FILE ID:95090709.LAR




TR95090709 (Says President Perez Balladares) +eg (720)

By Eric Green

USIA Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares says his

country is willing to provide a clearinghouse to intensify

counter-drug activities in the hemisphere.

Perez Balladares, reporting on his Sept. 6 talks with President

Clinton at the White House and with high-ranking administration

officials and congressional leaders in Washington the following day,

told reporters he was dissatisfied with the hemisphere's response to

the vast illegal empires created by drug traffickers and money


"To put it bluntly," he said in the fluent English he perfected while

earning bachelors and graduate degrees at U.S. universities, "we have

to coordinate much more, we have to integrate our policies a lot more

than has been done so far to have any effectiveness in this fight

against drugs and money laundering."

Perez Balladares said the idea for a drug clearinghouse was put

forward at a meeting of the presidents of the Rio Group in Quito,

which he attended before coming to Washington.

The Panamanian president said the group, composed of the countries of

Central and South America, suggested the clearinghouse could be opened

in one of the military installations that the United States is

transferring to Panama as part of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties.

Under the treaties, Panama assumes total control of the canal at noon,

Dec. 31, 1999.

Panama, a major transshipment center for illegal drugs from the Andean

countries to the United States, would offer free use of the facility,

Perez Balladares said, and every country involved would contribute

personnel "to man the operations and do the intelligence work."

With a smile, he added, "and hopefully somebody else will fund the

final bill."

Clinton, the Panamanian reported, said the idea for a drug

clearinghouse was one he would like to explore further within his


One of the major problems, he said, is that the countries of the

hemisphere do not have "equal legislation and equal law enforcement

capabilities" to fight the drug traffickers and money launderers.

"I think we're putting a lot of resources, scare resources on our

part, a lot of effort, a lot of aggravation, and we're not moving fast

enough, big enough," Perez Balladares said. "We have to rethink our

strategy and we have to join forces if we're going to be effective in

this fight."

Perez Balladares said the problem with current anti-drug efforts is

that when narcotics traffickers and money launderers meet resistance

in one country, they can easily "jump" to another country and set up

operations there.

During the Quito meeting, he reported, Brazil expressed great concern

that drug traffickers might move into that country from Colombia,

following Bogota's success in either killing or capturing the leaders

of the Cali cocaine cartel.

"So we are proposing," Perez Balladares said, "a joint force, a joint

effort of all Latin American countries, together with the consuming

countries, not only the United States but some European countries, so

that our efforts become effective."

What especially troubles hemispheric leaders, Perez Balladares said,

is that they feel overmatched by the power of the drug cartels.

"Our countries are relatively small -- financially and

geographically," Perez Balladares said, "and the power that the (drug

traffickers) manage on their side is huge compared to the resources we

have. So we have to join our effort if we're going to win this


Following his talks in Washington, Perez Balladares was scheduled to

visit Taiwan with the purpose of attracting Taiwanese investment to

Panama. He said his country is close to signing an agreement under

which the Taiwanese would build a new container port on the Atlantic

side of Panama.

Attracting foreign investment and creating new business opportunities

in his country is important, Perez Balladares said, because of the

number of jobs that are being lost by Pananamians who work at U.S.

military installations. Control of those installations is gradually be

transferred to Panama under terms of the Panama Canal treaties.

Another purpose of Perez Balladares' visit to Taiwan is to pursue his

country's application into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

forum, the 18-member group that includes Taiwan, the United States,

Chile and Mexico.