Last week's revelation by the Mexican government that it had arrested its top antidrug official because he was on the payroll of the nation's largest and most vicious drug cartel came at a bad time. It was just 15 days before President Clinton has to decide whether or not to "certify" that Mexico (and other producing and transit countries) cooperates fully with the United States in the fight against narcotics. Rather than a cause for denying Mexico certification, which would leave that country open to a variety of US economic sanctions, the events underscore the deep flaws in the certification process.
In the first instance, it is almost always misleading to classify a country, in a cut-and-dried fashion, as either cooperating or not cooperating. Most of the countries where it really matters are doing both. Lack of full cooperation may indicate bad faith, but it also may reflect honest differences of opinion on how to address the problems. Some agencies of a foreign government may be collaborating effectively while others may be corrupt, inefficient, or stubborn. That is the case in both Mexico and Colombia - the two countries that supply the US with most of its drugs.
Convincing arguments can be found for certifying or decertifying either of them, but it is a waste of time for US and foreign officials to focus efforts on marshaling those arguments, on making simplistic black-white distinctions. What is needed, instead, are careful and nuanced analyses of the drug problems facing particular countries in order to develop constructive policies and programs. Certification turns the analysts into advocates. Second, certification often forces the application of a double standard. Under any circumstance, it is virtually impossible for the US to consider decertifying Mexico. Given the degree of economic interdependence between the two nations, we know that decertification could seriously harm the Mexican economy, which, in turn, would damage the economies of many US states and communities. Only two years ago, the US lent Mexico $13 billion to halt the collapse of its economy - because the US has such a large stake in that country's economic success. …