MEXICO AND DRUGS
FEBRUARY 27, 1997
Mexico's top drug fighter has been indicted on drug charges, and other prominent Mexican officials have been tied to drug cartels. However, the Clinton Administration still plans to re-certify Mexico as a drug-fighting ally. After a background report, Charles Krause talks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein about her opposition to Mexican re-certification. Then, Krause talks with Jesus Silva-Herzog, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., about the controversy.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Oct. 4, 1996:
How much of a threat are the EPR rebels's attacks to the future stability of Mexico? Charles Krause reports from Mexico City.
Sept. 13, 1996:
Learn about a terrorist group's activities in Mexico in this Online Forum with NewsHour foreign correspondent Charles Krause, just back from the region.
The complete NewsHour coverage of Latin America.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Two months ago retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office on Drug Policy, welcomed Mexico's attorney general and the head of its anti-drug program, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo to Washington. At a press conference Gen. McCaffrey praised Gen. Gutierrez.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Gen. Gutierrez Rebollo has a reputation of being an honest man who is a no-nonsense field commander of the Mexico army. He's now been sent to bring to the police force the same kind of aggressiveness and reputation that he had in uniform.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But last week Gen. Gutierrez was arrested on charges of taking money from drug traffickers. Then that news was followed by reports that other high level Mexicans, including members of the family of Mexico's former president, Carlos Salinas, were also involved in drug trafficking and corruption. Meanwhile, top-level administration officials acknowledged that Gen. Gutierrez may have been given sensitive intelligence that could jeopardize undercover agents and ongoing investigations.
SAMUEL BERGER, National Security Adviser: We're doing an assessment of whether there was any compromise to information in briefings we gave to Gen. Gutierrez, and that's not completed yet.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Each year the president must certify by March 1st which countries are helpful to the United States fighting drugs and which are not. Those countries, like Colombia, that are found to be uncooperative are decertified and subject to economic sanctions. Yesterday, House Minority Leader Democrat Richard Gephardt joined California's Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, urging that President Clinton decertify Mexico.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: There's simply no justification for certifying Mexico as an ally in this fight.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The two Democrats said that if the administration does certify Mexico, they would introduce legislation to roll back the President's decision. In response, Mexico's foreign minister, Jose Angel Gurria, said yesterday that decertification would jeopardize Mexico's relationship with the United States.
JOSE ANGEL GURRIA, Foreign Minister, Mexico: I think it would be a slap in the face to an ally.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The deadline for the administration's decision on certification is Saturday, but it would come as early as tomorrow.
CHARLES KRAUSE: With us now is Sen. Feinstein. Senator, welcome.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) California: Thank you very much.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You're leading the fight to decertify Mexico. Tell me why.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, the reason is--and I've followed this situation closely now for several years--it is my belief that things have never been worse on the border. We have the DEA administrator, Thomas Consentine, making a statement in his testimony before a House committee that there is virtually no civilian law enforcement agency in Mexico that can be entirely trusted to carry out this mission. I have talked extensively with law enforcement. I think things on our border have never been worse. Cocaine seizures are less than they were in 1993, and we have the cartels really moving with abandon, essentially bribing those who they can, and killing those that they can't. We've had an unprecedented number of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and others, frankly, just plain assassinated. So I think there is a very serious problem on the border, and I regret it very much but tonight I'm sending a letter to the President urging decertification. This letter is signed by 40 United States Senators, and there are some that did not sign it that have written their own communications, so we are very close to a majority in the Senate, really urging decertification. We also state in the letter, and this is most important, that because of the vital national interests, the trade interests, the fact that we want to work with our ally, our friend, our neighbor, that a waiver should be contemplated by the President and hopefully that will be the procedure that he will follow.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In another letter that you wrote earlier this week to President Clinton you said that you don't believe that the current Mexican government has the political will to deal with the drug traffickers in Mexico. Are you suggesting that the President of Mexico, Mr. Zedillo, is too weak, uninterested, or is he too part of the problem?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: No, I'm not, not at all. I have no evidence from anyone or any authority that President Zedillo is in any way involved. I do know this: that when you can have a known cartel leader with an extradition request pending from the United States for his extradition to the United States to face drug charges, who gives an interview to the Washington Post, and says, "I go to banks, offices, just like any Mexican. Every day I pass by road blocks, police, soldiers, and there are no problems. I'm in the streets all the time. How can they not find me? Because they are not looking for me." That is a direct quote, and so I would have to say why is this man not arrested and extradited, and I just checked with the Department of Justice this afternoon, so I'm sure what I'm about to say is correct, and that is that there has not been one extradition of a Mexican national on drug-related charges.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Now, that is not--that is not the action of a friend and neighbor and an ally that one should prize. Additionally, the binational task force for narcotics, which is known as the bilateral border task force. I was just informed by DEA. They have been told that they cannot wear sidearms. Our people cannot wear sidearms to protect themselves in Mexico. So they've been withdrawn?
