U.S. Releases Annual Report Card on International Antinarcotics Progress, Decertifies Colombia, Gives Full Certification to Mexico


April 1996

On March 1, the State Department released the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, its annual report card on the state of international anti-drug efforts and cooperation with the U.S. This year six countries, including Colombia, were decertified and three were given national security interest waivers. Mexico, criticized by the U.S. Congress for its role as a transit and production country for cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine, was given full certification.

Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, Iran, Nigeria, Syria
Decertified with National Interest Waiver
Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay
Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam

Under the Foreign Assistance Act, the President must compile a list of countries with drug trafficking or production problems and evaluate the progress of each country in antinarcotics operations. This year the President added Cambodia and Belize, bringing the number of major drug trafficking countries to 31. [The report discusses the state of illegal drug trafficking and control in 140 countries, but certification decisions are only made for the 31 countries.]

The report must be submitted to Congress by March 1 every year. Certification decisions are based on the degree to which countries are cooperating with U.S. anti-drug efforts or are meeting their own goals according to the 1988 United Nations Convention on Drugs (the Vienna Convention).

Uncooperative countries must be decertified, meaning that all U.S. aid except anti-drug assistance will be withdrawn. Decertification also means the U.S. will vote against that country receiving loans from international lending institutions, and may mean that other forms of financial penalties may be imposed. The President can also decertify the country but grant a waiver if he deems it in the interest of U.S. national security.


This year the U.S. decertified Colombia for the first time, citing corruption at the highest ranks of government. Despite impressive law enforcement efforts that resulted in the capture of six of the seven leaders of the Cali cartel, the report states that those efforts have been undermined by corruption. Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Robert Gelbard said Cali cartel leaders continue to run their drug trafficking operations from jail. Jose Santacruz Londono was able to walk out of La Picota prison, even though the U.S. warned security was not tight enough.

Gelbard said with Santacruz's escape, as well as the evidence that President Ernesto Samper accepted Cali cartel funds for his campaign, there can be no doubt now that Colombia has significant corruption problems.

Most of the U.S. aid Colombia receives is in the form of anti-drug assistance, so the country will not lose much U.S. aid because of decertification. President Clinton decided not to revoke Colombia's special tariff protections under the Andean Trade Preference Act, which could have crippled the Colombian cut flower industry and the country's economy generally.

Gelbard said he hoped decertification would not hinder future relations between Colombia and the U.S. "We expect and hope to be able to continue all our counter-narcotics support for those in Colombia who are fighting against narcotics," he said. "It's a very difficult problem that we have been faced with and that the President has been faced with, but the President clearly felt that there comes a time when the government is such that such a difficult decision had to be made."

Samper criticized the U.S. for the decertification decision, blaming the U.S. for not lending more support to his country's anti-drug efforts. He said the U.S. certification decision was motivated more by a dislike of him personally than evidence of drug corruption (Douglas Farah, "Criticizing U.S., Samper Concedes 'Serious Evidence' of Drug Money,"Washington Post, March 8, 1996, p. A25; Douglas Farah, "U.S.-Bogota: What Went Wrong?" Washington Post, March 3, 1996, p. A24).

"I do not understand what is behind these suspicions," he said. "Some people want to disqualify me and my government, but all you have to do is look at the facts."

Samper also said the U.S. is hypocritical for blaming Colombia for the drug problem. "The United States should also reflect on its responsibilities," he said. "We assume our responsibility, and we will assume it alone now, and with dignity. But [U.S. officials] need to look at their responsibility, not just say all the responsibility is ours." He said decertification provokes a "crisis of credibility" between the U.S. and Colombia.

Other Colombian leaders, including Senate President Julio Cesar Guerra, also criticized the decision (Diana Jean Schemo, "U.S. Slap on the Hand Brings Colombia Out Punching," New York Times, March 6, 1996, p. A6).

Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano, the head of the national police force who was praised by the U.S. for his work in fighting the drug cartels, warned that he would look at a "possible suspension of cooperation with the United States in the fight against drug trafficking." He also said he would analyze the U.S. presence in Colombia at anti-drug radar sites. Serrano said Colombia should have been certified, pointing to a record year for crop eradication and the arrest the leaders of the Cali cartel.


Despite opposition from members of the U.S. Congress, Mexico was certified. Gelbard said Mexico has been cooperating with U.S. efforts to cut down on money laundering and drug trafficking. Marijuana production was reduced by one-third last year, and Mexico signed agreements with the U.S. to make serious efforts at seizing drugs and combatting money laundering and financial crimes. Mexico is also implementing plans to block shipments of ephedrine, a precursor material to methamphetamine.

"We feel that Mexico has made substantial progress, has made marked progress, during 1995," he said. "President Zedillo has showed a strong and sustained commitment to fight drug trafficking. ... The test of the law is whether the government is cooperating with the United States. We feel that the government of Mexico is cooperating with the United States."

Members of Congress had introduced legislation urging the President to decertify Mexico (H.R. 2947, introduced on February 1 by Rep. George Miller (D-CA); S. Res. 218, introduced on January 30 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); and H. Res. 362 introduced on February 1 by Rep. Miller; Ann Devroy and Pierre Thomas, "Clinton Advised to Certify Mexico as Cooperative in Drug War," Washington Post, March 1, 1996, p. A19).

