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Remarks at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Miami, Florida

April 27, 1989

And let me, at the outset, pay my respects to Governor Martinez, the Governor of Florida, who's with me here today, with all of us here -- and Senator Connie Mack, vitally interested, as is the Governor, in the war against drugs. And of course, my great respects to the Attorney General, who is taking a very prominent leadership role in this common fight. And it's a pleasure to see -- out of Alaska for a change -- the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Paul Yost, who is doing an outstanding job half a world away up there in Alaska, but whose organization is doing such a superb job for the United States in this whole concept of interdiction. And so, we have a distinguished group here.

"This scourge will stop." Those were the words that Dick alluded to; those were the words with which I opened my Presidency. And it's the continuation of that promise that brings me to Miami today. And I am honored to be here to talk with you. And I am very grateful to Jack Lawn and the -- whose head of the, as you all know, head of the DEA -- and the other distinguished enforcement chiefs who have come throughout the Americas, along with our friends and observers from Europe, to join forces in a new tradition of international cooperation. And I had a visit just a second ago with Jack -- just took a minute, but he was filling me in on his hopes for this conference and telling me of the cooperation that his organization was receiving from all of you. And so, let me, at the outset, say thank you.

I'm here today to talk about war: first, to see cocaine trafficking for what it is -- an attack aimed at enslaving and exploiting the weak; second, to confront what's become a world war; and third, I hope to help end a nasty chapter in that war -- the diversion of precursor chemicals.

In the 19th century, the scourge of the Americas was slavery, a struggle of good and evil in which some sought to enrich themselves by enslaving the most downtrodden of their countrymen. Today the scourge of this hemisphere is called cocaine. As commanding officers, you know the havoc of which we speak. You see it every day on the streets of your cities and in mountain villages, in the haunted eyes and the broken dreams of a generation of youth, of children who have fallen victim to a seductive, nightmarish new form of dependency and slavery. Our countries have suffered a terrible toll, many far worse than the United States.

Drug traffic is called the world's second most dangerous profession. The most dangerous really is yours, law enforcement, drug enforcement. Earlier this year, I had a glimpse of what must be all too familiar to many of you sitting around this table. I joined Mrs. Everett Hatcher to grieve for the death of her husband, a veteran DEA agent who was executed by cocaine cowards in the back streets of New York. A woman of considerable dignity, she put responsibility for Mr. Hatcher's death squarely on those once naively excused as casual users of cocaine. Well, cocaine users can no longer claim noncombatant status. There is blood on their hands. And thanks in part to the demand-side programs like those you're going to be talking about later this morning, this message has begun to sear the consciences of the stockbrokers and the students, the lawyers and the homemakers and the athletes who finance our common enemy.

There are many ironies. Drug addiction does not discriminate against a person because of race, religion, or financial status. It's the great equalizer, sharing sons and daughters of the rich, the poor, the middle class. Sometimes the opposite occurs, and kingpins are reduced to paupers. The opulence of Carlos Lehder's lifestyle is but memory now, as he begins his journey to the grave -- life without parole -- in an Illinois penitentiary. The notorious Felix Gallardo, once boasting of his power and wealth, is also behind bars in Mexico. Stripped of blood money, they are nobodies, no longer the stuff of myth.

Your business, then -- our business -- is to pursue these outlaws to the ends of the Earth, to create a world without refuge, to leave no sanctuary, in your countries or in mine. And I've said it before: The war on drugs is no metaphor. We've been slower to recognize that it is also a world war, leaving no nation unscathed, one in which Hong Kong bankers and Bolivian growers and Middle Eastern couriers and west coast wholesalers all play insidious roles. And it is especially acute in this hemisphere, where an explosive cycle of drugs, dependency, and dollars has escalated clear out of control.

The time for blame -- the time for assigning blame is behind us. For too long, a sharp divide has been drawn between producing and consuming nations. Well, denial is a natural part of human nature, and probably part of a country's nature as well. But let's face it; Americans cannot blame the Andean nations for our voracious appetite for drugs. Ultimately, the solution to the United States drug problem lies within our own borders -- stepped-up enforcement, but education and treatment as well. And our Latin American cousins cannot blame the United States for the voracious greed of the drug traffickers who control small empires at home. Ultimately, the solution to that problem lies within your borders.

And yet good neighbors must stand together. A world war must be met in kind. And so, today, as this conference winds down and concludes, we are presented with an historic opportunity. Allies in any war must consult -- as partners. And just as you have gathered on seven occasions for IDEC, I ask that the leaders of the Western Hemisphere, whose nations are afflicted by this scourge, join with me to work together toward a hemispheric compact on drugs, a mutual commitment of resources and energy to ensure a brighter day for the children of America. And I mean by that all the Americas. And I have directed that our nation's new drug czar, William Bennett, take the lead in coordinating this vital initiative.

IDEC demonstrates that we will put aside national differences to do what must be done. And together you have put cartels out of business, reduced the supply of cocaine, and increasingly educated our children about the dangers of drug use and trafficking. And I do commend Jack Lawn and each of you for having the foresight to establish this organization and for demonstrating the collective commitment to work together.

