In 1990, President Bush and several Latin leaders met in Colombia to draw up a three-year strategy for a concerted war on drugs. Another such summit will be held Wednesday and Thursday in San Antonio, Texas, to measure progress that has been made and to adopt further plans. The key question is whether all this summitry is really doing any good.
At the Colombia gathering, the United States offered $2 billion in military, economic and law-enforcement aid to the Andean region as a carrot to intensify the drug war while trying not to offend the national sensibilities of the participants - Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.In the aftermath of this coordination, seizures of illegal drugs have grown by 30 percent, totaling 300 metric tons of cocaine in 1990. And coca leaf production - the raw material for cocaine - has leveled off. Yet in a practical sense, little has changed. Drug traffickers pushed out of the Caribbean have moved west into Mexico and to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. U.S. drug enforcement agents had to be withdrawn from Haiti after the military coup there last year.
Drug cartels in Colombia are still in business and anti-drug efforts in Peru have stalled because of stepped-up violence by insurgency movements. Peru produces more than half the world's supply of coca leaves. In addition, Colombian drug lords are developing a lucrative market of producing heroin from poppies, adding to an already uncontrolled increase from traditional Asian sources.
As a result, the quantity and purity and price of bulk cocaine reaching American cities remain largely unchanged. Other drugs remain equally easy to obtain.
At the San Antonio summit, the 1990 participants will be joined by government leaders from Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico - all experiencing more drug trafficking as other drug regions are squeezed. This highlights a basic problem, namely, that shutting down production or shipments in one area only means they show up somewhere else.
The Texas summit is expected to produce a number of new initiatives, the biggest being the creation of seven "regional centers" used to train military and police forces and provide secure bases for launching anti-drug operations. The United States will pay most of the cost.
The Bush administration warns against expecting too much success too soon and says five to seven years of strenuous and expensive effort will be needed to make a difference.
But attempts to shut down production may never be totally successful. The region is too large, poverty too pervasive, and economic and political and criminal pressures too great to entirely control drug trafficking.
Countries that produce drugs are quite right when they point out that the problem is twofold. If America were not such a vast and growing market for illegal drugs, the issue would scarcely exist. More undoubtedly needs to be done at home to reduce drug use, fight addiction and battle the domestic drug culture.
Still, international efforts cannot be abandoned, even if they inevitably get larger and more costly. The Texas summit must seek to make business more difficult for drug traffickers and limit their dealing in human misery, addiction and death.