Is Clinton Ready to Lead the Hemisphere? to Lift the Poor, Fight Drugs, Control Arms, and Foster Equal Justice, Says an Honored Statesman, the US Must Be Moral as Well as Mighty

Article excerpt

President Clinton's decision to meet in Costa Rica with regional leaders indicated a desire to give priority to relations with Central America and the Caribbean. Hopes are now high that the links between the United States and her neighbors to the south - in the search for peace, democracy, and prosperity - will be strengthened.

Exactly 10 years ago, the peace plan agreed to by Central American heads of state opened an opportunity to end conflict, strengthen democracy, and rebuild economies. This past decade has been one of hope for Central America, but still it was only four months ago that Guatemala brought to an end the last of the region's civil wars. Even with important advances, the countries of Central America are very far from having won the fight for prosperity. Poverty and heightened inequality again threaten these nascent democracies. Popular disenchantment with democracy could lead again to ungovernability - and, worse, to violence.

Such danger derives from domestic problems within each of the Central American societies, problems only they can resolve. But also cause for concern are the errors characteristic of political relations between the states of our hemisphere. The responsibility for evaluating interstate relations and converting them into a instrument of peace, democracy, and prosperity lies with all nations of the Americas. But no effort in this direction can succeed without the United States. Its political, economic, and military power give it a logical leadership role. Yet it is extremely important that the United States convert that role into a moral one as well - becoming a force not only for economic efficiency or security but for justice and equality too. Hemispheric trade zone President Clinton's inclination to sponsor the establishment of a hemispheric free-trade zone to extend the advantages of liberal trade is praiseworthy. However, the process must be accelerated. Specifically, advantage has to be taken of the support offered by a group of bipartisan leaders in the US Congress willing to grant "fast track" authority for negotiating with Latin America and the Caribbean. In the meantime, the nations of Central America and the Caribbean should receive the same advantages as Mexican exports to the United States. Otherwise, foreign investment in those nations - essential to their economic recuperation after having been victims of the East-West confrontation for so many years - will stagnate. Similarly, efforts undertaken by the governments of the hemisphere to end the scourge of narco-trafficking and drug addiction deserve absolute support. Drug consumption is a pressing problem for US society. While the US Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that the number of US citizens using illegal drugs has dropped by half, other statistics indicate that more than one-third of US citizens over age 12 have tried an illicit drug. Meanwhile, the majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries are experiencing rising drug consumption among the young. Antidrug cooperation Clearly, the struggle will be lost unless the demand for drugs is reduced further. The governments of the hemisphere should unite, as US antidrug chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey proposed, to address "the two sides of the challenge: limiting availability of illegal drugs and reducing demand." Many regional leaders believe that the unilateral US policy of certification should be replaced with a multilateral strategy, for which all countries in the hemisphere would share responsibility. Such a plan would aim at breaking the links between drug cultivation, industrialization, transportation, distribution, sale, consumption, and, finally, money laundering. …