NEW YORK — WHEN Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora met with President Bush last week, he came away feeling exasperated. ``The president began and ended every conversation on the topic of drugs,'' Mr. Zamora says. President Zamora says he recognizes that drugs are a significant problem, but the United States dwells exclusively on the issue and doesn't say ``yes'' to an alternative, he says. Zamora was in New York to attend the opening session of the United Nations - his first appearance there since his August election.
``In order for the US to pay any attention we need a narco-trafficker who takes over the government and kills people,'' the Bolivian president says. ``It seems we need a Bolivian Noriega to make news.''
Zamora wants Americans to think of investment when they think of Bolivia. ``The best way to fight drug traffic is to invest in Bolivia,'' Zamora says. He notes that President Bush looked surprised when he mentioned that there were only two US companies in all of Bolivia.
Herbert Klein, a professor of Latin American history at Columbia University, agrees. Through Draconian measures, such as severely reducing the value of its currency, Bolivia has reduced its annual inflation rate of 26,000 percent to 12 percent in less than four years. Professor Klein notes that these are commendable statistics but adds that they mean nothing until the economy begins to grow.
``The crucial problem awaiting Bolivia is reviving economic growth now that Bolivia has successfully reshuffled crucial problems in its structure and has reduced its hyper-inflation,'' he says.
Bolivia's unemployment rate stands at 23 percent, thanks to the currency devaluation and other ``brutal'' economic reforms imposed on the country by the World Bank to reduce the country's $400 billion foreign debt, Zamora says.
The Bolivian president has finally achieved what the World Bank and the industrialized countries have asked for - a stable currency and political stability. He cites as an example his own election in August, which was made possible by a unique coalition of two opposing parties - his center-left Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and the right-wing National Democratic Action (ADN).
``Our parties fought for 18 years,'' Zamora says. ``When ADN was in power, I was a prisoner and my brother and sister-in-law were assassinated. Today we have the most solidly formed government in the last 20 years.''
The Bolivian leader is certain that bitter economic remedies imposed by the World Bank are making drug trafficking worse. Importing countries have a responsibility to help farmers plant crops other than coca, Zamora says. ``The best way to combat the drugs is not with troops, but to offer alternatives through jobs,'' he says.
Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) of New York, who is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been to Bolivia and other Andean nations, agrees.
``It is unrealistic for the US to expect them to stop growing coca until they have alternatives,'' says a spokesman for Representative Solarz. ``Bolivia does not have the resources to do it on its own.''
``We are witnessing the benefits of reconciliation,'' Zamora says of his election. ``We correspond to a new political generation; together we are the new modern left.'' His biggest challenge is to change US attitudes toward his country, he says. ``US perceptions are distorted by the topic of drugs,'' he says.