Cesar Gaviria, the president-elect of Colombia, said yesterday that "Colombians are waiting for severe sanctions" against District Mayor Marion Barry in his drug and perjury trial and said "a lot of damage" could be done to public support for the country's drug war if the mayor is acquitted.
Asked in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors about the impact of the Barry trial in Colombia, Gaviria said it had been a topic of considerable interest and that even before the trial began, "people were quite upset and surprised" that Barry had not resigned.
"We are on the front lines. We are losing so many lives, confronting terrorism and bombings, fighting the narco-traffickers," he said.
"To see a person who has been mayor, who has been a very important person in this country and consumes drugs and (he) doesn't have any sanctions, we would have a lot of damage in Colombian opinion, a lot of damage."
Gaviria's comments reflected the attention that Barry's case has received in Europe and Latin America.
The case has struck a strong chord in Colombia because of the longstanding complaint that the United States has failed to crack down on the users of illegal drugs here while it exhorts Colombians to wage war against the drug cartels that operate in the country. Barry, who last year called on President Bush to invade South America and "blow up those labs," has become a vivid symbol of how users -- not producers -- are at the core of the drug problem, Colombian officials have said.
"I really think that the consumption -- the demand for drugs -- is really the engine for all these problems," said Gaviria. "You can kill or catch any kind of narco-trafficker. If you have the consumption here . . . there will be new crops, and new countries and new narco-traffickers. . . . "
Lurma Rackley, Barry's press secretary, said the mayor would have no comment on Gaviria's comments.
Gaviria, who was elected May 27 after a campaign in which three presidential candidates were assasinated by drug traffickers, repeated his pledge to continue the anti-drug crackdown launched last year by President Virgilio Barco. About four-fifths of all the cocaine entering the United States is believed to be processed and smuggled from Colombia.
But Gaviria said that even if his country's military and police were to capture Pablo Escobar, the Medellin cartel leader believed to be behind most of the killings, it would make little difference unless the United States took more steps to control the use of drugs here.
Gaviria, a 43-year-old economist who will become the youngest president in Columbia's history, met with President Bush yesterday to discuss further anti-drug efforts by the two countries.
Although Bush praised Gaviria for his "forthright cooperation," Gaviria said in the interview that Colombia needed greater support from the United States and other countries for its anti-drug efforts. "We need some more than words," he said.
Even though increased U.S. military aid for Colombia's anti-drug efforts were "useful," Gaviria said the country's priority is new trade agreements that would help offset the high costs of fighting the drug war.
In the past, Colombian officials have criticized the Bush administration for pursuing trade policies that undercut Colombia's exports of coffee and flowers. Gaviria said Colombians were getting "very upset" about the lack of progress on these issues, saying what "they are waiting for is commerical aid -- trade -- something that could help the Colombian economy."
Gaviria also said that most of the weapons being seized from the drug traffickers were coming from the United States and Israel. But he said he had been informed by Barco's aides that U.S. proposals to curb the flow of arms were "really weak" and not "we don't want to sign that."
Gaviria was referring to a proposed agreement called for in last September's anti-drug summit in Cartagena, Colombia, seeking curbs on the flow of arms and chemicals used in the production of cocaine and money laundering. A State Department official said the United States submitted its proposal last January, but declined to give details of what was in it.
"We thought it was a good proposal and the Colombians have not yet responded," the official said.