LATIN EFFORTS to squeeze off the drug trade persist despite daunting obstacles. Nowhere is the struggle conducted more bravely than in Colombia. There the keenest immediate problem is the trafficker terrorism that has killed more than 1,000 people, including journalists who write of drugs -- Diana Turbay, daughter of a former president, was killed just last Friday -- and many judges. The judges are threatened, bribed or murdered so that cocaine cartel figures can ply their trade with minimal impact on their personal liberty.

To allay this awful epidemic of narcoterrorism, President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo now has a plan to coax traffickers to confess and submit themselves to prison through legal concessions -- a promise of no extradition to the United States and an offer of a reduced term; unconfessed traffickers would still face dreaded extradition. The first suspect to surrender under the new plan, which envisages appointment of 82 ostensibly secret judges, was tried and given only a brief (three-year) suspended sentence, whereupon the judge resigned -- not a promising start. Other traffickers, major kingpins, are currently dickering for more generous terms with a government that insists it will hold firm. The United States stands, as it must, on the sidelines, nervously hoping that the new Colombian plea-bargaining scheme will end up erecting a higher wall.

While the president struggles to build a terrorist-proof judicial system and to extend the law of the land to the regions where traffickers hold sway, the police extend the battle: more than 400 officers were reported killed last year fighting drug traffickers. This is a battle that must continue, since even if the new judges do put away the kingpins, many of the drug organizations will stay in business. Beyond law enforcement, programs to wean peasants from coca are underway with American assistance; their success is at best a long-term affair.

There is a continuing tendency in this country to neglect the tremendous difficulties the Latins encounter in coping with the drug trade and a continuing reluctance to acknowledge that their drug problem is essentially of American origin. Frustrating and necessary as it is to work on the supply end in Latin America, it is essential to work harder on the demand end back here in the United States.