Mexico Launches Comprehensive Campaign to Combat Drug Trafficking

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In early February, President Ernesto Zedillo's administration launched a comprehensive program to combat drug trafficking. The new initiative designates between 4 billion pesos (US$404 million) and 5 billion pesos (US$506 million) through 2001 to acquire aircraft and radar equipment. Some of the funding was included in the 1999 budget, which was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in December. The administration announced the anti-drug initiative at a press conference presided over by Interior Secretary Francisco Labastida Ochoa, Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, and Defense Secretary Enrique Cervantes. The three Cabinet officials said the initiative will emphasize two areas: eradication of marijuana and poppy fields, and interception of drug shipments within Mexican borders. As part of the program, the government will improve coordination among law-enforcement agencies and boost efforts to crack down on corruption. The initiative, which Interior Secretary Labastida described as "the most ambitious" anti-drug effort in Mexican history, is widely seen as an effort by the Zedillo administration to convince the US government to certify Mexico as an ally in the war against drugs. Under US law, President Bill Clinton must inform the US Congress by March 1 whether he will recommend Mexico and 27 other countries for certification. The administration's intention to use the new program as leverage to gain certification became even more evident when Labastida, Madrazo, and Foreign Relations Secretary Rosario Green traveled to Washington to offer details of the anti-drug program. The Mexican officials met with Clinton's drug-policy chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other cabinet officials to explain the initiative. But the message brought by the Mexican officials was intended primarily for the US Congress, which must ratify or reject Clinton's recommendations on certification. A negative recommendation could trigger US trade and economic sanctions against Mexico, sending relations between the two countries into a crisis. Clinton supports drug certification for Mexico President Clinton has strongly hinted he supports certification for Mexico. During a bilateral summit in Merida, Yucatan state, Feb. 14-15, the US president praised Mexico's new anti-drug program and suggested that certification is preferable to decertification. "The fundamental question is, are we better off fighting [the drug problem] together or separately," said Clinton. During the Yucatan summit, Clinton and Zedillo signed nine political and economic agreements, including an accord committing the countries to jointly combat drug trafficking. Speaking to reporters, Clinton said the drug agreement contains "important new benchmarks that will actually measure our mutual success in the war on drugs." Despite Clinton's statement, however, the 91-page drug agreement offers very few tools to measure success on the drug front. In fact, the Washington Post said the accord may have diluted many specific targets that had been proposed in a document drafted by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy last year. Clinton faces an uphill battle in gaining certification for Mexico, with strong resistance from many in the US Congress. The US House of Representatives reluctantly approved certification for Mexico last year, but opposition was so strong that some legislators introduced bills to reverse the certification (see SourceMex, 03/11/98). Resistance is expected to be stronger in the House this year because of what many perceive as a lack of progress by the Zedillo administration during the past year. Seizures of cocaine, marijuana and heroin in Mexico dropped significantly last year, as did the number of drug-related arrests and investigations. These statistics are compounded by complaints about corruption among Mexican authorities, including high-profile politicians like Quintana Roo Gov. …