Governments and drug wars

GOVERNMENTS, particularly Washington, must be far more inventive than they have been in working with other governments to curtail the production of illegal drugs. Saying this is not to imply that the drug problem is primarily a ``foreign'' problem. Drug production within the United States is also substantial. The US marijuana crop, for example, grown in hidden, out-of-the way rural areas, within inaccessible public park lands or national forests, and on private farms, is estimated at two to three times the size of Mexico's crop!

Still, the evidence is indisputable that the United States, because of its large population, its wealth, and its extensive networks of underground criminal subcultures, remains the main ``target'' for overseas drug producers and dealers. Drug products grown abroad, in such places as Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, or the Caribbean, are more often than not specifically aimed at the large North American market. One way to mitigate the worldwide drug challenge is to destroy those crops abroad -- before they are processed and shipped along to consumers in the US or elsewhere.

There have been some successful overseas campaigns against drug growers: Turkish authorities, for example, have sought out and destroyed large amounts of drug crops. In Colombia, where drug dealers have been brutally aggressive in singling out police and government officials for retaliatory raids, some government officials have destroyed illicit crops. Some overseas raids have been well publicized, such as operation ``Blue Lightning'' in March 1985, a joint US-Bahamian effort in which agents blockaded 30 islands and seized 6,500 pounds of cocaine, 17 tons of cannabis, and a number of boats and planes.

Still, more, far more, needs to be done.

The Reagan administration, for its part, is now seeking to hit drug smuggling along the US-Mexican border. Mexico is considered the main source of imported heroin, marijuana, and illegal amphetamines coming into the US.

Task forces, involving agents from at least five federal antidrug departments, are being sent into border regions.

The problem for the US and foreign governments is that drug crops abroad are often a main source of income for impoverished agricultural communities. Local politicians, many of them taking bribes, protect those farming communities. And there are often political or religious inhibitions against allowing in American or other antidrug policing officials.

What, then, is to be done?

The US must be no-nonsense about linking foreign assistance to official anti-drug-farming campaigns abroad. At the same time, the US needs to provide practical assistance to other nations that are attempting to shift farmers away from drugs into more-wholesome crops.

The US should avoid collaborating with government officials, such as in Panama, who are known to be linked to the drug trade.

The US must continue to prod other nations to open up private bank accounts to court- or government-monitored scrutiny when evidence of drug-related criminal activities is established. Moreover, Washington must step up its campaign against money laundering, which is usually drug linked.

The US should provide particular assistance to Mexico, which is seeking to curtail drug production and trafficking. At the same time, the US should firmly hold that drug-related corruption in Mexico is as much a threat to the long-range political stability of that nation as to the safety of US cities where Mexican drugs are being distributed. Second in a series

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