After Mexico was certified, leaders in the U.S. Congress blasted President Clinton, introducing legislation to reverse his decision. Both houses must act within thirty days to overturn certification (H.J. Res. 162, introduced on March 5 by Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL); S.J. Res. 50, introduced on March 5 by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY); David Johnston, "U.S. Decision on Mexico Drugs Draws Opposition in Congress," New York Times, March 8, 1996, p. A2; Reuters News Service, "Mexico Policy Assailed," Washington Post, March 7, 1996, p. A17).

"When you see that 65 to 70 percent of the cocaine coming into this country is coming in through Mexico or from Mexico, at that particular time it would make one wonder as to what extent the Mexican government is cooperating with us," said Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL). Members said Clinton's decision was not based on Mexico's progress in anti-drug programs, but on the President's desire to protect a valuable trading partner.

Other Countries

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report announced that 22 of the 31 countries with major drug trafficking problems evaluated by the State Department received full certification: Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Two countries, Bolivia and Peru, were upgraded this year from decertification with a national interest waiver. The State Department said the two countries have initiated new anti-drug programs and have improved their cooperation with the U.S.

Decertified Countries

In addition to Colombia, five other countries were decertified: Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Nigeria, and Syria.

Afghanistan is the second largest producer of opium after Burma. The State Department estimates that there was a 33 percent increase in production over 1993-1994 levels. No concerted, national anti-drug effort has been undertaken because the government is so unstable. Afghanistan lacks sufficient border control, making it easy to ship opium, refined heroin, or precursor materials to Pakistan and on to Turkey or Iran. The report does praise the efforts of local officials for undertaking eradication efforts. Last year, for example, the governor of the Nangarhar region was able to implement a plan that resulted in the eradication of 13,300 hectares of opium.

Burma continued to remain on the list of decertified countries. The State Department estimates that opium production in that country increased by 16 percent in 1995. Gelbard said the government -- the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) -- has not been cooperative in trying to stop the heroin trade or Khun Sa, the leader of the largest opium production operation in the Golden Triangle.

Iran serves as a transhipment country for morphine base and opium from Afghanistan to refineries in Turkey. Kurdish and Baluch clans supervise the shipments. Iran did not enact any new counternarcotics plans in 1995, and the report says the U.S. is suspicious of Iranian government claims that $200 million is spent every year on anti-drug programs. Lack of relations between the countries make it impossible to know if Iran is committed to taking action against heroin shipments.

In Nigeria, highly organized and adept outlaw gangs ship large amounts of heroin from Asia to the U.S. and Europe. The report estimates that about 40 percent of heroin consumed in the U.S. is brought in by Nigerian couriers. The groups are now also believed to act as couriers for South American cocaine to South Africa, Nigeria, and Europe. Nigeria developed a counternarcotics strategy and enacted money laundering laws this year. Unfortunately, there is little funding to enforce the laws, and Nigeria is doing little to stop widespread corruption.

Syrian police, in cooperation with police in Lebanon, made many arrests in 1995 under a 1993 antinarcotics law. However, Syria continues to be a major transhipment country for opium and morphine base from Southwest Asia to Lebanese refineries. Joint Syrian/Lebanese eradication efforts virtually wiped out the opium crop and made good progress on marijuana cultivation in 1995.

National Interest Waivers

Three countries were decertified but were extended a national interest waiver this year: Lebanon, Pakistan, and Paraguay.

The report congratulates Lebanon for cannabis eradication efforts undertaken in the past year, but asks that the country make a better effort at developing anti-drug statutes and laws against money laundering and corruption. Lebanon continues to be a refining hub for opium from Southwest Asia. South American cocaine is now being smuggled through Lebanon to Europe, the United States, and Canada.

Pakistan is a major production and transit country for opiates and cannabis from Afghanistan. Although Pakistan did make progress in the last year in asset forfeiture, crop eradication, and the arrest and extradition of four major drug traffickers, it was unable to sustain such aggressive anti-drug efforts. The report asks the country to enact law reform and money laundering statutes, and to make more progress toward its goal of eliminating opium production and making Pakistan drug-free by the year 2000.

Because of its location in central South America, Paraguay is used as a transit country for Bolivian or Colombian cocaine to Argentina, Brazil, the U.S., and Europe. In the last year, the country has reformed its antinarcotics laws, but the reforms have not translated into action. Paraguay continues to have corruption problems. The report suggests the country look at enacting financial regulations to protect against money laundering.

Drug Production

Despite many countries' efforts at crop eradication, estimated production of cocaine and opium reached its highest level ever. In the Western Hemisphere, an estimated 214,800 hectares of coca were cultivated, up from 211,700 hectares in the previous-highest year, 1992. Poppy cultivation rose 4 percent in Southeast Asia and nine percent in Southwest Asia.

[The International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports for 1993-1996 can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.state.gov/ or gopher://gopher.state.gov/. Go to the Research Collection, Publications and Major Reports, International Narcotics Strategy Report (Annual). If you do not have access to the World Wide Web, contact the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Public Information Division, 2201 C Street, Washington, DC 20520-68410, 202-647-6575. The bills introduced in Congress to decertify Mexico can be found at the Library of Congress' Thomas World Wide Web site at http://www.thomas.loc.gov/. If you do not have access to the World Wide Web, contact the NewsBriefs office for copies of the bills.]