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Bush Cites Mexico Cooperation on Drugs

Times Staff Writer

President Bush told Congress on Wednesday that Mexico has “cooperated fully” with the United States in the fight against narcotics trafficking, heading off the threat of penalties under a U.S. foreign aid law.

But Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in an accompanying report, offered a gloomy picture of the worldwide drug trade. “The international war against narcotics is clearly not being won,” Baker wrote. “In fact, in some areas we seem to be slipping backwards.”

Bush and Baker offered their assessments in the federal government’s annual reports on international narcotics controls. Under foreign aid laws, the Administration must cut off aid and oppose international loans to countries that fail to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stop drug trafficking.

Several senators who sought to penalize Mexico over the drug issue last year said they do not plan to press for sanctions this year, largely to give Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari--who took office Dec. 1--what one called “the benefit of the doubt.”

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Bush’s decision to certify Mexico’s cooperation on drug efforts, and the waning enthusiasm in the Senate for punitive measures, appeared to defuse--at least temporarily--an issue that has been a chronic irritant in U.S.-Mexican relations.

Still, the President also complained that corruption in Mexico remains “a serious impediment” to law enforcement efforts there and indicated that the United States will continue to pressure the Salinas government on the issue.

“I am encouraged by the new president’s strong public stance against drugs,” Bush said in a written statement explaining his decision on Mexico. “However, there are problems with the program. . . . Mexico remains the No. 1 single-country source for heroin and the No. 2 source for marijuana.”

Kerry’s Complaint

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Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who led efforts to penalize Mexico last year, both indicated that they would follow Bush’s lead.

Kerry complained that the State Department’s certification that most foreign governments are cooperating with anti-drug efforts is difficult to square with the reports of increased drug production. But he added, “In the case of Mexico, the new president most likely deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

Wilson also does not plan to seek a resolution against Mexico, “because there has been some progress made by the new (Salinas) administration,” an aide said.

But an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) said he still intends to seek sanctions against Mexico. Last year, the Senate voted, 63 to 27, to penalize Mexico, but the resolution died in the House.

In his report to Congress, Bush withheld certification on anti-drug cooperation from only six countries: Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Laos, Panama and Syria.

Because the United States provides no aid to any of the six governments, the practical impact of the President’s decision appeared negligible.

Among the countries that received approval, six were presented as borderline cases: the Bahamas, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. One, Lebanon, received approval under a “national interest” exception; although Lebanon is a major exporter of hashish, its drug-producing area is largely under Syrian control.

Ann Wroblewski, the State Department’s assistant secretary for international narcotics matters, said Baker’s assessment that the drug war is being lost was based on increasing narcotics production worldwide.

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“If you look at the numbers . . . what you see is an increase in marijuana production, opium production and coca production,” she said. “What we see correspondingly around the world is an increase in drug abuse.

“Those twin increases fuel, of course, an increase in the power of the drug trafficking cartels, and that worries us,” Wroblewski said.


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