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Andrea Koppel: Drug war report card

Andrea Koppel  

Q: What is the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report?

Koppel: This report has been around for 15 years, and is the annual review of countries that the U.S. views as being major drug producing and/or drug transit countries. It is required by law, and provides the factual basis for the president to determine if a country deserves to be certified for foreign assistance.


Q: What determines whether a country is a major drug producer or drug transit country?

Koppel: Under the law, a major elicit drug producing country is one in which a) 1,000 hectare or more of illicit opium poppy is cultivated or harvested during a year (b) 1,000 hectares or more of coca is cultivated or harvested during a year, or (c) 5,000 hectares or more of illicit cannabis is cultivated or harvested during a year unless the president determines that such illicit cannabis production does not significantly affect the U.S.

A major elicit drug transit country is one: a) that is a significant direct source of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances significantly affecting the United States or (b) through which are transported such drugs or substances.

Q: Is this certification process considered effective?

Koppel: That depends on whom you talk to you. Since the findings are rolled out each year on March 1, some say that countries introduce regulations or set about to catch drug kingpins shortly before March 1 because they know that their actions will have an impact on certification.

Others say that it is not as effective as it should be because the countries are merely showing intent Ė the intent to cut down on production or trafficking and cooperating with the U.S. to do that. This is why countries like Colombia, a major drug producer, and Mexico, a major drug transit point, have been certified by the U.S. most of the last 15 years. This doesn't mean that they don't have a drug production or transit problem; it just means that the U.S. thinks they have been cooperating to cut down the trafficking. To some, it seems like twisted logic.

Q: President Vincente Fox of Mexico is an outspoken critic of this certification process. Is there any indication that the Congress will terminate this program?

Koppel: Yes, there is. There are several pieces of legislation that have been sponsored recently. One is by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who wants to suspend the certification process for two years while efforts continue to try to develop an enhanced, more of a multi-lateral strategy. Currently, only the U.S. evaluates these countries, their drug strategies, drug production and transit situation. Under Doddís proposal, the review would be done hemisphere-wide. Countries would meet as equals and offer constructive criticism and reports on how a country might do better. Through this spirit of mutual cooperation, countries would work to eliminate drug trafficking and production.

Q: What is the significance of this certification process?

Koppel: For many countries, it is an annual embarrassment, an annual irritant in their relation with the U.S. They see the U.S. as being both judge and jury, leveling criticism at their drug situation when it is the U.S. that is the primary consumer of the drug. These countries see U.S. citizens providing a market. They contend that if this huge demand didnít exist, there wouldn't be the kind of production or cultivation we have now attempting to satisfy that demand.

When this law was originally conceived 15 years, it was the Congress' way of getting the White House and State Department to pay attention to drugs as a major foreign policy issue. Congress wanted a level of punishment if countries didnít do a better job of cutting down on drug producing and trafficking.

Over the years, it has become meaningless. Many countries that are considered major producers or transit countries are still being certified because they have the "intent" to cut down on trafficking and production.

Also, many administrations don't want to jeopardize the U.S. relationship with some of these countries by decertifying them. Decertification would preclude them from getting U.S. assistance, and would force the U.S. to vote against international assistance from institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Q: Are there any up-coming discussion on Americaís drug policy?

Koppel: Next month in Ottawa, Canada, there is going to be a Summit of the Americas. This matter of drug certification is going to be high on that agenda. President Bush himself said that this issue needed to be examined, and that this certification process should be reviewed. The meeting should be very interesting because one of the options being considered the multi-lateral approach.

U.S. must cut drug use to help Colombia, leaders say
February 27, 2001
Bush, Fox begin U.S.-Mexican summit
February 16, 2001
United States proposes $1.6 billion in anti-drug aid to Colombia, Peru and Bolivia
January 11, 2000

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Drug Control Fact Sheet: Mexico
  • Drug Control Fact Sheet: Colombia
  • U.S. Support for Plan Colombia
Republic of Colombia
Presidency of Colombia
Presidency of the Republic of Mexico

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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