- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

Peruvian Prime Minister Luis Solari came to Washington last week with a familiar request: Would the United States establish better trading terms with his country? Mr. Solari was also carrying a common burden. The demand for illicit drugs is undermining stability in his country. Nonetheless, the prime minister didn't wag accusatory fingers at America's drug habits, and he said Peru is committed to stemming the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.
Despite the billions of dollars spent on counter-narcotics in Latin America, the coca-growing acreage of the region hasn't been reduced over the past 10 years, Mr. Solari said, because when inroads are made in one country, production expands in another. "We have been missing the point," said Mr. Solari, adding that Peru has a new plan. Peruvians are targeting the chain of drug production and trafficking, trying to impede the entry of drug-producing chemicals, the cultivation of drug crops and the exit of drugs from Peru.
In order to make this strategy work, Mr. Solari said the United States must resume its drug-interdiction flights, which were halted in 2001 after a small aircraft carrying an American missionary family was tragically shotdown. Mr. Solari said the interruption of U.S. interdiction has dramatically increased drug trafficking and made the demand for the coca leaf overwhelming. "The door is wide open," he said. Mr. Solari said he also asked the Bush administration to monitor maritime routes and step up intelligence sharing.
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo has established crop-substitution incentives for Peruvian farmers, and is trying to revitalize the economy to give people legal ways of earning a living. In this regard, Peru is looking to the United States to relax barriers on Peruvian exports. With a capable administration at the helm, America should heed Peru's requests.
Despite daunting challenges, Peru has been a refuge of stability in the volatile Andean region. The administration has decentralized government authority, bolstered transparency and accountability, and instituted badly needed judicial reforms. The country's economy grew by more than 5 percent last year, due in part to expansive monetary and fiscal policies. Some analysts expect the economy to continue growing a healthy 5.5 percent in the first quarter of this year, and more than 4 percent this year, due in part to Washington's approval of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is expected to boost Peru's exports to America, primarily textiles. Mr. Solari noted the benefits of this Andean initiative, but added that since the U.S. policy expires in three years, many investors have cut short their exposure to Peru. A more permanent, bilateral trade agreement is needed, Mr. Solari said.
In Peru, the Bush administration has a determined anti-drug partner and a committed economic and democratic reformer. Mr. Solari brought some reasonable proposals to Washington, and the Bush administration should seriously consider them.

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