WASHINGTON — President Bush declared Wednesday that Mexico, Colombia and 18 other drug-producing countries are cooperating fully with the United States in the war on narcotics, despite increases in the worldwide cultivation of marijuana and the crops that are made into heroin and cocaine.
It was Bush's first venture into the diplomatically sensitive subject of drug certification. The annual "report card" has long angered Mexico and other affected countries because the United States is the world's biggest consumer of narcotics.
Bush's decision, based on a report prepared over several months by the State Department and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, clears the way for continued aid to the countries that received full certification.
Only Myanmar and Afghanistan--the world's largest producers of opium poppies--were deemed uncooperative. Under U.S. law, they are thus ineligible for all aid programs and the United States is committed to vote against them in international organizations such as the World Bank. The sanction is largely symbolic, however, because the United States has no aid program for the two countries, which are on Washington's list of pariah nations for other reasons.
The law, first passed by Congress in 1986, requires certification of countries that grow, refine, transport and finance the bulk of the world's narcotics. It establishes three categories of countries: fully cooperative with counter-narcotics programs; uncooperative, but for other reasons it is not in the U.S.' interest to withhold aid; and uncooperative. The reports grade effort, not results.
In the only change from then-President Clinton's final report a year ago, Bush moved Nigeria and Paraguay from the national-security waiver list to full certification. That left Cambodia and Haiti with waivers.
In addition to Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and Paraguay, Bush gave full certification to the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Laos, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam.
On Capitol Hill, the certification process has been controversial for years. Some lawmakers say it is hypocritical and counterproductive for the United States to publicly rate other countries' law enforcement efforts, while others complain that the administration isn't tough enough in its assessment.
Rand Beers, chief of the State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, said the administration is ready to consider changes in the procedure. But he defended certification as "an effective, if blunt, policy instrument for enhancing counter-narcotics cooperation."
"Prior to the March 1 deadline for certification each year, we have seen countries introducing legislation, passing laws, eradicating drug crops and capturing elusive drug kingpins," he said. "The timing is no coincidence."
In conjunction with Bush's two-page certification memo, the State Department issued a phone-book-size report on international narcotics control, analyzing the efforts of more than 100 countries in addition to the 24 on the list of major trafficking countries.
A table showed that, from 1999 to 2000, there were modest increases in the acreage devoted to opium poppies, coca leaf and marijuana. But the acreage devoted to all three crops was lower last year than it was in the mid-1990s.
The report said coca cultivation was down sharply in Bolivia and Peru--as recently as 1994 the world's biggest growers--but was up 11% in Colombia, which now accounts for almost 90% of the land devoted to coca leaf.
"Colombia produces and distributes more cocaine than any other country in the world and is also an important supplier of heroin," the report said. It added that Colombian drug money corrupts the law enforcement system and finances a decades-old civil conflict.
But the report said that Colombian President Andres Pastrana's government is fully committed to controlling the drug trade. Without the government's effort, the report said, the situation would be worse.
The report said Mexico "faces a broad array of drug-related problems, including the production and transshipment of illicit drugs, money laundering, illicit firearms trafficking and growing consumption." At the same time, it said the country's counter-narcotics programs "achieved a number of important successes in 2000."
The State Department also praised Mexican President Vicente Fox, who took office in December. It said the new government is committed to an unprecedented level of cooperation with the United States to combat the narcotics trade.