Pubdate: Sat, 28 Aug 1999
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 1999 Reuters Limited.
Author: Stephen Brown

U.S. Official Says Drugs Taking New Lat Am Routes

BUENOS AIRES - U.S. anti-drugs chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey
said Friday that drug producers in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are
finding new routes to U.S. and European buyers through Brazil and Argentina.

After meeting Argentine President Carlos Menem and anti-narcotics
officials from southern Latin America, McCaffrey said that illegal
drugs increasingly are being smuggled through Brazil and Argentina,
which share borders with major drug-producing nations.

The two largest economies in South America do not produce coca leaf
for cocaine or heroin poppies. But their frontiers are littered with
airstrips and crisscrossed with jungle rivers that are hard to police.

McCaffrey's comments in Argentina came on the last stop of his tour of
Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, a trip whose focus has been on
what he called an "incredible emergency" in Colombia's battle against
drug producers and leftist guerrillas he claims are in collusion.

McCaffrey said the United States has succeeded in stopping air
smuggling from Colombia, but traffickers now use sea routes from Peru,
Ecuador and Venezuela and increasingly use the busy commercial ports
and airports of Brazil and Argentina.

"Significant amounts from Bolivia go out through Brazil, probably to
Europe, and clearly there is drug smuggling out of Buenos Aires to
Europe and the United States all hidden among huge amounts of legal
commerce," he told a news conference.

The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, which he
heads, estimates that up to 1,000 tons of raw coca from neighboring
Bolivia, the world's third-largest producer, enter Argentina every
year for a growing domestic market.

Argentina lacks radars to control thousands of airstrips in the north.
In addition, smuggling of all sorts of goods is endemic on rivers from
Brazil and Paraguay, and free trade in the local Mercosur customs
union forbids opening sealed containers in transit.

"Couriers of Bolivian cocaine from Buenos Aires' Ezeiza International
Airport are primarily destined for Europe, including Russia," a report
from McCaffrey's office said.

Paraguay, landlocked in the center of South America with a shaky
democracy and awesome reputation for graft, smuggling and money
laundering, is a transit point for up to 40 tons of Bolivian cocaine
bound for Argentina, Brazil, Europe and the United States, said the
U.S. report released to Reuters.

Argentina's anti-drugs director Eduardo Amadeo said Menem had told
McCaffrey of his concern over the "traffic in drugs toward the south
of the continent" and the use of Argentina's waterways by cocaine smugglers.

Amadeo said Menem was determined that Argentina's Congress pass a bill
controlling the laundering of drug money, while Mercosur -- Brazil,
Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay with Bolivia and Chile as associate
members of the trade bloc -- was "actively exchanging information" on
the illegal drug trade.

The fight against drugs in the region, although tame compared to Peru
and Colombia, has a history of violence and corruption. Paraguay's
anti-drugs chief was gunned down in 1994 and the country was
"decertified" as a U.S. anti-drugs ally this year, although a
Paraguayan official did meet McCaffrey in Buenos Aires Friday.

Bolivian President Hugo Banzer, praised by McCaffrey for reducing coca
output by "36 percent in two years," has been embarrassed by his
niece's marriage to an Italian mafia suspect indicted in Bolivia's
Santa Cruz last week on drugs charges.

One of Amadeo's predecessors was arrested last year for allegedly
embezzling cash from an anti-drugs campaign. Menem, who has
recommended the death penalty for drug-related murders, was himself
embarrassed in 1991 when his sister-in-law and aide was investigated
over a drug-money laundering ring.

But McCaffrey's office said in its report: "We have no information
that any senior member of the (Argentine) government is involved in
narcotics-related activities."

Under Menem, Argentina has become Washington's strongest ally in the
region. McCaffrey said after meeting Interior Minister Carlos Corach
that President Clinton had said it was "enormously important" that he
hear Menem's view on drugs.

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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea