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Mexico Recertified and Colombia Decertified Again as Cooperating Partners in U.S. Anti-Drug Effort; U.S. House Votes to Overturn Mexican Certification and U.S. Senate Votes a Reprimand


March-April 1997

Despite the recent arrest of Mexico's top anti-narcotics officials, the Clinton administration recertified Mexico as "fully cooperating" in the war on drugs in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) released on February 28. The president is required by a 1986 law to report to Congress by March 1 on the degree to which other countries that are drug producing or transshipment countries are cooperating in anti-narcotics efforts. Failure to be certified as fully cooperating requires a cutoff of U.S. aid and other measures unless the President waives the sanctions on national security grounds (Pierre Thomas, "U.S. Certifies Mexico as Drug Ally," Washington Post, March 1, 1997, p. A1; William E. Clayton, Jr., "Mexico Wins Certification," Houston Chronicle, March 1, 1997, p. 1A).

"Our certification process is not meant to measure the depth of Mexico's shortcomings, but the extent of its cooperation with us in overcoming them," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She said that certification comes "with firm expectations of further progress [by Mexico] in the near term." The Administration praised Mexico for enacting money laundering and anti-organized crime laws, and increasing drug arrests, drug seizures and crop eradications last year. Administration officials feared that decertifying Mexico would weaken relations with an important economic partner.

The Mexican Embassy called the certification a "favorable assessment of the commitment and political will of President Ernesto Zedillo." The embassy added that Mexico was not acting just to appease the U.S. "Mexico combats drug trafficking because it is a threat to its national security, to its institutions and to the well-being of Mexican society."

Mexico's certification drew bipartisan congressional criticism. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, "This decision says that business as usual is sufficient." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) called it a "fraud." House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO) and Rep. House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) called on Congress to overturn the certification of Mexico. Congressional opponents have until March 30 to pass a joint resolution denying or modifying certification.

The Administration decertified Colombia for a second consecutive year. "Corruption remains rampant at the highest levels of the Colombian government, and ... senior officials are failing to cooperate with us in the fight against drugs," the Administration said. Colombian President Ernesto Samper called the decision "demoralizing and unjust." Other decertified nations include: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Burma, and Iran. Because of "national interests," waivers were granted to Belize, Lebanon and Pakistan, allowing them to retain U.S. foreign aid despite decertification. Decertified countries are subject to economic sanctions, including a loss of U.S. support for international loans. [Reviewing the INCSR demonstrates the highly politicized nature of these determinatons. -- EES]


On March 6, the House International Relations Committee voted 27-5 to overturn Mexican certification (H.J. Res. 58). The Clinton Administration immediately began lobbying representatives not to overturn the certification, arguing that decertification would hurt U.S. interests and would have disastrous effects on Mexico's economy and democratic reform in that country. Even before its certification, fears of decertification devalued Mexican currency (Reuter, "Certification Fears Devalue Currency," Washington Post, February 28, 1997, p. A16; Thomas A. Lippman, "Panel Votes to Decertify Mexico," Washington Post, March 7, 1997, p. A1; Peter Slevin, "House panel scolds Clinton over Mexico," Houston Chronicle, March 7, 1997, p. 1A; David Stout, "Clinton Meets 9 Senators On Drug Issue And Mexico," New York Times, March 11, 1997, p. A3).

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), one of three congressmembers who visited with Zedillo in Mexico in early March, said Mexico is making a good-faith effort and that the U.S. needs to do more to reduce demand on this side of the border. U.S.-Mexican relations "are becoming the biggest issue in Mexico's July election campaign. Every party is trying to outdo the other in being more nationalistic and anti-American." Right wing commentators reported that academic experts think that decertification could fuel the comeback of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), a left-wing party (Morton M. Kondracke, "Mexico-Bashing Feels Good, But Hurts Good Guys," Roll Call (Washington, DC), March 13, 1997, p. 8).

On March 13, the House voted 251-175 to overturn Mexican certification. The House measure would impose sanctions on Mexico after 90 days unless Clinton reported "reliable assurances of substantial progress" by Mexico in the drug war. The White House promised to veto the legislation if it passed the Senate as well (Adam Clymer, "House Votes To Punish Mexico Over Drugs," New York Times, February 14, 1997, p. A10; John E. Yang and Helen Dewar, "House Backs Conditional Decertification of Mexico," Washington Post, February 14, 1997, p. A4).


However, the U.S. Senate took a different approach. It voted 94-5 for the resolution after adopting an amendment to expresses "concern about ineffective and insufficient progress by Mexico" in the anti-drug effort, but does not reverse certification. The resolution criticizes Mexico for "evidence of significant corruption," charging that the country is major supplier of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine to the U.S. The amendment was a compromise between key senators and White House officials and was submitted by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Hutchison said the action is intended "not to hit them in the face but bring them to the table." The resolution would set benchmarks for improved anti-drug efforts in Mexico, and requires a report from the Administration by September 1 on whether Mexico has made adequate progress (Jerry Gray, "Senate Backs Clinton on Endorsing Mexico's Anti-Drug Efforts," New York Times, March 21, 1997, p. A5; Helen Dewar, "Senate Passes Mexico Certification Compromise," Washington Post, March 21, 1997, p. A20).

Compromise between the House and Senate positionsdid not take place before March 31 due to the Congressional Easter Recess.

The International Narcotic Control Strategy Report is located on-line at