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President Clinton took a major step during the U.N. anniversary celebration toward hitting drug smugglers and money launderers in the only place they feel pain - their bank accounts.

Clinton asked world leaders to join his efforts to stop drug traffickers, primarily Colombia's biggest drug cartel, from doing business in their countries. He announced a move to freeze any assets of the cartel in the United States and stop American firms from dealing with any of its front organizations.It's a wise move, based on the inability of the Colombian government to slow the traffic of cocaine to the United States.

U.S. officials estimate the Colombian cocaine group, known as the Cali cartel, is responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States and 15 percent of the heroin. The cartel extricates billions of dollars from its trade in the United States and other countries. Starving it of dollars is the only way to fight it.

Clinton's measures against the drug traffickers came in an executive order under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows the president to take action in the case of an "unusual and extraordinary threat to national security."

The flow of cocaine to this country is undoubtedly a threat, not only to security but to the health, safety and survival of Americans.

Four principal figures in the Cali cartel have been identified, along with 33 business and 43 other individuals whose property would be subject to the freeze. All based overseas, the drug traffickers have undetermined assets in the United States.

American financial institutions must search for and freeze accounts held in the names of people or companies the government has determined are involved in drug trafficking. The order also forbids American businesses and officials to trade with the identified individuals and front companies.

The ban on trade will probably be the most damaging to the Colombian cartel since the companies include export-import firms, auto dealers, stores, chemical companies and Colombia's largest pharmaceutical chain.

The companies that promote the smuggling of cocaine and other drugs into this country must be stopped somehow. This presidential order is a courageous first step toward slowing it by making it less profitable. Other countries should follow suit since a united effort would be much more effective. U.S. companies who do business with the cartel in any way should also be identified, and the order will make that possible.

The greedy criminals who feed off the ruined lives of Americans who are the ultimate targets of drug smugglers will find the value of their activities and their companies reduced if they can't do business in dollars.

When the ultimate and only goal of an individual is to make money - regardless of the cost in human suffering - then the only way to punish that individual is to cut off the money. Clinton's measure is a significant step in that direction.