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Debate rages: Is Mexico tough enough on drug trade?

Senate
Senate votes down resolution to decertify Mexico  
March 27, 1998
Web posted at: 10:46 p.m. EST (0346 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Though the U.S. Senate refused Thursday to decertify Mexico as a partner in the war against illegal drugs, the debate is likely to continue over whether Mexican officials are doing enough to stop drug trafficking.

That debate is being fueled by a story in The New York Times, published the same day the Senate took its final vote on Mexican certification. The newspaper released details of a February report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to Attorney General Janet Reno critical of corruption in the Mexican army.

The Times said that the DEA found that there were extensive ties between drug gangs and the Mexican army, which U.S. officials consider to be essential in cross-border drug enforcement efforts.

A drug enforcement official told the newspaper that if indications of the Mexican military's wider involvement with drug trafficking prove true, "it points to much of our work in Mexico being an exercise in futility."

Report denounced by Mexican officials

But Mexican officials denounced the Times report, insisting that the Mexican military and other parts of the government are doing their part in the war on drugs.

"We are cooperating. The Mexican army is cooperating," said Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green. "President [Ernesto] Zedillo has strongly said that this is a very important issue to us because of national security reasons."

Mexican border
At the Mexican border  

Mexican officials point to the arrest last year of Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, once the country's top drug fighter, on charges that he was involved with drug traffickers. That, they say, proves that they are serious about getting tough on corruption. And the U.S. State Department agrees.

"We believe the Mexican military is vigorously investigating, prosecuting and punishing corruption," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

However, Rubin added, "It's impossible to imagine that the Mexican military, like other Mexican institutions, will not be challenged to some extent by drug corruption."

Green and other Mexican officials also questioned the timing of the leak of the DEA's report to the Times.

"[What's] really very interesting to note is that whenever we are ready to go on with this important exercise of cooperation, things happen ... and all of a sudden, it seems like cooperation could be substituted by confrontation," Green said.

Measure fails in Senate by 54-45 vote

In March, the Clinton administration certified that Mexico was cooperating with U.S. drug control operations. Under a 1961 U.S. law, countries that aren't certified face trade sanctions and limits on foreign aid.

But Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Georgia, introduced a resolution that would have overturned that certification. Late Thursday night, it failed by a vote of 54-45.

Feinstein, whose state shares a border with Mexico, called Mexico's drug enforcement efforts "an inflated balloon -- impressive to look at but hollow at the core and easily punctured."

But Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, said overturning certification would cause "untold complications" in U.S.-Mexican relations. And he said that it was unfair to criticize Mexico for failing to stem a drug problem that is being created by demand in the United States.

"It's because of our failure to deal with this issue, the underlying cause of it," Dodd said, adding that he rejected the idea "that if we scream loud enough at these other countries we're so