Pubdate: Thu, 21 Dec 2000
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2000 Sun-Sentinel Company


Every year, the president and Congress must judge how other nations
are cooperating in the war against drugs. And every year, the
so-called drug certification process creates bitter feelings among
U.S. allies in Latin America.

Latin Americans have a point. It is unfair for the nation that
consumes the most illegal drugs to judge and sanction the nations that
produce them or serve as transit points.

Furthermore, the process is filled with political problems and
inconsistencies. In recent years, the Clinton administration has
decertified Colombia as a reliable drug partner while certifying
Mexico and, in the process, glossing over Mexico's drug-related
problems. A big problem is the corrupting influence drug money has had
on Mexican police and other government officials.

In Colombia's case, decertification achieved negligible results. U.S.
economic sanctions were waived for national security reasons, but
diplomatic relations with Colombia temporarily suffered. Drug
production and trafficking in Colombia increased.

The annual certification process has become a yearly foreign policy
headache rather than an effective drug-fighting tool. What to do?

The Organization of American States has proposed a multi-national
approach for rating hemispheric countries on their anti-drug efforts.
Last week, the OAS Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission issued
a report calling for greater cooperation in curbing the production,
transport and use of illegal drugs. It promotes a process called the
Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, which eventually could replace the
certification process.

The multilateral system would evaluate 34 hemispheric nations,
including the United States, on efforts to control drug trafficking.
It rightly focuses on cooperation and resource-sharing rather than on
punishment. Its 21 recommendations include greater international
training for governments in the development of anti-drug strategies
and a greater emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts.

This drug-evaluation system is not without problems. It could
interfere with U.S. plans to cut off aid or impose sanctions on
irresponsible or corrupt governments. The OAS commission also must
deal with the political in-fighting that is certain to come from an
annual drug report-card process. Already, the commission seems less
eager to release separate country-by-country reports on anti-drug
efforts, which have been completed but have not been made public.

Despite these potential problems, the multilateral drug rating idea
makes sense and is worth exploring. The new Bush administration should
give the matter serious consideration.

When it comes to the illegal drug trade, no one in the hemisphere
escapes its impact. Drug profits corrupt police, judges and government
institutions in poor countries and drug use corrodes the social fabric
in rich countries.

A drug-evaluation process that promotes cooperation rather than
finger-pointing is worth supporting.
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