Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colombia Stays in US Disfavor Proposed Antidrug Laws May Not Be Enough to End 'Decertification' by US

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Colombia Stays in US Disfavor Proposed Antidrug Laws May Not Be Enough to End 'Decertification' by US

Article excerpt

When the Clinton administration "decertified" Colombia last March, it was the first time this annual drug-war seal of approval was denied to a democracy and a close trade partner of the United States.

Colombians held their breath, anticipating that the action - aimed at punishing what the US considered to be deficiencies in Colombia's antinarcotics trade effort - would deliver a blow to their country's economy. Since Colombia depends on the US for 40 percent of its trade, the prospect of sanctions, denied international loans, and other economic measures was alarming.

As it turns out, the last seven months have revealed what relieved Colombians say is a suave decertification - what might be called "decertification lite." Colombian President Ernesto Samper Pizano lost his US visa on strong evidence that his 1994 election campaign was heavily financed with money from the Cali drug cartel, and other high officials are also officially unwelcome in the US. But there have been no economic sanctions, nor US vetoes of loans to Colombia from international lending institutions. Next year, however, things could be different. The determining factor will be legislation submitted to Colombia's congress by President Samper designed to deliver a severe blow to drug-trafficking. Measures include sharply increased prison terms for convicted drug lords, asset forfeitures from convicted drug traffickers, and stiffened anti-money-laundering laws. Many Colombian analysts say the US will almost certainly decertify Colombia again in 1997, but they say this legislation will tip the balance on economic sanctions. Some observers go even farther. "We could even see severe economic sanctions before March 1 {the annual date by which the administration must report to Congress on which narcotic-producing countries are certified and which are decertified}," says Sergio Uribe, a Colombian drug-policy expert. "It would be the Americans' way of saying, 'You're not going to be certified, don't worry about it,' " Mr. Uribe says. While US officials here won't speculate on Colombia's prospects for the next certification process, they are direct about what the US wants. "We have made very clear ... the things we expect them to do as part of the certification goals for calendar 1996," says US Ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette. He lists the legislation now before Colombia's congress, as well as "progress" toward allowing extradition of Colombia's top drug lords to the US. Colombia has an extradition treaty with the US, but the country's new Constitution, dating from 1991, outlaws the practice. Colombian officials working closely with Samper say it is a "top priority" to get the antitrafficking legislation passed, but they admit it will not be easy. …

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