Andean Leaders Await US Steps on Trade
Political leaders here have given a cautious welcome to the agreement to step up action against the illegal cocaine trade signed by President Bush and three Andean leaders during last Thursday's summit in Cartagena, Colombia. The summit was the first to bring together leaders of the world's main cocaine-producing countries and the principal drug-consuming nation. Mr. Bush said they had ``forged an unprecedented alliance against the drug trade,'' calling it ``the first anti-drug cartel.''
The talks were notable for the atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie among the four presidents, and marked a successful effort by Bush to mend his relations with Latin America after the frictions caused by the United States' invasion of Panama in December.
But several Andean country politicians say that the Cartagena accord amounts to little more than a statement of good intentions unless Washington shows the political will to settle the Andean countries' trade grievances and moves quickly to find money to implement wide-ranging pledges to support rural development in the cocaine-producing region of the Andes.
Others note that the sheer scale of the US drug habit and the illegal industry it has brought into being continue to dwarf efforts to tackle it.
``There are some vague offers from the US government, but no specific things were worked out,'' Rodrigo Lloreda, the presidential candidate of Colombia's opposition Social Conservative Party said. But he added: ``A definitive judgment on the success of the meeting depends on what happens in concrete terms in the coming weeks.''
Some of these points may be covered in future bilateral agreements between the US and the Andean countries. But Colombian officials have expressed disappointment that Bush gave no firm commitments to remove duties on some of their countries exports, such as cut flowers.
``Where's the beef?'' Peru's President Alan Garc'ia asked in the only discordant note at the post-summit press conference. But Mr. Garc'ia also praised the meeting as ``the opening of a new chapter'' in US-Latin American relations in which ``it's been accepted for the first time that the drug trade is an economic aspect of our relations'' and not just a law-enforcement matter.
Under the agreement, signed also by Presidents Virgilio Barco of Colombia and Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia, the US and the Andean countries agreed to concert and intensify their actions against all stages of the cocaine industry, from the Andean fields where coca is grown, to the streets of US cities, where it is sold.
The idea for the summit emerged from the US National Drug Control Strategy, launched by Bush last September. Bush's decision to visit Colombia, despite what some of his advisers considered to be a security risk, was said by US officials to be an expression of this personal support for President Barco's six-month crackdown against the Medell'in cocaine traffickers.
The document finally signed by the presidents after months of negotiations includes several diplomatic victories for the Andean countries. After a decade in which US officials blamed the drug trade on the Andean producer countries, the agreement repeats Washington's recent recognition that reducing cocaine consumption is vital.
For the first time, the US has also accepted that ``suppression of coca production and trade will result in significant ... economic costs'' in the Andean nations. The accord commits Bush to seek new funds in addition to the $2.2 billion over five years pledged to the Andean countries under the drug strategy.
Officials from Boliviva, where the coca industry provides more income than the country's total legal exports, said they were pleased with the talks' outcome. The agreement ``incorporates the Bolivian government's philosophy of alternative development,'' one said, referring to US pledges US to finance rural development schemes based on legal crops.
In the Cartagena document, the role of the armed forces in drug control actions is to be left to each country to decide. Washington has this year offered $100 million in military aid to the three Andean countires in a controversial bid to coax their armed forces into fighting drug traffickers and left-wing guerrillas active in drug-producing areas.