The US Congress' 15-year experiment with "certifying" foreign countries' adherence to the US drug policy agenda could be put on hold if Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has his way. On Wednesday, Dodd introduced S. 219, which would suspend certification for the next two years and direct the administration to develop alternative, multilateral methods of weighing each nation's drug control efforts. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC).
Since 1986, Congress has directed the State Department to annually certify other countries' compliance with US drug enforcement goals, which are strongly weighted toward law enforcement and militarization of drug enforcement efforts. Countries that fail to win certification are then barred from receiving US foreign assistance (except anti-drug aid), and American representatives to lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are compelled to vote against their loan requests.
The annual ritual has aroused bitter condemnation from leaders in Latin America and elsewhere, who view it as high-handed, unilateral interference in their internal affairs. Latin American leaders have also been quick to point out that the region's drug trade is largely driven by US consumer demand.
"How does the country which figures as the principal market for narcotics get off certifying the efforts of other nations in this area?," asked Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel at the 1999 Organization of American States General Assembly.
"What comes to mind is how arbitrary, unilateral and lastly absurd this whole certification mechanism is," editorialized El Tiempo (Bogota) one of Colombia's leading newspapers, during the 1999 certification round.
"[Mexico] rejects mechanisms such as the certification process which violate principles founded in international law and respect for the dignity that should exist between countries," then-Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, told an international conference on corruption in Mexico City earlier that year.
The new Mexican government of Vicente Fox and Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, who is on record calling for an end to drug prohibition, has indicated it will press for an end to certification. Fox told the Mexico City daily El Universal on Monday that he would ask Bush to scrap what the Mexican press commonly refers to as a "humiliating" process.
They may find a sympathetic hearing from Bush, who cultivated close ties with Mexican leaders during his Texas governorship, and from his new Secretary of State, Colin Powell. During his confirmation hearings, Powell asked senators to reduce the use of sanctions and certifications as a foreign policy tool.
The Dodd bill is also winning applause from activist organizations concerned with Latin America. Gina Amatangelo of the Washington Office on Latin America (http://www.wola.org) told DRCNet that WOLA supports the bill.
"This is an important first step," she said. "Getting rid of certification will not change what is wrong with current drug policies, but it will move toward a multilateral strategy where the US cannot so easily continue to impose a unilateral, militarized strategy."
Amatangelo referred to the Organization of American States' (OAS) Multilateral Exchange Mechanism (MEM), a hemispheric effort to monitor and evaluate drug control strategies where the US would be but one vote. (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/164.html#oasmeeting).
"The MEM is in its first year of development," said Amatangelo, "so we're waiting to see if that becomes an effective tool. We're hoping the Dodd initiative will create space for debate about a variety of alternatives."
And in its latest legislative update, the Latin America Working Group (http://www.lawg.org), a coalition of 60-odd religious, human rights, policy, and development organizations, called for its members to support the bill. The group said US drug policy in Latin America in general and certification in particular had a "negative impact on human rights and has not been the least bit effective in stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the United States."
Still, as DRCNet reported earlier, Congressional drug war hard-liners have vowed to fight an effort to end certification.