THE WORLD FROM...San Antonio

Tight budgets hamper global war against narcotics; drug-summit leaders ask US to reduce demand

PRESIDENT Bush had several reasons to "just say no" to the requests of five presidents and a foreign minister for additional money to fight drug production and trafficking at last week's drug summit here.

Two of the reasons he named, the recession and the budget deficit, are both irritating to United States citizens. More to the point, they antagonize US voters.

Giving tax dollars to other countries, something voters grumble over in the best of times, could have been especially dangerous for Bush as he campaigns for the Republican nomination against an opponent who advocates slashing foreign aid. Drug abuse, meanwhile, has fallen from the top of the public's issues list two years ago to negligible status today.

So in San Antonio, Bush sat on the country's overdrawn checkbook. Not surprisingly, he got minimal returns from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

The concluding "Declaration of San Antonio" affirmed the need to improve sharing of information and to strengthen and standardize laws. It called for an annual, high-level meeting, and for recruiting other countries to join in, and donate to, the fight against the narcotics trade.

Absent from the document was Bush's wished-for timetable for eradicating the drug trade by 2020. A commitment of that sort is an all-or-none affair. But before the leaders even sat down together, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori had blasted the idea of accountability to a schedule. Not only wasn't he getting enough US aid money for the level of interdiction that would be required, Mr. Fujimori indicated, but economic development was the superior strategy for halting coca-growing in poverty-stricken, r ebel-infested Peru. That has been one theme of producing countries all along. Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora used the summit to call for US business investment.

Interviewed in his riverfront hotel suite, Mr. Paz Zamora advertised his country's new laws allowing repatriation of profits and prohibiting nationalization and double taxation. The anti-drug dividend, he says, is that for every $27 million of foreign investment, Bolivian peasants will be able to stop cultivating 2,500 acres of coca leaf. That means $1.2 billion would be needed to eliminate coca altogether there; Paz Zamora would like to see foreign businesses invest that amount over an eight-year period .

If Bush had needed another reason not to send abroad more money for drug interdiction, it might have been that such aid fails to reduce US demand - one thing that drug-producing countries insist the US do. What does work, analysts, law enforcement officials, and even addicts say, are anti-abuse programs.

San Antonio's police swear by their six-year-old Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

As the drug summit got under way, DARE Officer Lori Lashbrook was on the city's west side, explaining to a school class the "eight ways to say no" to drugs even when "triple dog dared." Kelley, a carrot-topped fifth-grader, rattled off an articulate definition of peer pressure learned during Officer Lashbrook's previous visit.

Never in 23 years on the force has San Antonio police spokesman Jimmy Kopeck heard of a case in which drug traffickers forcibly hooked an unwilling victim.

Rather, drug abuse always begins voluntarily, he says. Criminals "could have all the narcotics in the world in 2,000 ships sitting off the coast of the United States," Captain Kopeck says. "If there were no demand, it would sit there and rot."

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