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#2659: More on Politics of Drug Certification (fwd)

From: Merrill Smith <advocacy@bellatlantic.net>

COUNCIL ON HEMSIPHERIC AFFAIRS<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns =
"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> 


Thursday, March 02, 2000

                                 For Immediate Release

  Addicted to Certification: Annual State Department Ritual an
                         to U.S. and Major Irritant to Neighbors


     Findings on Mexico and Colombia are as scandalous as the annual
process itself. 

     Administration, by providing "conditional certification" to Haiti
and Paraguay, displays a lack of courage to forthrightly
     acknowledge that drug trafficking in those corrupted countries has
now reached record proportions. 

     The administration has never publicly accused Haitian military
government of drug trafficking before its overthrow, thus inviting
     the present calamity in that country. 

     In Afghanistan and Myamar (Burma), Washington careful selects two
trophy rogue nations of little strategic importance to the U.S.,
     for decertification, in a pathetic gesture to give credibility to
the process. 

     Despite the allocation of over $25 billion in overseas drug control
programs over the past 15 years, cocaine and heroin are more
     readily available in the U.S. and at cheaper prices than they were
at the beginning of Washington?s efforts. 

     In addition to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has a major
responsibility in the war on drugs, the Department of Defense and
     State Department now spend over $1.75 billion annually on overseas
drug interdiction--much of it in Latin America--but U.S.
     development assistance to the region has been cut dramatically and
continues to fall, now to under $295 million. Drug fund will be
     further expanded in next year?s fiscal budget. 

        Mexico's history of certification exposes flaws in the entire
process, and the complete impunity that the country
enjoys, even though the U.S. ambassador there accuses it of being the
world headquarter for drug trafficking.  

The results of the White House's annual drug certification review, made
public by the White House yesterday, perpetrates a
capricious if not pernicious foreign policy ploy which is now in its
fourteenth year.  This year, the Clinton administration once
again exonerated Mexico and Colombia -- the world's most prime
candidates for such decertification -- while selecting
Myamar (Burma) and Afghanistan for decertification. By engaging in this
political cost-free, if pathetic effort to provide
legitimacy to its document, the administration compounded a shabby
record of a lack of integrity surrounding its anti-drug war.
By giving "conditional certification" to Haiti and Paraguay, Washington
confirms that its annual report is a political, rather than a
scientific document, because the anti-drug performances in those
countries hardly differs from those nations which were
decertified. The result is that the administration gives a completely
false impression of who is to blame in stoking drug
production.  The one thing upon which all are agreed is that despite
billions of dollars in allocations, the war is being lost in
Latin America, as production of cocaine and other illegal substances
continues to mount. 

Defended by Senator Biden as "holding countries publicly responsible for
their actions" and "encouraging them to cooperate with the
international anti-drug effort," supporters of certification refuse to
face up to the hard fact that the process is an ineffective and all-but
tool for drug control, which has severely offended close trading
partners of the U.S. throughout Latin America, who are outraged that
Washington has taken upon itself to rate them, but not its own
questionable anti-drug policies. Also all but ignored is the fact that
the U.S. is
the world?s largest consumer of illicit drugs. Certification also
implicitly establishes the thesis that it is the responsibility of drug
rather than users to bear the major responsibility for the dramatic
growth in drug usage in the U.S., and grants unwarranted credibility to
argument that the U.S. militarization of the anti-drug war and the
extreme forms of eradication which it demands, are acceptable tactics.
many insist that the congressional legislation which mandates the annual
certification process is not meant to be a punishment but a tool for
encouraging other countries to prioritize an anti-narcotics agenda, the
required withdrawal of all U.S. foreign aid (besides anti-narcotics and
disaster funds) and opposition to loan requests to the IMF and World
Bank by nations found not in compliance, is a formidable weapon to be
wielded in retaliation for an allegedly poor performance. 

The Politics of Certification

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who heads the White House?s anti-drug office,
recently returned from a 3-day trip to Colombia to
negotiate the terms of the proposed steeply augmented $ 1.6 billion in
U.S. aid to their country. He also went to the
Colombian military base ?Tres Esquinas,? where expanded U.S. training
will take place. In light of existing legislation banning
U.S. funding of any military unit proven to have sanctioned human rights
violations, U.S. officials reportedly are discussing new
ways of pressing the Pastrana administration to crack down on any ties
between the army and the country?s notorious
right-wing paramilitary forces, as well as to establish a reliable
reporting schedule of any alleged improvements in this area. But
at the same time, McCaffrey?s real intent in recent weeks appears to be
to magnify before congressional audiences would-be
achievements in reforming the Colombian military, while minimizing the
shocking level of human rights violations taking place in
that country. A crumbling economy, notoriously corrupt civic
institutions, and with over 5 million of its population displaced in
the last decade by civil war, has generated hard times for Colombians
and the conclusion that not much can be expected from
the government. All of this, McCaffrey tends to ignore. 

