Rosa Elena Alvarez de Betancur, the first lady of Colombia -- which is the source of 75 percent of the cocaine entering the United States -- declined to talk to a reporter but presented a three-page statement answering questions posed in advance by The Washington Post.
"In Colombia," she wrote, "the drug problem has been felt to be the most serious we have ever encountered in our entire history because of its deleterious effects on the health and welfare of our people. In this respect, the administration of President Betancur is determined in what he himself has called 'a constant struggle' against this scourge to safeguard our moral peace."
Despite the administration's concentrated effort to combat drugs following the assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in March 1984, according to the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, "most arrestees have been released due to insufficient evidence, a chronic problem of Colombian drug enforcement. The continuing inability or unwillingness of the Colombian government to effectively prosecute the vast majority of illicit cocaine manufacturers and traffickers whom they arrest in flagrant violation of their narcotics laws is discouraging."
In her three years as first lady, Rosa Elena Alvarez de Betancur has launched her own National Campaign Against Drug Addiction, which is conducted in schools. Other goals are to "alert youngsters to the dangers of drugs," to see that parents are aware of the problem and their possible role in preventing drug abuse, to warn workers "that drugs can hamper them in finding employment, in keeping their jobs and in career promotion," and to enlist the aid of "adults in general."
The first lady was married in 1945 to Belisario Betancur, who had come from a peasant family, studied architecture, law and economics, served as editor of the newspaper La Defensa and rose through the political ranks. The couple have three children and five grandchildren.