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It's No Time to Let Up in the War Against Drugs

RECENTLY, President Bush sat down with the presidents of Mexico and several South American countries. They met in San Antonio, Texas, to weigh the effects of their past efforts and determine the course of future coordinated efforts against narcotics trafficking.

Two years ago, Mr. Bush met with the presidents of Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia in Cartagena, Colombia, in the first of these "drug summits." This year, the presidents of Ecuador and Mexico sat at the table, and a delegation from Venezuela was there as well.

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The inclusion of the Mexicans, Ecuadorans, and Venezuelans reflects the hemispheric dimension of the problem. In the future, I would hope that hemispheric organizations, such as the Organization of American States, would take on the fight against narcotics trafficking as a challenge of the '90s.

The San Antonio summit is a logical milestone that should prompt an evaluation of the progress the United States government is making, if any, against narcotics. Years of effort and billions of dollars have been devoted to the effort to fight drug use and international trafficking. Results are not always easy to quantify. Disrupting a narcotics trafficker's distribution system by freezing one of his bank accounts probably will not make the evening news. Changing people's attitudes toward the cultivation of coca leaf by promoting alternative crops or changing their attitudes toward consumption is also difficult to measure.

What results support the continued fight against narcotics? Do the results point to gaps or, conversely, to areas where the US government is having great success? The administration's approach is across the board. It recognizes the need to change domestic attitudes about consumption as well as to bust dealers in the streets. According to recent statistics, cocaine use in late 1991 was 35 percent below the 1988 level, with 1 million fewer users. Occasional use dropped, and adolescent use dropped even more

dramatically from 1988 to 1991.

As domestic consumption has declined, the administration's current strategy attacks the problem at its roots on the slopes of the Andes where coca leaf is cultivated. Coca cultivation has leveled off over the last few years, and in fact dropped 4 percent since 1988.

Recent articles have alleged that "narcotics production has surged" to record levels. There are some indications that cocaine production has increased despite a reduction in hectarage of coca cultivation. Reduced cultivation translates into less coca paste, less coca base, and ultimately less cocaine hydrochloride. Thus, the trend over the next few years will be leveling off, followed by a slow decline in production of cocaine. There are, however, disturbing indications of opium poppy cultivation in isol ated areas of Colombia during the past few years.

It takes time to show progress in lowering the supply of cocaine on US streets. Overall, prospects for a sustained level of coca eradication are promising. The Cartagena Summit participants have shown promising results in the past two years in terms of eradication and interdiction.

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* In 1991, Mexico and Colombia together seized 140 tons of coca products.

* Colombia also seized almost 90 tons of refined and semi-refined cocaine. Twenty-six major Colombian traffickers were extradited during the past two years, and 21 other traffickers turned themselves in. All the Medellin Cartel's leaders are dead or in jail.

* Bolivian actions have significantly disrupted major trafficking organizations, seized 39 aircraft, and arrested or accepted the surrender of 30 major traffickers.

* Cocaine seizures worldwide increased by 59 percent from 1989 to 1991, from 200 to 322 tons.

The administration has been alert to shifting patterns of trafficking and transshipment, resulting in cocaine busts in Venezuela, Guatemala, and Ecuador. Department of Justice officials work with Colombians preparing evidence against drug kingpins; officials sign agreements to control the shipment of precursor chemicals; and aid officials teach about crop substitution.

Just in the past two months, Drug Enforcement Agency efforts have crippled a major Colombian cocaine trafficking ring in the US. Agents in New York dismantled the Herrera organization and arrested 90 of its members, along with its head. In related operations, more than 300 bank accounts linked to traffickers were identified (containing $90 million in deposits).

Nobody is deluding themselves that we have "solved" the drug problem. The problem is enormously complex, and progress takes time. Moreover, US official efforts run up against an opponent who changes his methods, stays one step ahead of law enforcement, and has limitless funds. While I have cited some gains that have been made, the US has to sustain a multifaceted, long-term effort across a variety of fronts in order to claim that we are winning the war against narcotics.

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