Bolivian President Supports Legalization

November 7, 1994, from the Voice of America:

INTRO: Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada has warned that international drug traffickers are seeking to -- in his words -- Colombianize his country. He says they are moving to Bolivia, which after Colombia, is already the world's biggest producer of cocaine. VOA South America correspondent Roger Wilkison reports Mr. Sanchez de Lozada warned his fellow citizens that Bolivia cannot afford to underestimate the danger of drugs and drug trafficking.

TEXT: In an interview on Bolivian television Sunday night, the 64-year-old President said there is nothing in the world that is as dangerous as the Colombian mafia. He accused Colombian drug traffickers of trying to mount what he called a narco-invasion of Bolivia.

Mr. Sanchez de Lozada's warning followed an attempt last week by what Bolivian police said were elements of the Cali (Colombia) cocaine cartel -- the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the western hemisphere -- to free Colombian prisoners in a maximum security jail outside La Paz. The planned raid on the prison was frustrated by Bolivia's anti-drug police supported by U.S. drug enforcement agents. Fourteen people, including six Colombians, were arrested. Large quantities of arms, explosives and ammunition were confiscated.

The President also acknowledged that most of Bolivia's production of coca is used to make cocaine. Thirty thousand Bolivian families are involved in growing coca, the raw material for cocaine, in a central Bolivian region known as the Chapare, which has been the scene of frequent trouble between police and farmers.

Mr. Sanchez de Lozada said the farmers make cocaine paste and are therefore part of the drug trafficking cycle. That remark is not going to be welcomed by the farmers, who, last month, staged a march on La Paz to protest police raids on their crops. The farmers say that growing coca is the only way they can eke out a living. Although most Bolivians say they are against drug trafficking, they support the farmers.

Mr. Sanchez de Lozada said he personally believes that drugs should be legalized because prohibition of substances for which there is high demand has never worked. But he said that, as President of Bolivia, he cannot afford to defend that position because the decision on whether to legalize drugs must be made in consuming countries.