- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

The Organization of American States yesterday released a country-by-country report card on the war against drugs, arguing to an increasingly receptive U.S. government that the multilateral approach is better than the U.S. system in which countries must be certified as allies in the drug war.
"This is a totally different process than certification. We are certain that this method of evaluation will have more legitimacy," said OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria. "Almost every country in the hemisphere thinks the unilateral process is inconvenient. This is a method of cooperation."
The White House, reflecting a growing willingness within government circles to re-examine the certification process, welcomed the report.
"It will become increasingly apparent to policy people in the hemisphere that our national interests are better served by this evaluation mechanism than by a system based on confrontation," said Edward H. Jurith, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In this year's report, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia and Venezuela all reported increased seizures of coca leaf, marijuana or opium poppies. But only 15 percent of those charged with drug trafficking in Venezuela were convicted, it said.
The OAS hopes its Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM) will replace a U.S. system that most Latin American nations find humiliating. Many countries also call it hypocritical, noting that the United States is the world's largest consumer of Latin American drugs.
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed skepticism about the existing process in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and some members of Congress are more willing to reconsider the policy under the Bush administration.
President Bush, who travels to Mexico City this month, enjoys a good relationship with Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has started a nationwide crusade against corruption, drug smuggling and organized crime.
His government announced yesterday it was firing 43 of the 47 top managers in Mexico's Customs administration because of corruption, inefficiency and apathy.
"I think with the new administration [in Washington], a lot of aspects of drug policy will be reviewed," said Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, a longtime supporter of the existing policy. "I am open to taking another look at the issue. It is a new era, a new day."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, sent legislation to the Senate on Tuesday that would suspend the certification process for two years while governments work to devise a more effective and less divisive way of controlling the drug trade in the hemisphere.
The measure was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Yesterday's report evaluated the drug situation in the 34 democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere. Cuba, which the United States lists as a drug-trafficking nation, is excluded from examination because it is neither democratic nor a member of the OAS.
MEM was set up by the OAS in 1998 in reaction to the U.S. process in which the president must "certify" to Congress by March 1 every year whether a country is fully cooperating in the war on drugs.
A country deemed uncooperative is barred from certain kinds of U.S. aid and support in the multilateral lending institutions. The president can decertify, but also can waive penalties in the interests of national security.
Last year, both Mexico and Colombia were certified as fully cooperating despite protests from members of Congress, including Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Cambodia, Haiti, Nigeria and Paraguay were not certified, but the penalties were waived for reasons of national security. Afghanistan and Burma were not certified as cooperative.
The MEM simply recommends the implementation of voluntary measures. There are no penalties for failure to implement anti-narcotics recommendations.

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