I've spoken often of the horrors of chemical warfare. Well, chemical abuse is also chemical warfare, poisoning our streets, as deadly as mustard gas. And today we're opening a new campaign to rid the world of these toxics. We're going to start right here in the United States, because all too often that's the original source of the basic industrial chemicals needed to produce cocaine. Now, U.S. chemical companies are justly proud of their products that vastly improve and help to extend life here and abroad. But few Americans are aware that illegally diverted barrels of dangerous chemicals -- clearly marked with U.S. corporate logos -- are routinely seized in the jungles of Colombia. IDEC held a panel discussion this Tuesday. And those gathered here -- you understand its importance. Traffickers have hit us where it hurts. And now we're going to exploit their vulnerabilities, crimping the flow of the materials without which they cannot produce -- no chemicals, no cocaine.

We know it works in the field. Many of you participated in IDEC Six, the operations last August, when the combined efforts of 30 nations saw the seizure of 155,000 pounds of highly flammable ether, almost 450,000 pounds of acetone, over 50,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid, and nearly 14,000 pounds of MEK. This past January, Colombian antinarcotics officers under General Munoz Sanabria, who I understand is here today -- is he? I hope -- congratulations, General, for that, and thank you for what you're doing for all of us in that regard. They destroyed 25 cocaine laboratories and enough chemicals to make approximately 88 metric tons of cocaine.

The damage that's done when 88 tons of cocaine hits the United States streets is pretty obvious. What's not so well understood is the widespread environmental damage that precursor chemicals wreak when they are dumped in the forests of the Amazon Basin. One of today's delegates, the director of narcotics enforcement for Peru's national police, has told the DEA that as much as 175,000 pounds of sulfuric acid is dropped into the tributaries of the Upper Huallaga Valley each year. And anyone concerned about the legacy of defoliation in Southeast Asia ought to go see what illegally diverted chemicals are beginning to do the Andes right now.

Nor are these chemical timebombs unique to South America. The problem here is so severe that last year's drug bill authorized funds for the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up hazardous waste at clandestine U.S. drug labs. In January, DEA task force agents busted a heavily armed houseboat located on California's Sacramento River. And the lab -- here it was, right on the Sacramento River -- had been dumping hydrochloric acid and other raw waste directly into the water, within splashing distance of swimming kids and within casting distance of those out there fishing for salmon or stripers or whatever. And so, today I pledge to you that the United States will lead the fight against illicit shipments of precursor chemicals. And I have asked Dick Thornburgh, our able Attorney General, to take a principal role in this new effort.

By and large, the chemical industry has supported us. Let's be clear: We have been getting good support from most of the chemical industry. And as a result of last year's omnibus drug law, regulations are not being drafted to tighten controls on the chemicals needed to refine cocaine. And we are dedicating the resources necessary to the task. Whatever needs to be done will be done.

Of course, unilateral action by us is not going to solve this problem. And that's why we commend those governments, like Venezuela and Colombia, that have already adopted strict chemical controls. And we urge other nations to do so quickly, as well as to approve the landmark U.N. Convention, which includes precursor chemical controls.

You know, many U.S. companies, including some chemical companies, have long recognized how drug abuse threatens productivity, corporate image, and ultimately profits. And many in the American corporate community have donated countless hours and millions of dollars to stopping drug abuse. My Miami son, our son living here in Miami, Jeb, talks about the successful Business Against Drugs program right here in Miami. The American people are proud of these efforts, and I can tell you, our visitors from other countries, that breaking out all across this country are new such efforts, efforts by civilians, just plain concerned parents -- others all around the country beginning to come together in their communities to join in this fight.

Industry has got to do more, and I hope that parents' groups and stockholders are listening today. We should demand that United States corporations act responsibly and that they not tolerate their chemicals ending up in criminal hands. We would like to see U.S. chemical manufacturers demonstrate their courage and civic responsibility by entering into a true partnership with our government as we try to stop narcotics at the source. These companies can make an important contribution to our nation's fight against illegal drugs. They should make it their job to join in. No one -- not parents, not churches, not bankers, and certainly not chemical makers -- can afford to be a.w.o.l. in the war on drugs.

With so many cultures represented right here in this room, it is inevitable that there are going to be differences. But we share at least one compelling experience. Wherever you call home -- Bonn or Bogota or Boston -- people around the world are beginning to hear the cries of the kids, the cries of our children, pleading with us to stop drugs. Here in Miami last month one elementary teacher told of a writing assignment that she gave to her sixth-grade kids in school. The topic was "If I Were In Charge Of The World." And every single one of these 36 children, those sixth-graders, wrote that they would get rid of drugs if they were in charge of the world. They'd get rid of those people who are breaking the law, and they would put more effective policemen on the streets.

My favorite speechwriter -- I don't know how well-known he is in some of your countries, but he's well-known here -- is a baseball great named Yogi Berra. And he's been kidded for describing the 1969 Mets as "overwhelming underdogs." Well, maybe that's not such a bad description for the good guys in the fight against drugs. Sure, tough challenges remain, but the children are with us, and the times are beginning to change -- and Yogi's underdogs did win the World Series.

So, thank you for joining us here today; thank you all for coming to the United States. And please, tell your leaders, your Presidents, whoever else you need to have involved, that we are anxious to work with them. God bless you, and Godspeed in your noble work to save the children of the world. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:55 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to National Drug Control Policy Director William J. Bennett, and John C. Lawn, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

George Bush, Remarks at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Miami, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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