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Finger Pointing Won’t Help Curb the Global Drug Trade

The White House is now weighing whether to credit or censure Mexico’s behavior in the war against international drug traffic. If so-called certification is not given, Mexico will be denied U.S. assistance under a range of programs (unless a waiver is granted) and might be hurt in its dealings with international bankers. What Washington should do is look to reform this process altogether. What does it produce but finger pointing and ill will?

The battle against drug traffickers demands an international effort. Decertification would hardly engender that. This is a flawed process, one annually inflamed by political posturing. Instead, leaders of the United States, Mexico, Colombia and other countries plagued by drugs--and that means countries in which there are growers, traffickers, dealers or users--should press for cooperation among governments.

President Clinton, acting on the basis of reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the State Department, is bound by law to declare whether a nation’s behavior against the powerful and corrupting intercontinental drug cartels has been good or bad. As he ponders his decision, he should consider whether squeezing a country economically will truly increase its cooperation. Washington should send a message, but is this the best way to do it?

A number of Latin American governments--Mexico included--have now been burned by accusations of narco-influence at the highest levels. That is reason for concern, reason to question the determination of these countries to combat the drug lords. But removing assistance just makes the poor poorer, and more desperate. And it does nothing to serve U.S. interests if the doors of international banks are closed to countries in economic straits.

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Needless to say, the annual March 1 ritual of certification has sparked anti-United States feelings in Latin America. It raises the question of what gives the United States the moral ground to judge other countries when it is Americans who are the No. 1 consumers of illegal drugs.

It’s time for a different tack. Drugs are a lethal menace and no weapon that could block them should be discarded. But this is an American problem in the widest context: North America, Central America, South America. Indeed, it is a malady that festers on a global scale. The administration should seek a solution that acknowledges that fact.


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