Mexico wins praise from U.S. for work against drug traffic

Albright says cooperation improving in attempts to halt smuggling to cities

January 17, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

OAXACA, Mexico -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright praised the Mexican government yesterday for recent efforts to fight illegal drug trafficking -- a strong sign that the Clinton administration will again push for certification of Mexico as a good ally in the war on drugs, according to U.S. officials.

Certification would head off potential U.S. economic sanctions against Mexico but would be sure to anger some U.S. law enforcement officials and their allies in Congress, who believe that Mexico's anti-drug agencies are riddled with corruption and largely ineffective.

Calling her meeting with Mexican Foreign Secretary Rosario Green "a turning point" in U.S.-Mexico relations, Albright lauded Mexican efforts to strengthen its anti-drug agencies. She and Green said their governments were cooperating well in the effort to keep drugs from reaching U.S. cities.

Any criticism Albright had was aimed at unnamed people who she said "wish to undermine" the cooperative drug effort led by President Clinton and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.

Each year, as the president and Congress begin grading countries on their work against illegal drugs, sources within U.S. law enforcement agencies and Congress tell reporters of spectacular failures -- due to corruption and ineptness -- within Mexico's anti-drug agencies.

This spring may bring more of the same, said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, but it won't obscure improvement in cooperative drug police work in the last year between the countries.

"The fact that there are 20 tons of cocaine not on our streets [in the past year] is because of that increased cooperation," Davidow said, referring to two big cocaine arrests in the Pacific Ocean by the Mexican navy last year -- operations guided by U.S. counter-narcotics intelligence.

The cocaine seizures were among Mexican law enforcement's largest recent ones, noted by officials in both countries as evidence that new police forces and sophisticated intelligence equipment put to work last year by Mexico are paying off.

Analysts say at least 300 tons of cocaine reaches U.S. users from Mexico each year, most of it produced in Colombia.

Drugs make their way through Mexico, guided by crime bosses who have grown rich and who have spread the wealth through bribes to countless Mexican police, military officials and high-ranking members of the national government.

Such trafficking and corruption anger some U.S. legislators who want to block Clinton's drug certification of Mexico.

Albright would not predict Mexico's certification status this year, but said that Mexico's recognition of the serious drug threat supports its standing. Countries "de-certified" by Congress can lose U.S. financial aid and face trade sanctions.

Albright's talks with Green in this colonial city, 280 miles southeast of Mexico City, wrapped up her three-day swing through Latin America that started in Colombia and included a daylong meeting with Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso.

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