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Clinton Administration Recertifies Mexico, Grants Waiver to Colombia, as Partners in Anti-Drug Effort


February 1998

The White House announced on February 26 that Mexico was "fully cooperating" in the fight against drug trafficking as part of the annual evaluation of anti-drug efforts abroad, known as certification (Stanley Meisler, "Clinton Certifies Mexico as Ally in War on Drugs," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 27, 1998, p. A5; Tim Golden, "U.S. Lauds Mexico On Drug Efforts, Countering DEA," New York Times, February 27, 1998, p. A1; Philippe Shepnick, "Clinton: Recertify Mexico," Houston Chronicle, February 27, 1998, p. 1A).

The State Department said the decision to certify Mexico was based on changes in Mexican law-enforcement institutions over the last year, including the creation of specialized police intelligence units; the reconstitution of special task forces in which drug agents of the U.S. and Mexico work together to fight trafficking along the border; an increase in drug seizures; and progress by Mexico to insure the extradition of drug fugitives wanted in the U.S.

Although admitting the "persistent corrupting influence" of drug traffickers in Mexico, President Clinton praised the Mexican government for its "firm intention to persist in its campaign against the drug cartels and its broad-sweeping reform effort."

Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Barry McCaffrey has consistently praised Mexico's anti-drug efforts. Regarding this year's certification, McCaffrey called Mexico's cooperation with the United States "absolutely superlative." McCaffrey added, "A few weeks ago we were able to release a joint strategy to deal with this [drug] threat. We have committed ourselves in the coming months to developing concrete performance measures of effectiveness by which the two parties can assist each other in this common effort." On February 6, the United States and Mexico released a 39-page anti-drug cooperation strategy that McCaffrey called "a conceptual outline and guide to action" (Office of National Drug Control Policy, "United States/Mexico Bi-National Strategy," February 1998; Stanley Meisler and Mary Beth Sheridan, "U.S., Mexico Unveil `Guide to Action' for War on Drugs," Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1998, p. A3; Philippe Shepnick, "Mexico, U.S. to Step Up Cooperation in Drug War," Houston Chronicle, February 7, 1998, p. 23A).

However, a recent confidential assessment by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of Mexico's anti-drug cooperation was highly critical, saying that Mexico has not produced "significant results." The report says, "During the past year, the government of Mexico has not accomplished its counternarcotics goals or succeeded in cooperation with the United States government."

The DEA report emphasized drug corruption in Mexico, saying, "The level of drug corruption in Mexico continues unabated." The DEA analysis acknowledged changes made to Mexican law enforcement, but it added that "none of these changes have produced significant results. ... None have resulted in the arrest of the leadership or the dismantlement of any of the well-known organized criminal groups operating out of Mexico." Furthermore, the analysis said, "Unfortunately, virtually every investigation DEA conducts against major traffickers in Mexico uncovers significant corruption of law-enforcement officials."

Certification of Mexico received blunt criticism from both parties in Congress, which has 30 days to overturn the certification. "We must make an honest assessment," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, "By no realistic standard can Mexico be deemed to have cooperated fully, which is the standard of the law." House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO) said Mexico should have been decertified but given a national security waiver. "The standard in the statute requires a retrospective look at what they've done, not an evaluation of the steps a country may take in the future," Gephardt said. Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) and Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) said they will introduce legislation to overturn the certification. "They're obviously not cooperating," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), adding, "Why participate in a process where we're being duplicitous ourselves?" (Sean Scully, "Mexico's drug-fighting status opposed," Washington Times, March 4, 1998, p. A6.)

The Mexican foreign ministry remains critical of the certification process "because it's a unilateral process, contrary to the spirit of international cooperation." In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jesus Reyes Heroles, Mexico's new ambassador to Washington, said, "I believe the certification process it tremendously unfair. There is no justification whatsoever under international law" (Sergio Muñoz, "Jesus Reyes Heroles: On the Good (NAFTA), the Bad (Drugs) and the Ugly (Human Rights) in U.S.-Mexico Ties," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 27, 1998, p. A9).

Mandated by Congress in 1986, the certification process requires the U.S. to withhold part of any foreign aid to decertified countries and vote against loans they seek from development banks unless the President grants them a national security waiver. In its review of drug-enforcement programs in 30 countries considered important to the production or transportation of illegal drugs, the Administration denied certification to Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Nigeria and Iran. The Administration decertified four other nations -- Colombia, Pakistan, Paraguay and Cambodia -- but waived the penalties in the interest of national security.


