Albion Monitor /News

Mexico, Columbia Scramble for Drug Certification

by Diego Cevallos and Yadira Ferrer

(IPS) MEXICO CITY/BOGOTA -- On February 28, President Clinton again certified that Mexico was an ally in the War on Drugs and Columbia was not.

The "performance-based certification" also again raised questions whether the United States, home to 420,000 habitual drug users and the biggest market for drugs in the world, has the right to pass judgment on countries with drug trafficking problems.

Five U.S. firms paid over $2 million in a public relations effort to clean up Colombia's image
The main protagonists of the process, in which the defense of the accused counts for little, were Colombia, the world's top producer of cocaine, and Mexico, through whose territory passes 90 percent of all drugs heading for the United States. Colombia was decertified for the second year in a row.

Mexico, which has been fully certified since the process got underway 11 years ago, also faced the risk of a qualified certification from its partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As "judgment day" of February 28th neared, the 30 countries in the dock spent millions of dollars to prove their innocence, and scrambled to stiffen their anti-drug laws.

Although both Colombia and Mexico deny that the process has any validity, they acknowledge that a negative certification does nothing for their international image, and can hinder the inflow of foreign capital.

On Feb. 19, the Colombian legislature enacted a law increasing sentences for drug traffickers, and on Feb. 20 it approved a maritime accord with the United States permitting the inspection of suspicious watercraft in the territorial waters of both countries.

The government and business organizations paid five U.S. firms close to $2.2 million in a public relations effort to clean up Colombia's image.

Mexico, meanwhile, sent its foreign minister to meet with officials in the United States.

But observers say that little can be done to modify the process. On Feb. 18, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters Robert Gelbard told the U.S. Congress, "Colombia should concentrate its efforts on its achievements and not on its image."

The U.S., which spends $31 billion a year on cocaine, $9 billion on marijuana and close to $8 billion on heroine, bases its certification process on a 1986 foreign aid law.

"The United States is not in a position to certify anyone, because it is the country with the largest number of consumers in the world"
Annual certification means that the president decides, along with his cabinet, whether or not the countries in question cooperated sufficiently with the U.S. government and adopted measures to live up to the terms of the 1988 U.N. convention against drug trafficking. Congress then has 30 days to modify the president's decision.

A guilty sentence -- decertification -- would have automatically lead to a suspension of arms sales, food aid and Eximbank financing. U.S. representatives would veto any request by those countries to multilateral lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank. Decertified countries also risk trade sanctions.

At the start, decertification was limited to countries with which Washington had distant or nonexistent relations, like Iran, Afghanistan, Laos and Syria. But today, both Colombia and Mexico are on the brink of failing the test.

The Colombian and Mexican governments both consider the certification a unilateral process that contradicts the spirit of cooperation. Colombian Interior Minister Horacio Cerpa says the evaluation process is based on "an imperialist attitude," while Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Gurria says it "disrupts the relations" between countries.

"The United States is not in a position to certify anyone, because it is the country with the largest number of consumers in the world," according to Luis Astorga, with the National Autonomous University of Mexico's Social Research Institute.

And in the words of Jorge Montano, a former Mexican ambassador to the United Nations, the certification "is an arrogant process" that "perpetuates the myth that offer, rather than demand, is the essence of the alarming consumption by people in the United States -- an obvious fallacy."

Reports by U.S. drug enforcement bodies indicate that the number of habitual users dropped from 23.3 million in 1982 to 12.5 million in 1991, but that consumption is once again on the upswing.

The latest studies report that use of marijuana -- mainly produced in the United States -- and hallucinogens is on the rise in secondary schools. The use of cheap drugs, like aerosols and solvents, which may cause irreversible brain damage, is also increasing.

Analysts and government officials in Colombia say the blackened image of President Ernesto Samper, who was acquitted by parliament of charges that he accepted drug money campaign contributions in his 1994 election campaign, played a large part in the final U.S. evaluation.

In spite of admitting that Colombia has made significant progress in its fight against drugs, Assistant Secretary of State Gelbard reiterated his mistrust of Samper, who he said had "solicited and received more than $6.6 billion from known drug traffickers."

According to Colombian Justice Minister Carlos Medellin, Gelbard's statements make it clear that "personal opinion" is an important component of political decisions in the United States.

Mexico's top drug enforcement chief was recently arrested on charges that he maintained ties with the drug trade, and persistant rumors have linked other top Mexican officials to drug dealers. Most recently, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials had evidence linking two Mexican state governors to the drug trade.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 6, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page