Latins Blame Woes on U.S. Appetite for Drugs

Times Staff Writer

Law enforcement leaders from throughout Latin America urged Monday that officials of the United States, the world's greatest consumer of illicit drugs, take stronger action to both curb the national drug appetite and assist other nations in interdiction efforts.

"If the United States . . . wouldn't consume drugs, the Colombian people would be liberated from the greatest problem in their history," said Guillermo Plazas Alcid, Colombia's minister of justice, in a speech whose text was released Monday at a La Jolla anti-drug forum.

Specifically, Plazas cited the fact that Latin American narcotics traffickers often rely on U.S. suppliers to provide weapons, aircraft, sea vessels, communications equipment and sundry other material, including the chemicals used to derive cocaine from the South American coca plant. Greater controls are needed, he said.

'Do Not Produce These Things'

"We do not produce these things," Plazas noted at a news conference Monday during a conference here that includes participants from the United States, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico.

Latin leaders, vexed at criticism from U.S. officials who frequently cite official corruption as a barrier to interdiction efforts in drug-producing nations, have regularly stressed the need for the United States to reduce its voracious appetite for the substances.

The three-day session, which is to conclude today, is being sponsored by the Institute of the Americas, a research institution dedicated to hemispheric studies that is on the campus of UC San Diego. The conference marks the beginning of a three-year research project on regional prevention of drug abuse and trafficking, said Paul H. Boeker, a veteran U.S. diplomat who is the institute president.

Rhetorical Question

Generally characterizing the U.S. response as a complacent one, Plazas asked rhetorically whether the world's richest nation was powerless to counterattack the effects of drug traffic on U.S. society.

Among other concrete steps, Plazas and Jose Justiniano, Bolivia's Minister of Agriculture, suggested that the United States consider providing favorable trading terms for substitute crops--such as coffee, sugar and flowers--that could be grown in regions now dedicated to production of coca and marijuana. The United Nations recently embarked on a $15-million substitute-crop program in Mexico, officials noted.

Mexican officials said they were hopeful about the crop-substitution effort, the largest ever undertaken in Mexico utilizing foreign aid, but they stressed the need to cut demand for drugs.

"We know this (crop substitution) is not a panacea," said Jose Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez, deputy undersecretary for the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Plazas, in a keynote address to the session, cited regional fears that drug Mafias had overwhelmed interdiction efforts, and could possibly undermine governments themselves unless U.S. authorities take decisive action to reduce drug use. The Colombian Justice Minister proposed an anti-drug hemispheric summit, which would be designed to spur new joint anti-drug actions by U.S. and Latin American leaders.

"It's the time for international solidarity," Plazas said. "We will fight together, loyally and with coherence, and that's how we'll win the battle against narcotics trafficking."

Strength of Initiatives

Although U.S. officials have often criticized interdiction efforts in Latin America as insufficient, the foreign representatives stressed the strength of their anti-drug initiatives.

"The Mexican government is committed" to such efforts, said Enrique Arenal, who heads the foreign affairs department of the Mexican Attorney General's office.

U.S. authorities at the session acknowledged that drug demand in the United States needed to be cut, and that problems existed with the export of materiel to drug traffickers, but they declined to outline specific proposals. They noted that William J. Bennett, the so-called U.S. drug czar, is still formulating the Bush Administration's overall anti-drug strategy, which is slated for release before Sept. 5.

The evolving plan will address issues of both demand and supply, and will place considerable emphasis on educating youth to prevent drug use, said Arthur M. Niner, acting deputy director for supply reduction of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "There is no preordained solution," Niner said.

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