Bolivian President Victor Paz Estenssoro said today that raids under way by a joint U.S.-Bolivian task force against cocaine-processing laboratories will do little to reduce international narcotics trafficking unless the United States and other nations increase aid to his country and do more to reduce demand for drugs at home.
The Bolivian leader said his decision to attack cocaine smugglers had already gone a long way toward overturning Bolivia's image as a country unwilling to confront the narcotics problem. But the permanent defeat of the drug trade, he added, will require a long-term effort and greater U.S. sensitivity to the political complexities involved.
Emphasizing that Bolivia by itself lacks the means to combat an illicit business whose repatriated earnings far exceed legal export revenues, the president appealed for $100 million annually in foreign aid in the next four years to equip his nation's antidrug police force and compensate peasants who abandon coca cultivation.
"Without this money, we can't do anything," he said in an interview, "or we can just do limited things, small operations."
The remarks were Paz Estenssoro's first public comment on the drug issue since U.S. helicopters and personnel arrived last week to airlift Bolivian police in strikes against the processing facilities. No raids were run today as the task force moved its forward base location, leaving at two the number of major cocaine factories hit so far. Since the raids began six days ago, the joint task force has failed to uncover any stashes of cocaine or capture any major smugglers.
Asked if he was satisfied, the 78-year-old president -- who in 1952 led a revolution widely credited with liberating Bolivia's Indian population through universal suffrage and land redistribution -- described the antidrug results as "not optimal but a good operation." He blamed the absence of more spectacular seizures on delays in beginning the operation and on premature disclosure following the arrival of a giant U.S. C5 military air transport plane early last week.
Planning Minister Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada, in whose house the interviews took place, sounded somewhat more disappointed, particularly by the four days it took the U.S. force to set up at a forward base camp.
"What we had expected would come was something like the Israelis," he said, "helicopters that would land in the morning and be operating by the next dawn. We had expected a little more efficiency."
U.S. officials here have attributed startup delays primarily to logistical difficulty in ferrying large inflatable rubber containers of fuel to the base camp located in the deserted Beni region of northeast Bolivia.
"The important thing in this operation," the minister added, "is that the United States is participating in a problem that is certainly Bolivian but is also international, because before they said, 'Do this or we'll cut the aid.' We think this has awakened a lot of consciousness that the problem of narcotics trafficking must be resolved with a large international effort."
Sanchez de Losada was even more emphatic than the president about what might happen if additional foreign assistance is not forthcoming after the current anti-cocaine operation. "It's like giving a patient a penicillin shot that's half of what he needs to get rid of the infection," he said. "These traffickers are going to come back and they're going to be armed next time and some of us may pay for it with our lives. Up to now, they haven't been very dangerous because they haven't been bothered very much."
Bolivian officials have resented U.S. pressure in recent years to destroy plantations of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine but also the source of employment for several hundred thousand peasants. Paz Estenssoro, a vigorous, pragmatic politician who assumed his fourth nonconsecutive term as president a year ago, said today that his predecessor, Hernan Siles Zuazo, had acted "a little irresponsibly" by signing a 1983 commitment to the United States to eradicate 10,000 acres of coca crops.
Failure to meet this target has meant a loss in U.S. cash assistance to Bolivia this year of $7.2 million. The Bolivian government's inability to check the spread of coca crops has also resulted in a freeze on dispersal of a remaining $20 million in Agency for International Development funds earmarked for the Chapare, Bolivia's main coca-growing region.
"We don't reject eradication," Paz Estenssoro said, "but we have to do it in a way that combines all aspects of the problem."
By going after the traffickers now, Bolivians hope to reduce the demand for coca leaf, lower the free market price for it, and induce peasants to turn to other crops.
Coca crops have grossed an average $8,000 to $10,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) over the past two years. To wean peasants off the plant will take time and financial incentives to avoid a political explosion, the president said. "You have to do eradication but that road is socially much more costly," he said.
Minister Sanchez de Losada accused U.S. officials, however, of being so blinded by eradication targets that they are obstructing construction of a road through the Chapare that would, he said, actually facilitate the substitution of other crops for coca. The road would help get citrus fruits, rice and other legal crops to market, he said.
But he charged that the U.S. government is blocking additional Inter-American Development Bank funding for the road to cover cost overruns on the $100 million project. He said U.S. officials want a law setting strict limits on the legal cultivation of coca.
The Siles-era law lacked enabling legislation to give it force. Bolivian officials say they cannot enforce the measure without foreign aid to compensate peasants for switching from coca to other crops.
"We can only pass such legislation when we're ready to say, 'Okay, here's the money to tear up the plants, here's a substitute crop, and here's the road to get the crops out,' " Sanchez de Losada said. "But U.S. officials say we first want you to do the tearing up, then we'll give you the road."
The government has come under attack from political opposition and union leaders for inviting U.S. troops into Bolivia. But Paz Estenssoro dismissed the criticism, calling it "a political game" by his opponents playing on anti-American sentiment, that, he said, is common in all Latin American countries. The president said he had decided to move against the traffickers now because "Bolivia has a responsibility to the international community" and because of the "disfiguration of Bolivia's international image."
"The operation is important," he said, "because before people believed Bolivia didn't have any interest in combating narcotics trafficking. Now they see the Bolivians have as much interest as the Americans."
The Associated Press added from La Paz:
The second jungle drug lab raided contained dormitories and could produce 4,400 pounds of cocaine a week, official Bolivian sources said. Last Friday, the U.S.-Bolivian antinarcotics teams uncovered their first drug lab at a clandestine camp called "El Zorro." The complex raided Wednesday apparently had been in operation for four years and was "twice the size of El Zorro," said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source said the complex was on the frontier between La Paz and Beni provinces, about 170 miles northwest of Trinidad city. There were no arrests and no drugs were found.