ON a day late last month, the presidents of both Colombia and neighboring Peru abruptly canceled plans to attend a meeting of Ibero-American heads of state in Spain. Their reasons were not directly related; yet the twin emergencies requiring the leaders' presence at home demonstrate how Colombia and Peru are partners in a cycle of lawlessness and violence.
President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo of Colombia was informed that cocaine lord Pablo Escobar had escaped from the prison where he was held since his negotiated surrender last year. Mr. Gaviria's government was already under fire for allowing Escobar to reside in a resort-like "jail" where he continued to run his murderous enterprise virtually unimpeded. Now, Escobar's escape - evidently with the collaboration of high military officials - reveals anew the pervasive corruption in Colombia and belies Bogota's claims to be making progress in its war against the drug barons.
In Peru, meanwhile, President Alberto Fujimori's travel plans were changed by a two-day "armed strike" called by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Marxist movement that has waged guerrilla war against the government for 12 years. The strike, enforced by death threats against workers who defied it, shut down much of Lima. It came just a few weeks after a bombing wave killed dozens of people in some of Lima's affluent middle-class districts. For the first time Sendero Luminoso demonstrated that it could
operate in Peru's capital.
A historical culture of violence in both countries and, of course, drug trafficking contribute to Colombia's and Peru's troubles. Security problems require security responses. More deeply, however, the countries' difficulties are rooted in economic, social, and political causes that must be addressed. Cultures of violence must be supplanted by cultures of democracy: Both countries must establish more robustly democratic institutions that have the trust of the people and are untainted by corruption. As a first step, Mr. Fujimori must keep his promise to reverse his "self-coup" of April.
In United States programs of assistance to these countries, the militarized war on drugs should be subordinate to democracy building.