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U.S. grants full drug certification to Mexico

albright February 28, 1997
Web posted at: 6:40 p.m. EST

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Overriding stiff opposition in Congress, the Clinton Administration Friday announced it has certified Mexico as an ally in the drug war.

"President Clinton has ... decided to grant Mexico a full certification, but with firm expectations of further progress in the near term," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in announcing certification decisions for 32 countries.

Clinton also renewed for another year his 1996 decision not to certify the counter-narcotics program of Colombia, a decision that drew a sharp rebuke from Colombian officials.


"This decision will seriously harm the good relations that have always existed between Colombia and the United States," Colombian Vice President Carlos Lemos Simmonds said immediately after the announcement.

But the spotlight Friday was on Mexico, which recently arrested its drug czar on corruption charges.

Clinton was under pressure by more than three dozen lawmakers to deprive Mexico of its official status as a fully cooperative ally in U.S. attempts to curb drug smuggling.

Sen. Feinstein to fight Mexico's inclusion

The annual certification process is mandated by Congress. Decertification could lead to economic or trade sanctions against the offending nation.

Mexican officials had warned that such a decision could lead to reduced on anti-drug cooperation with the United States. Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Angel Gurria even warned of a possible "rupture" in relations between the two North American trading partners.

Friday's announcement was widely expected, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday she would lead an effort in Congress to disapprove the decision to certify Mexico.

"I now intend to work with my colleagues to prepare and submit a resolution to disapprove this decision in the Congress," said Feinstein, a California Democrat.

"Not a single U.S. extradition request for a Mexican national wanted on drug charges has been honored. Cooperation with U.S. drug enforcement agents on the border is at an all-time low. Cocaine seizures are half what they were in 1993."

But analysts said President Clinton's certification is likely to stand, and Albright defended the decision as in Washington's best interest.

Albright says Mexico is improving

"The point is not to keep score, but to change the score in our favor," Albright said.

She acknowledged the arrest of Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo as "shocking confirmation of problems that exist" south of the border. But Albright credited Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo with attempting to clean up an imbedded culture of corruption in Mexico.

The arrest of Gutierrez was an "act of political courage of the highest order," Albright said.

And she credited the Mexican government with recent improvements including increased drug seizures and a crackdown on the use of airstrips by traffickers.

She also said that the administration will work with the Zedillo government to establish criteria under which the United States can measure progress in its drug fighting.

"We expect Mexico to work with us all-out efforts to capture drug traffickers," Albright said.

'Rampant' corruption in Colombia

The decision to deny certification to Colombia was based on a judgment that "corruption remains rampant at the highest levels of the Colombian government," Albright said.

One American official said certification for Colombia has been difficult in light of allegations that President Ernesto Samper received drug cartel money for his 1994 election campaign. Samper has since been stripped of his U.S. visa.

But Lemos called it "arbitrary and unjust" and said the annual U.S. drug test known as "certification" had lost all credibility.

In a thinly veiled swipe at Mexico and its certification, Lemos said the entire certification process appeared based more on "political and commercial considerations" than on objective evidence.

In addition to Colombia, Afghanistan, Burma, Nigeria and Syria are the other countries not certified for cooperation in anti-drug efforts. Belize, Lebanon and Pakistan were granted a waiver on grounds of U.S. national security interests.


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