Ecuador is a transit point for coca paste smuggled from Peru to Colombia, and for cocaine produced in Peru and Ecuador on its way to the United States and other markets. It is this traffic that worries Ecuadoran and U.S. officials, rather than the actual abuse of drugs in Ecuador, according to Ecuador's first lady, Eugenia Cordovez Ponton de Febres-Cordero.

"The use of drugs in Ecuador in relative terms is still small," says the Spanish-speaking Febres-Cordero through Ambassador to the United States Mario Ribadeneira. The ambassador continues, "Mrs. Febres-Cordero feels this means this is a very timely moment to start fighting the curse of drug abuse."

President Leon Febres-Cordero took office eight months ago. His wife says the drug control agencies now report directly to the president, and that in the past few months, 1 million coca plants have been destroyed. The government's work is limited by only one thing, she says -- lack of money.

Eugenia Febres-Cordero, 50, has not been involved in the drug issue for very long. She has spent most of her time in volunteer work in education, juvenile mental retardation and infant malnutrition. Yesterday she attended an Agency for International Development conference on infant mortality.

"She feels she was able to devote her time to this because her daughters were already married, and she felt it was her duty to do something for others," translates Ribadeneira.

"Four daughters," she says in English. "Seven grandchildren."

A blond woman who smiles often, Febres-Cordero sits in her suite at the Regent, the soft hues of furniture and walls fading even further in the presence of her bright pink silk dress, black rhinestone-studded shoes and the earrings and ring of large blue stones surrounded by what look like diamonds.

"She was also very active in her husband's campaign for election, and not because he was her husband, but because she firmly believed in the man and his ability to do the job," says Ribadeneira, as Febres-Cordero smiles.