more effective anti-drug action by Bolivian authorities, and the Pope took a firm position on the U.S. side in a Mass here Friday.

'Forms of Corruption'

He said that Bolivia's most serious problems include "narcotics trafficking and its internal and external sequels, which tend to generalize in different forms of corruption."

Later in his homily, the pontiff lamented "the deterioration of basic ethical values, such as public and private honesty, which has led to numerous kinds of corruption, undermining the foundations of the organization and the society."

He went on to say: "Drug commerce has become an authentic traffic in liberty, in that it leads to the most terrible form of slavery and sows your soil with corruption and death. Therefore, it is urgent not only to protect youths from drug consumption but also to combat the traffic itself, as it is an infamous activity by all lights. At the same time, there is urgency in discerning the causes or deeper roots of this phenomenon to define courses of action that will be effective."

Threats to Society

It was the second time in four days in Bolivia that the Pope has spoken out against drug trafficking. On Wednesday in Cochabamba, another major nucleus in the Bolivian cocaine business, he called drug abuse and trafficking "seductions that threaten to destroy the person and the society."

Bolivian President Victor Paz Estenssoro has pledged full cooperation with the United States in fighting cocaine traffic, but the main Bolivian police unit for drug enforcement is rife with corruption, according to U.S. and Bolivian sources.

Some U.S. officials contend privately that because obviously corrupt police officers go unpunished, the cocaine corruption must reach higher up in the government.

Fernando Barthelemy, the president's former interior minister, resigned last year after a Bolivian congressional committee accused him of involvement in a drug bribery scheme.

The Pope is scheduled to fly to Peru this evening.

Paraguay Conflict Resolved

On Monday he will travel to Paraguay, where a conflict arose early in the week between that country's dictatorial government and the Vatican after the government canceled a scheduled meeting of the Pope with leading Paraguayans, including opposition politicians.

Vatican spokesmen announced here Friday that the problem had been resolved and that the meeting would be held as planned Tuesday.

President Alfredo Stroessner's ministers of education and foreign relations had said in a letter to the papal nuncio in Asuncion, Paraguay's capital, that opposition leaders planned to use the meeting as "an opportunity for a provocation of the government."

The Paraguayan Conference of Bishops insisted on holding the meeting, and the Vatican expressed "astonishment" at the government's decision.

The nuncio and representatives of the Conference of Bishops met with government officials Friday morning, concluding "that there had been some difficulty, which has been overcome," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro in a written statement.

"Therefore, I can report that the Holy Father's pastoral visit to Paraguay will be carried out just as it was initially foreseen," the statement said.

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