Anti-drug efforts of Mexico endorsed in Clinton decision Colombia decertified for feeble cooperation


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton certified yesterday that Mexico is fully cooperating with the United States in the fight against drugs, but in a move that triggers financial penalties he declared that Colombia is not.

Mr. Clinton's decisions came after a morning inter-agency debate that focused largely on Colombia and Mexico. Some U.S. officials argued that Mexico's efforts have been inadequate. Others warned that Colombia, if decertified, might halt its


White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta predicted that the president will face "a tough fight" in preventing Congress from overriding his Mexico decision.

"The decision to decertify Colombia was not made lightly," said Robert Gelbard, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics matters, in releasing the results of the annual U.S. review of drug cooperation.

Colombia is the first U.S. ally ever to be decertified -- a move that typically triggers a cutoff in most U.S. aid and support for lending requests to multilateral banks such as the World Bank.

The other countries that received failing grades are considered U.S. enemies or pariahs -- Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, Nigeria and Sudan, each of which also was decertified last year.

Bolivia and Peru received waivers last year, but this year they got a clean bill of health. Lebanon, Paraguay and Pakistan retained their waiver status.

The decertification of Colombia, however, might be more symbolic than punitive. Mr. Gelbard noted that much of the U.S. aid it receives is related to countering the drug problem, which is exempt from the aid cutoff. He said if Colombia seeks to borrow money from multilateral banks, U.S. disapproval will carry weight but won't automatically bar lending.

Mr. Gelbard congratulated some Colombian law enforcement officials for arresting last year six of seven senior members of the Cali cartel.

But he said Colombian President Ernesto Samper has provided "insufficient cooperation." Mr. Samper received significant contributions from drug kingpins during his 1994 election campaign and has undermined efforts to sentence them seriously, he said, claiming some of the drug lords are doing business from jail cells.

Mr. Panetta said that presidential politics will influence the coming debate in Congress. He said anti-Mexico lawmakers are gaining strength from the attacks on immigration and the North American Free Trade Agreement by GOP presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan.

Another candidate, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, has urged Mr. Clinton to list Mexico as not cooperating fully.

Mr. Gelbard said Mr. Clinton decided to certify Mexico because he believed it made "substantial progress" last year. "We feel the government of Mexico is cooperating with the United States. Clearly much remains to be done."

Mr. Gelbard said the 14-month-old government of President Ernesto Zedillo has declared drugs its top national security threat. He said Mexico last year eradicated at least a third of its marijuana production and slowed a sizable chunk of its heroin trade.

Yet the annual report accompanying Mr. Clinton's decision was quite critical of Mexico, saying it poses a more immediate narcotics threat to the United States than any other country.

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