George Shultz has received many threats during his travels in six years as U.S. secretary of state, but the bomb attack on his motorcade this week in La Paz, Bolivia, was the first real act of violence aimed at him. The quiet Shultz was not injured, and just as important, was not intimidated.
After the attack, the U.S. envoy continued with his schedule, meeting with Bolivian leaders, and giving a speech congratulating the Bolivian government for its war against cocaine traffickers. His calm under fire was in the best tradition of veteran State Department officials.The blast was set off near the roadside by remote control as Shultz' 11-vehicle motorcade was passing. Three cars were damaged, but no one was hurt. A window in the car containing Mrs. Shultz was broken by the blast; a following station wagon containing State Department staff members had the windows on the right side blown in; the next car, carrying U.S. press officials was hit by a boulder, smashing the windshield and blowing out a tire.
The initial blame is being placed on drug dealers angry at Bolivia's progress against illegal drugs. After Peru, Bolivia is the world's largest producer of cocaine. At the urging of the U.S., the country has embarked on an anti-drug drive.
Last month, the government passed a law declaring 90 percent of the coca plantations in the country illegal and imposing stiff penalties of coca producers and traffickers. Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf. It also captured one of the world's major drug chieftains and sent him to prison for 12 years. Afterwards, he may be extradited to the U.S.
So the drug dealers have reason to be angry, but it is a sign of their power - which has undermined several Latin governments - that they would dare go so far as to attack a U.S. secretary of state.
In spite of violence, bribery, and threats, the drug traffickers must be resisted by every means. The attack on Shultz was not anti-American. It was - in Shultz' own words - an attack against civilized society. That is a war the world cannot afford to lose.