The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 5, 2001; Page A23

Bolivian President Says Free Trade Is Best Answer to Terrorism

By Nora Boustany

Jorge Quiroga, 41, the boyish, brainy president of Bolivia, has a lot to say and he says it fast. His quick wisdom on free trade, terrorism, the recent discovery of
natural gas in Bolivia and his country's highly successful campaign to eradicate drug cultivation is spewed out in speed-dial mode.

Quiroga said the best response to the events of Sept. 11 came from the World Trade Organization, with its decision at a Doha, Qatar, meeting in November to
continue removing trade barriers. To him, it was a sign that the world was not retrenching. "As we are trying to push democracy, we should also try to spread
freedom in commerce and trade," he told Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday.

In the international effort to combat AIDS, "the right to live is more important than the right to a patent," he said, referring to the WTO's willingness to let poor
countries produce pharmaceuticals at a lower price to keep up with the pandemic.

"The fight for freedom and the fight against terrorism has two facets," he said. "Terrorists target not only our freedom of democracy but also freedom of trade. . . .
The more products, the more freedom of trade, the more globalization, the better."

The president said a new inter-American agreement on terrorism is being drafted by the Organization of American States and will be ready in two to three months.

Since 1998, he said, his small Andean nation has cut its 90,000 acres of coca, which is used to make cocaine, by 90 percent, a figure that Western diplomats back
up. In order to consolidate these gains, Bolivia needs financial assistance and access to outside markets, the U.S.-trained economist argued.

The government introduced community-wide compensation and incentives such as water projects and infrastructure development as alternatives to paying subsidies
to individuals. The idea, he explained, is to exploit peer pressure -- if everyone in a community has to give up coca for the government money to flow, people will
lean on their neighbors to go along.

He said Bolivia did not rely on aerial spraying of coca fields, but on manual eradication on the ground. He refused to compare his country's strategy with that of
Colombia, which uses aerial spraying, saying they had very different circumstances and conditions. "Never kick someone else's cactus with your own foot," he joked.

But "with all the progress we've made, we are not through; we still need funding for alternative cultivation," he said, a point he made repeatedly.

And market access. Bolivia has had a hard time penetrating foreign markets for its citrus. The country has a flat 10 percent tariff on most imports, he pointed out.
"We are not asking for anything we don't practice," he said. "The best sustainable long-term development is access to markets."

On the positive side, Bolivia has discovered huge gas reserves in its southern region. The job now, he said, is to secure capital to develop the fields and build a
pipeline to the Pacific Ocean.

                                               © 2001