Gaviria Girds for Drug Battle COLOMBIA'S NEW PRESIDENT

Article excerpt

CESAR GAVIRIA, the economist who will be inaugurated today as Colombia's new president, has put industrialized nations on notice that they must provide more help in his country's battle for survival against drug traffickers.

Mr. Gaviria set the tone for his foreign policy on a recent tour of Western Europe and the United States, in which he emphasized that a successful antidrug war required public support, and that that could be sustained only if Colombia was treated more equitably in trade and other matters.

"Colombia is on the front line, and our survival is at stake," the president-elect said at a July press conference after meeting with President Bush. "Our people cannot continue thinking that world support is only of a rhetorical nature."

The president-elect points out that drug terrorism has cost Colombia hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in property damage, lowered tourism earnings, and reduced foreign investment. The tourism industry estimates it has lost nearly $100 million in foreign exchange since the administration of President Virgilio Barco Vargas intensified the antidrug crackdown last August.

Colombia's flower growers and textile manufacturers complain the US refuses to grant their products fair treatment despite the sacrifices in the drug war.

Faced with growing public disillusionment with the antidrug fight, Gaviria knows he must justify the policy with commercial gains and other benefits, advisers say. A poll of 615 Colombians in four cities published Aug. 3 found 63 percent disagreed with President Barco's handling of the drug issue.

As president, Gaviria will also focus on other major challenges, including: antigovernment guerrillas, human rights abuses by security forces, and a badly needed overhaul of the nation's legislative, judicial, and electoral systems.

A member of the ruling Liberal Party, Gaviria has pledged to continue Barco's plan for peace with the country's leftist guerrillas. The April 19 Movement, or M19, has laid down its arms under the official peace plan. Another major group, the National People's Army, or EPL, is negotiating with the government.

Gaviria has also pledged to reform the Constitution, including changes aimed at reducing the domination of the two traditional political parties. …