In an expression of frustration over the unabated flow of cocaine into this country from Latin America, the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday sought to cut off about $30 million in U.S. aid to Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru on the grounds that they have failed to "fully cooperate" in the war on drugs.
The 26-15 vote--cutting across the political spectrum--reflected mounting congressional impatience with the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. But the measure's ultimate impact is unclear because it faces formidable legislative hurdles before taking effect.
And the underlying ambivalence of Congress on how far to go in cracking down on countries that produce drugs was revealed when the committee backed away from taking similar action against Mexico, a country that represents a far larger but politically more sensitive element in the problem of international drug trafficking.
Indeed, at least one member of the committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), bluntly suggested that the punitive moves were politically self-indulgent. "To get confrontational with these poor little countries is dumb, it's unwise, it's insensitive. . . . But it makes us feel good. We've struck a blow," said Hyde, who voted against the moves.
Technically, what the committee did was vote to "decertify" Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru as being in full compliance with U.S. rules on combatting drugs. Under the law, sharp restrictions on U.S. aid and other penalties must be applied to countries in which illegal drugs are produced unless the President certifies that the countries are cooperating fully with U.S. efforts to halt drug trafficking or are making an adequate effort to do so on their own.
President Reagan had certified that Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, as well as Mexico, are in compliance with these requirements.
A decertified nation loses half of its non-humanitarian U.S. aid as well as this country's support for loan requests from international banks.
Decertification does not take effect, however, unless it is approved by the full House and Senate within a prescribed period--in this case by May 13.
The full Senate voted two weeks ago to decertify Mexico for its inability to stop the flow of drugs. The House panel's refusal to pass judgment on the issue appeared to stall that effort in its tracks, in part because of the May 13 deadline.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet considered action against Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.
Congressmen pushing to defer action against Mexico maintained that a formal decertification of that nation would be meaningless, since it gets almost no direct U.S. aid.
"If we were in fact to do a Mexican sanction and it passed on the (House) floor, we would have accomplished a good message and not much else," argued Rep. Lawrence J. Smith (D-Fla.), who led the committee fight for decertification of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.
Added California Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai): "They (Mexican leaders) have been warned. . . . I think they do understand how serious this is."
Go Easy on Mexico
Several influential House members, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) among them, have pushed for a less confrontational approach with Mexico. As evidence of the potential success of that approach, Smith referred to a letter he said Wright received Wednesday from the Mexican government signaling a renewed commitment to fighting drug trafficking.
If finally decertified, Bolivia stands to lose about $23.2 million in direct aid, Peru $5.5 million and Paraguay $345,000 (plus $2.4 million in Peace Corps funding). All three also risk losing millions of dollars in future international bank loans and reductions in lucrative U.S. sugar quotas.
In a sign that ultimate decertification is unlikely, several panel members suggested that they objected not to the fact that Reagan had certified the three nations but rather the way in which he had done it.
The President could have concluded that Bolivia, Mexico and other drug-supplying nations are indeed failing to comply with drug control efforts but must be certified anyway based on national security interests.
Making this point most bluntly, Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) told one Administration official appearing before the committee that if Reagan had certified the nations based on national security, "you would have avoided all your problems--and ours."
Rayburn Hesse, a State Department adviser for narcotics policy, told the House committee that the Administration has made no decision on whether to veto any decertification of Bolivia, Paraguay or Peru. Reagan has previously asserted he would veto such action against Mexico or the Bahamas.
The House committee considered decertifying the Bahamas but ultimately took no action.
Hesse maintained that all three Latin American countries under scrutiny by the panel have complied with the law regarding efforts to cut the growth and production of drugs.