CHARLES KRAUSE: If I may, quickly, as you know, the Mexicans say the Mexican government has written you and has said publicly they are doing all they can, what do you hope to achieve? What will decertification achieve if the goal is to increase cooperation?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, let me be very candid. What I hope decertification and a waiver will do because it is--first of all there will be no trade sanctions, but secondly, it will hopefully give the government leverage. There are many, many, many honest people in leadership positions. I hope it will give them leverage to do the things they need to do, and let me say what I think they are: One is extradite those against whom those are extradition requests and ones pending; two, a money laundering law has been passed, it has not been implemented, implemented. Bank regulations need to be changed; change them. And finally, make a major strike at these big cartels. What I am told by the Drug Enforcement Administration is that this, the drug cartels of Mexico today are the largest single organized criminal syndicates in the hemisphere, and not only are they operating in Mexico, but they have permeated their work in the United States across our border and in our big city. I was told today that one of the Mexican cartels effectively controls cocaine distribution in Los Angeles. I can't just sit by and let that happen. I have to do something representing California.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Senator, thank you very much.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And now the Mexican perspective. Joining us is Jesus Silva-Herzog, the Mexican ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG, Ambassador, Mexico: It's a pleasure to be here.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You've heard Sen. Feinstein. She says that if the United States decertifies your country that that will give your government leverage to fight harder against the drug traffickers. Do you think she's correct?
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: Well, let me, first of all, tell you that I am happy to participate in this program and to participate with Sen. Feinstein, a Senator that I respect very much. I think it would be quite difficult for Mexican law enforcers to really increase cooperation and to receive that leverage when you receive, more or less, a slap in the face. We certainly believe that the word in this problem of drug trafficking is cooperation, and in my opinion--and it is not only my opinion but the real facts--the degree of cooperation that Mexico and the United States had obtained during the last 12 months; it's almost without precedent. We established a bilateral group. It's the so-called high level contact group. They have met three times in plenary sessions. They have established several working groups to analyze the different aspects of the drug problem, and definitely, I believe that through this joint analysis the cooperation has reached an unprecedented level. The seizures, arrests, eradication during 1996 was larger than in 1995, significantly larger. We have extradited a good number of unattended requests from the U.S. authorities, including--and I'm sorry to disagree with the Senator--but we have extradited two Mexican nationals last year. During the first seven weeks of 1997 we have extradited an additional six persons. So it's a process that is going on, and I think Mexico is responding very clearly to something that we think that it's a reasonable request. The U.S. also has extradited to Mexico, as a matter of fact, basically the same number that we have extradited.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What about the Senator's point, though, that drug seizures, cocaine, for example, less last year than three years ago?
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: That in 1983, but she didn't mention that they are quite larger than in 1994, than in 1995, and that they are going to be even bigger this year.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What about the point that--her point--that the political will, that your government is unable to deal with the problem, that there may be people like President Zedillo, who are committed to it, but that it seems to be beyond their control?
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: I think there is no question whatsoever of the political will, of the government of Mexico, and all the agencies that had to do with this problem to cooperate with the United States and to do as much as we can in this terrible problem that we face together. It's quite interesting, but I read this morning a proposal by a very respectful group from California that is calling for the decertification of California and of Arizona because of the legalization of the consumption of marijuana. It's quite an interesting thing. We are worried about that legalization because it's an additional magnet for the marijuana import from Mexico and for the cultivation of marijuana in the state of California.
CHARLES KRAUSE: All right. But at the same time the DEA, I believe, estimates that probably 2/3 of all the cocaine, all the crack, all of the amphetamines that come into this country come in through your country. Clearly, there is a problem there.
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: Absolutely. There is no question that there is a problem. That's why we are sitting here, but why there was no mention whatsoever about consumption, about the demand problem? Once the drug gets into the U.S. border what happens? Is the Los Angeles Police, or the San Francisco Police able to stop the drugging in their areas and to stopping to come up North? I think we are together in this problem, and we have to work together, not with finger pointing but through cooperation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You are a man who's very well connected in this town, and I'm wondering what you sense. What do you think? Will the President decertify Mexico?
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: If the analysis is an objective one, and we look into what we have done and what we have achieved together, I think there is going to be a recognition of the Mexican effort. We have had a terrible blow with the General Gutierrez revolt. It has been a terrible thing for Mexicans. It has been a shame, but we think that problem, even it's really very tragic, shouldn't overshadow the accomplishments that we have made.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ambassador, our time is up, and I want to thank you very much for joining us.
JESUS SILVA-HERZOG: It's a pleasure.