WASHINGTON — Two leading voices on the issue of Mexico's commitment to fighting drugs clashed on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) telling the White House official in charge of the nation's drug war that she is not nearly as optimistic as he about Mexican cooperation on efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States.
Their sharp differences surfaced in a Senate hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, where lawmakers are debating whether the U.S. process of certifying Mexico should continue.
Barry R. McCaffrey, a former Army general and now director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is touting a 10-year plan based on cooperation among nations in the Western Hemisphere, suggesting that the United States should work more closely with countries like Mexico in helping them combat drugs.
But Feinstein and others insisted that the United States should be tougher with Mexico and use the certification process to force that country to work harder to halt drug trafficking across the Rio Grande.
Feinstein said that while McCaffrey has made some "limited progress" on the Mexican drug issue, "there is a vast need yet for improvement."
She noted that no Mexican citizens sought on U.S. criminal charges have been extradited to this country. She complained that no leaders of the Mexican drug cartels have been arrested. And she said that Mexican police are "still riddled with corruption."
"We are at the early stages of really coming to terms with this problem," Feinstein declared. "Absent these [improvements], it will be difficult to make the case that Mexico is actually cooperating."
But McCaffrey argued otherwise. "I think we're moving ahead," he said.
In the last few years, he said, Mexico has begun extraditing many criminals to this country. He also said that the Mexican law enforcement apparatus is beginning to rehabilitate itself, noting that about 1,200 corrupt police officers were fired last year.
McCaffrey is trying to show Mexico that the United States wants to work together in conducting the drug fight. He said that concept is new to Mexicans, who for years have been "overwhelmed" by their perception of Americans as arrogant and unwilling to be a partner in any international effort.
But in the last several years, he said, Mexican government leaders have slowly warmed to the idea of joint cooperation.
"It's one of the most dramatic transformations I've seen in the region in the last 30 years," he said.