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Needed: Multilateral Attack on Drug Trade

DRUG traffickers in Latin America are finding new routes and forms to smuggle their cargo, and also are joining their counterparts in Southeast Asia and Europe in new alliances that may force many countries, including the United States, to take a radical turn in dealing with the problem.

The solution, as in the case of peace and human rights, may be in the hands of the United Nations.

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According to the 1991 report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), recently issued at the UN, the interaction between South American, Asian, and European drug traffickers is making strange bedfellows and creating new conditions for increased consumption in some relatively untapped areas of the world.

The board - a panel of 13 experts chosen by the UN Economic and Social Council - noted that some Latin American countries previously considered outside the regular narcotic smuggling routes are being increasingly used by major drug organizations in the region.

The report cites Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador, formerly classified as secondary transit points, as countries not only through which narcotics are passing in growing amounts but that also have turned into major consumption points.

Underscoring that Argentina already is a transit country for cocaine destined for Europe and the US, the INCB says that "inevitably, increasing trafficking is leading to greater local abuse," while transforming the country into a center for money-laundering.

Similarly, Chile shows a rise in abuse of coca paste, with an estimated five tons of that product smuggled into the country in 1991 for local consumption through the northern border with Bolivia and Peru. Ecuador, while still considered primarily a transit point, is showing signs of an increase in cocaine processing as well as a rise in local abuse, says the report.

While the INCB praises the efforts of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru to eradicate coca-leaf cultivation and processing, it also points out that "cocaine trafficking continues unabated" in Colombia and has expanded to the rest of Latin America.

The report welcomed the European Community's action to include Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in its preferential customs system for a number of agricultural products, a measure aimed at reducing coca-leaf cultivation in those countries by promoting other exports. But that may not be enough.

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The experts also note that "in some parts of the Andean region guerrilla groups continue to hinder drug control efforts and eradication programs," a problem compounded by serious economic problems such as those affecting Peru. Can international military action to stop the trend be far away?

In its 1990 report, the INCB had already warned that trafficking organizations in South America, Western Europe, and Southeast Asia were engaged in joint ventures to smuggle cocaine and heroin. Seizure data now show "that these traffickers are expanding their operations and spreading them to new countries and territories," the report says.

Predictably, abuse of heroin is soaring in a number of "non-traditional" regions, while cocaine, once primarily used by drug addicts in Europe and the Americas, is now expanding in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Such an expansion in operations calls for joint international action. The "globalization" of the drug problem will make law-enforcement authorities around the world apply new and radically different strategies - perhaps by finally setting up the much-talked-about multinational anti-drug force.

In a report issued last year by the UN Association of the USA, aptly titled "The Global Connection," it is suggested that the newly reorganized UN International Drug Control Program may be the agency from which "to draw instructive lessons" for such new strategies.

The UNA-USA document proposes a closer coordination of US drug programs in UN activities to enhance the effectiveness of both. It is quite likely that the US will have to abandon its current eradication programs in Latin America and choose a broader, worldwide coordinated form of action. With good reasons, many Latin American governments claim that, were it not for the high consumption of drugs in the US, the current boom in drug trafficking simply would not exist.

"The Global Connection" is right in claiming that coordination with the UN would allow the US to enlist the resources of the world community "in combatting the global reach of drugs."

As Argentina and Chile exemplify, nobody can say anymore that their country is "untouched" by drug abuse.

As in the peace processes that the UN encouraged in recent years, when a problem becomes too pervasive and too big for a single country to handle, the world community should act. In those cases absolute sovereignty must yield.

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