After two consecutive years of decertification, Colombia was granted conditional certification under a national-security waiver that exempts the country from penalties. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "Coming on the eve of that country's congressional and presidential elections, the waiver decision is intended to lay the groundwork for increased future cooperation" (Diana Jean Schemo, "Colombia's Chief Sees Victory in U.S. Backing for Anti-Drug Effort," New York Times, February 27, 1998, p. A6; John Otis, "Colombia hails U.S. decision to lift sanctions," Houston Chronicle, February 27, 1998, p. 22A).

Colombia had been decertified because of allegations that Colombian President Ernesto Samper received $6 million from drug traffickers for his 1994 campaign. A week before the certification announcement, Samper offered to resign if that would improve relations with the U.S. "If my departure from Government helps to improve relations with the United States and helps them to understand the reality of the drug war that Colombia has been fighting over the last three years, then I am ready to make that contribution," Samper said (Reuters, "Colombian President Offers to Resign," New York Times, February 23, 1998, p. A5).

The decision came two months after the Colombian government ignored American appeals and passed a new extradition treaty that will protect drug traffickers from the threat of prosecution in the U.S. (see "Colombia Approves Bill Limiting Extradition of Drug Traffickers," NewsBriefs, November-December 1997).

A report released February 26 by the General Accounting Office (GAO) said that decertification of Colombia by the U.S. had hindered Colombia's anti-drug efforts by blocking much-needed aid. "Approximately $35 million in U.S. counternarcotics aid was delayed or canceled," said the GAO report. "These problems have hampered U.S. efforts to combat illegal narcotics in Colombia," it said. However, since being decertified without a national-interest waiver, American anti-drug aid to Colombia has increased from $22 million to about $100 million in the last three years, according to the New York Times (Ben Barber, "Hill critics say drug sanctions were misused in Colombia," Washington Times, February 25, 1998, p. A15).


The White House has proposed abandoning the contentious certification process in favor of an international treaty committing Western Hemisphere countries to an anti-drug effort. "I hope in five years the United States, as one of 31 or 30 countries, has become part of a multinational attack," said "drug czar" McCaffrey, adding, "As we do, that will bury the certification process." The proposed treaty would create an alliance to fight the production and transportation of drugs and set up a administrative organization to see that allied countries comply with provisions of the treaty. The Clinton Administration will propose the treaty in April at the Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile (Stanley Meisler, "U.S. Wants Drug Treaty to Replace Certification," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 17, 1998, p. A2; Ben Barber, "White House to let hemisphere nations assess drug efforts," Washington Times, February 26, 1998, p. A13).


Sixty-one percent of residents of U.S. households support the formation on an international organization comprised of several countries to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-drug efforts of the U.S. and other countries, according to a report by Drug Strategies and the University of Southern California. The report assesses the impact of the U.S. certification process, in which foreign aid is denied to countries deemed not adequately cooperating with U.S. anti-drug efforts (Drug Strategies and the University of Southern California's Annenberg School For Communication, "Passing Judgement: The U.S. Drug Certification Process," 1998).

Passing Judgement: The U.S. Drug Certification Process reported that 46% of respondents think that producers, sellers, and consumers in the U.S. are more responsible for the illegal drug problem, while 23% said it was such people in other countries, and 28% said it was both. In response to a question about how effective the U.S. has been in controlling the importation of illegal drugs into this country, 5% said very effective, 15% said fairly effective, 38% said somewhat effective, and 40% said not at all effective. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they did not know that the U.S. had a certification process.

Office of National Drug Control Policy - 750 17th Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006, Tel: (202) 395-6618. The 1998 National Drug Control Strategy and the United States/Mexico Bi-National Strategy are available on line at <>, under the "What's New" section.

Drug Enforcement Administration - 700 Army-Navy Dr., Arlington, VA 22202, Tel: (202) 307-7363, Web: <>.

Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) - SR-200, Washington, DC 20510, Tel: (202) 224-3643, Fax: (202) 228-3783, E-mail: <>.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) - 106 CHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4035, Fax: (202) 226-0821, E-mail: <>.

Drug Strategies - 2445 M Street, NW, Suite 480, Washington, DC 20037, Tel: (202) 663-6090, Fax: (202) 663-6110, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.

Annenberg School for Communication - University of Southern California, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281, Tel: (213) 740-6408, Fax: (213) 740-3772.