The application of a "certified" status is particularly notorious for
its arbitrariness and lack of uniform standards. Several years ago,
was decertified while Mexico was favorably treated even though Bogota?s
anti-drug performance at the time demonstrably was far superior to
that of Mexico?s, which bought impunity for itself because of its close
economic ties with the U.S. springing from NAFTA, as well as from
Washington?s drive to win Mexico City?s help in reducing the number of
job-seeking illegal migrants from that country trying to slip into the

The Mexican Example Undermines Certification?s

Mexico is a particularly contentious case regarding certification,
routinely having been granted it qualifiedly or outright every year
since the
country has come under review, even though it is the hemisphere's major
drug transiting nation. This has meant that the Clinton White House
repeatedly has had to face strong Congressional opposition to its
decision to positively certify that country. Yet it is all but
impossible to make
the case that Mexico, whose government, military and police forces have
because famous for their complicity with drug traffickers, is turning in
a performance which is superior to nations like Bolivia, Colombia and
Panama, which were certified under "vital national interest" waivers or
have, in some years, had been denied certification. 

Regarding Mexico, in recent years, the White House report has included
in its "Statement of Explanation," a laundry list of the "productive
working relationships" established with various government offices and
law enforcement agencies in "a broad range of counter-narcotics
programs." Yet just a few items from Mexico's recent history indicate
that "cooperation" is a highly questionable concept, open to an entirely
contrary line of interpretation. From the 1994 arrest and sentencing of
that country?s own national drug czar, for giving protection to
in exchange for bribes, to reported links of several Mexican governors
and other senior officials to drug traffickers (among them presidential
candidate Roberto Madrazo), to alleged drug funds behind the
presidential campaign of Ernesto Zedillo, the case that Mexico?s
represents merely a matter of high theater rather than a reliable
finding on the anti-drug war, continues to grow. This conclusion is
impetus by U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow?s recent statement
that ?The fact is that the headquarters of drug trafficking is in
Mexico? just like the headquarters of the Mafia is in Sicily.? 

Does Certification Work?

In recent years, Mexico's anti-drug performance has come under heavy
fire from members of Congress, who can be expected to repeat their
actions. Mexico's certification is made even more inexplicable by
November, 1999's announcement by Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green
that the military cooperation phase between the two countries would be
terminated. This move was interpreted by many as an indication of the
high levels of frustration and resentment over U.S. intervention in
Mexican drug policy and enforcement practices. The issue was brought to
head in the return of over 70 U.S. helicopters donated to that country
for use in drug interdiction efforts after the craft were deemed unfit
use. Also, little mention is made that evidence exists that some
U.S.-supplied aircraft and U.S.-trained "drug-enforcement" units of the
military were used for counter-insurgency in addition to their intended
anti-drug purposes. All of this seems to justify accusations by the
chairman of both the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, that
the White House has used the ritual of certification to falsely make
the U.S. appear "tough on drugs," while trying to prop up its NAFTA
partner, Mexico at all costs and no matter how compelling the evidence
was against it. Other critics say that the U.S. saves the full impact of
the decertification process for strategically negligible countries, as
been the case this year, which it hopes will give a deceptive
credibility to the annual procedure.  

The replacement of the White House?s unilateral drug certification
requirement through the creation of a truly effective multilateral
solution to
the violence and corrupting influence of the illegal drug trade, is
sorely needed. By using the U.N. or some other international agency to
pre-determined standards and provide a reliable and uncompromised survey
of individual national performances, the certificating process
would be afforded respectability. As one can presently see in Colombia,
certification has had a negative effect on U.S. foreign policy goals
because it unfairly prioritizes the drug control issue, placing concerns
such as human rights, democracy and dubious realities concerning
civilian control over the military and police, on the back burner. Last
year, bipartisan legislation was introduced to suspend certification
more productive alternatives could be developed.  

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs is a more than 25-year-old
Washington-based independent research and public policy group that
on economic, political and diplomatic issues concerning the United
States, Canada and Latin America. It has been described on the floor of
U.S. Senate as "one of our nation?s most respected bodies of scholars
and policy-makers."
Merrill Smith
Haiti Advocacy, Inc.
1309 Independence Avenue SE
Washington DC 20003-2302
(202) 544-9084
(202) 547-2952 fax