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The War on Drugs and Double Standards Toward Colombia

Soon after returning from a study mission to Latin America, I found the article ``Colombian Justice System Falters,'' Jan. 24. Five days later, the Washington Post wrote ``US Antidrug Initiative Lagging, Say Colombians.'' While these stories discuss different aspects of antinarcotics policy in Colombia, they share a common theme: double standards. The United States must not hastily dismiss Colombia's prosecution efforts. When I met with President Gaviria, he said Colombia's attempt to prosecute drug traffickers in Colombia, rather than extraditing them to the US, would not be trouble-free. He emphasized that the new policy will only work in the context of a strong domestic law-enforcement effort, including the threat of extradition for those criminals who don't turn themselves in. Maintaining a policy of extradition in all cases, Mr. Gaviria believes, would undermine the credibility of the Colombian criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, within four months of the new policy's inception, a government narcotics prosecution stalled, and Gonzalo Mejia was paroled by a fearful judge. The Colombian government responded not only by attempting to revoke Mejia's parole but by seeking to prosecute the judge himself, revealing the government's determination to make its new policy work.

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Before we reject the viability of Colombia's judicial system, consider the parallels, in Colombians' minds, between the Mejia case and that of Washington Mayor Marion Barry. Both Mejia and Barry received sentences that many considered too lenient. But we did not, as a result of the Barry case, reject the constitutional right to due process. The Colombian system also may have failed in one case, but we cannot proclaim that the whole justice system ``falters'' unless we give the new system a chance to work.

President Bush has replaced the war on drugs with the Persian Gulf war. He has consistently fallen short on his pledge to make drugs his ``No. 1 issue.'' The trend is not lost on Colombians. Colombia wants more access to our markets and more help for their law enforcement, not more promises from our president. Has the US antidrug policy faltered?

Charles B. Rangel, Washington, Chairman, House Select Committee, on Narcotics Abuse and Control

Voting on independence I disagree with the opinion-page article ``Don't Sell Out the Baltics,'' Jan. 11. The author seems to think that because the Baltics were annexed by military force, they have a right to independence now even if the majority of people there don't want it.

The borders of the nations of the Arab countries, including Kuwait, were created through colonialism, and our own country was created by ``invading'' the American Indians. Would the author question all borders created through past wars and injustice? By my estimation, most of the world's borders were created ``illegally.''

We should encourage all people to make their own choice. Referendum votes in the Baltics on independence would do that.

David B. Kano, Winslow, Maine

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