Fernando Messmer Trigo: How we can solve our drug problem

From a talk given by the Vice Foreign Minister of Bolivia at a conference in London on the global economy of illegal drugs
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The Independent Online

Bolivia, A nation of contrasts, is located in the geographical heart of South America, where the high Andean peaks converge with the vast Amazon forests and the waters of the Plata River Basin.

Approximately seven million inhabitants cohabit pacifically in our nation, nurtured by our Hispanic legacy as well as our native cultures. For the past 15 years, Bolivia has been experiencing profound structural transformations. The country is going through an unprecedented process of democratic continuity and economic stability, which had not been seen since the beginning of the 20th century.

Within this context, I will now make reference to the fight against drug trafficking in my country.

I have always thought that drug trafficking attained globalisation long before the country's economy and finances did. And it has done so very efficiently, making use of unlimited financial, human and technological resources to expand its illicit operation network. And it managed to erase borders and destroy ethical and moral barriers, bringing disease to entire populations, affecting the economy's health, infiltrating public and private institutions, putting at risk society's moral integrity, in an effort to control the destiny of our nations, conspiring against their security and dignity.

In August 1997, when President Hugo Banzer took office, it was fair to consider Bolivia as a country at risk. There was scepticism within the international community, because we had received co-operation but failed to reduce the country's cocaine production potential. At the domestic level there were myths in the sense that drugs constituted a problem that only affected the consumers.

Moreover, the Bolivian government was in a very bad position because it was seen as an oppressor in the fight against drug trafficking, and people thought that it was doing barely enough to comply with the certification criteria imposed by the government of the United States. These myths, which were partially true, prevailed in the country.

The fight against drug trafficking was coupled to a profound change in the customs system, given that both activities had always gone hand in hand. Drug trafficking brought in dirty money that was laundered through the contraband of goods sold in Bolivia, and a fight was initiated against these two phenomena.

Bolivia has regained credibility in the international arena throughout the past three-and-a-half years, due to the results attained in the reduction of coca-leaf plantations destined to manufacture cocaine. Bolivia, which has been known as a cocaine producer, is about to attain the goal we set, that is to say, breaking away from the coca-cocaine circuit.

I also wish to point out another aspect of the drug trafficking problem. It can almost be mathematically evidenced that eradication in countries like ours has led to the displacement and increase of coca leaf plantations in other countries. Therefore, a regional perspective should be adopted, and above all it cannot be forgotten that alternative development must focus on the countries that have shown actual progress, such as Bolivia.

We have gone through difficult moments, but the key to all this is what Bolivia has attained so far, which can become irreversible and sustainable through time if the funding for alternative development is maintained, and our country can secure access to international markets.

Thus Bolivia may become a model for other countries. We cannot solve the world's drug problem, but we can certainly solve ours, and in doing so, we can become a benchmark for other efforts. I firmly believe that my country, Bolivia, has done its share within the so-called principle of shared responsibility. The international community now has the floor.