CALI, COLOMBIA — HE cocaine cartel in Cali symbolizes the slide backward that the war on illegal narcotics has suffered in recent years, say drug-enforcement officials.
In the late 1980s, Pablo Escobar's cartel in Medellin ruled the cocaine roost. Then, at US urging - and in fact with the cooperation of Cali cartel operators - Colombia took on Medellin.
Yet, despite years of anti-Escobar operations that culminated in his 1993 death, the power of Colombia's cocaine empire was simply transferred from Medellin to Cali. The war, many observers say, was for nought.
Similarly, US officials say significant gains made elsewhere from the late '80s to the early '90s have been lost. Burma, Bolivia, and Peru - which had eradicated tens of thousands of acres of coca and opium poppies - are now producing more narcotics than ever.
Peru, for example, destroyed more than 12,000 acres over several years. Today it is again the world's leading cultivator of coca, with more than 200,000 acres growing, according to a recent United Nations report.
Bolivia's backsliding is considered even more dramatic: At one point US officials thought the country was on the way to a full eradication of illicit narcotics cultivation. Today it is once again the second-largest grower of coca.
The reasons for the backsliding are varied. The United States says drug-producing countries dropped their guard, and new producers sprang up. But those countries say US interest in narcotics-eradication flagged under President Clinton.
But Mr. Clinton this month criticized Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay for failing to cooperate fully in the antidrug fight. For ``national security'' reasons, however, sanctions were not imposed.
Presidents of the four countries rejected US criticism, but called for a summit to address both the production and consumption of narcotics. ``We are sovereign countries, and [the US] can't tell us, as if they were our teacher, that they're giving us this or that grade,'' says Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.
Shortly after the US ``grade'' was announced, Colombia announced it had arrested one of three brothers in the family that operates the Cali cartel. Officials trotted out Jorge Eliecer Rodriguez Orejuela, brother of kingpins Miguel and Gilberto, to give journalists a look at their catch.
But in Cali, the people appeared unimpressed. ``People here didn't respond as they might have if it had been Miguel or Gilberto,'' says Jose Evencio Usman, Cali's chief of communications. ``Jorge is not as well known as the other two.''