February 27, 1998 in Nation/World

Clinton Recertifies Mexico As Partner In War On Drugs Colombia Exempted From Punishment For Making Progress

Stanley Meisler Los Angeles Times
 

President Clinton again certified Mexico on Thursday as a fully cooperating partner in the war on drugs, despite congressional critics who berate America’s southern neighbor as an ineffectual, corrupt warrior against narcotics.

The president acknowledged that Mexico faced enormous problems in trying to beat down an array of powerful criminal organizations and their “persistent corrupting influence.”

But he said he was convinced that the government of President Ernesto Zedillo in Mexico has the “firm intention to persist in its campaign against the drug cartels and its broad-sweeping reform effort.”

In an annual report card on 30 drug-producing and drug-transiting countries, Clinton ruled that Colombia was not cooperating fully. But, in a kind of recognition for some progress, he exempted it from punishment, issuing it a waiver under the law.

In all, Clinton punished only four countries for noncooperation: Afghanistan, Burma, Iran and Nigeria. But they get little U.S. foreign aid, and, thus, may not feel the sanctions meted out by the law - a cut in U.S. foreign aid and an American vote against loans for them by international banks and development agencies.

Mexican certification provoked a tense battle in Congress last year and may do so again this year. Congress, which has 30 days to overturn the rulings, has never rejected a presidential certification since this annual assessment was enacted into law in 1986.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., led a campaign against Mexican certification last year but relented when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other administration leaders promised to pressure Mexico to make major reforms. She described the president’s certification of Mexico this year as incorrect but did not say whether she would introduce legislation to overturn it. Sen. Paul Coverdell, D-Ga., however, said he would do so.

Mexican certification also was denounced by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who said “everybody knows it (Clinton’s move) is a scam because Mexico is not fully cooperating.”

In the House, Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said the president erred in certifying Mexico. He should have decertified Mexico but exempted it from sanctions, he said. “The standard in the statute requires a retrospective look at what they’ve done,” said Gephardt, “not an evaluation of the steps a country may take in the future. And, under that standard, Mexico just hasn’t done enough in the fight against drugs.”

In Mexico, the Zedillo government was undoubtedly relieved about the certification but its officials repeated their contention that certification was a flawed process. In a statement, the foreign ministry said Mexico rejected the procedure “because it’s a unilateral process, contrary to the spirit of international cooperation.”

Colombians found little to celebrate about Clinton’s decision not to punish them even while declaring them uncooperative. Officials had expected full certification.

Colombia was decertified last year largely because of revelations that $6 million in drug money had found its way into President Ernesto Samper’s election campaign in 994. Many Colombians believed this embarrassment would be outweighed in Washington’s eyes this year by their government’s increasing cocaine and heroin crop eradication, its stiffening penalties for drug trafficking and its restoration of a limited form of extradition of drug criminals.


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