May 5, 1997
For the first time in 20 years a U.S. president is visiting Mexico. In a Newsmaker interview, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo discusses drug enforcement and U.S. relations with Charles Krause, after a background report.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. President, thank you for inviting us to Los Pinos. It's good to see you again.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO, Mexico: A pleasure to have you.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Thank you. Let me begin with the drug issue. To what extent have the drug traffickers been able to infiltrate and corrupt the law enforcement agencies in Mexico?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: I believe -- and I want to be very clear about it -- that wherever you have drug trafficking, there is corruption. There is perhaps one difference. We are fully recognizing that, and we are facing that challenge. I think that it is impossible to think of drug trafficking without thinking that some corruption to some extent is not taking place.
I think it should be accepted by other countries -- should be accepted to -- and I think to some extent is accepted in the United States, and of course we accept that. I am the one that when -- that when I was campaigning three years ago said that drug trafficking was the most tremendous threat to our national security. And one of the reasons I said that was because I recognize that drug trafficking threatens your institutions, threatens your police forces, threatens your judges. I think that this is true in Mexico, but unfortunately it can be true in any country. And I insist the difference is that we are recognizing that we are taking actions to face the situation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you feel frustrated that since you made that statement three years ago that so little progress has been made here in Mexico?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Well, I think we have made some progress, not as much as I would like, but I am very optimistic that we will be able to make more rapid progress in the years to come, especially if we strengthen this relationship that we have been building with the U.S. government to attack this problem.
drug enforcement tactics
CHARLES KRAUSE: Your government has pronounced that it is disbanding the old drug enforcement agency and creating a new one that will presumably be somewhat different than the old one. Tell me, what are the differences? How is this new agency going to differ from the one it replaces?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Well, the emphasis that we put on people, the recruiting procedures that existed until now were people working that agency, were normal recruiting procedures for any police institution in our country. It has become quite evident that that cannot be done that way, so we are establishing a very strict, were careful procedure to -- not only to recruit people but to follow up the right activities.
We are also redefining the way in which these people are going to -- the language these people are going to be trained -- the way in which these people are going to be working. I think it's a complete overhaul, a new conception of how to deal with this kind of institution, and I'm quite confident that it will work better.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you think these kinds of procedures would have avoided the embarrassment of Gen. Gutierrez Rebollo coming to be named head of an organization and then your finding out that he, in fact, was in the pay of the drug dealers?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Definitely, definitely. I'm sure about it. I doubt that he could have passed the -- how do you call it -- the lion test -- that is now being used in which they are questioned, the -- whoever is applying for that job -- they are questioned whether they have dealt at all with drug traffickers.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Lie detector test.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Lie detector test for one thing. We are now also searching much more in the patrimony of the people that are applying for these positions.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The financial --
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: That's right.
CHARLES KRAUSE: -- resources.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: That's right. So I think that, indeed, if this procedure had been in place at that time, then I think we would have been saved, as you say, the embarrassment because he was a true embarrassment.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is it time for the United States to change the certification process?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Well, I think that the experience that the United States has had with this instrument somehow shows there is not an effective means to face the drug trafficking problem. I think there is something contradictory between the concept of cooperation in which brought the United States and other countries relief, and the concept of certification. Somehow there is a unilateral approach in certification which obviously is not consistent with the concept of cooperation. So we do say, quite firmly, that the U.S. government, and especially the U.S. Congress, should reconsider this certification process.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In your meetings with President Clinton do you expect that drugs will certainly be one of the issues on the agenda? Do you expect there to be some concrete announcements coming from the meetings that would set new policies for the two countries?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Well, you know, we have been working for some time with the Clinton administration, and I think that's good news. That means that we are not going to establish a turning point in President Clinton's visit to Mexico, but rather we are going to take everything that we have been doing in a very positive and constructive way, put it together, wrap it up, you know, and we as presidents, endorse it, and to not only commit ourselves but create a commitment from the government officials to make a strict follow-up of all those commitments.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Another issue on the agenda will be immigration from Mexico to the United States. Your government has some reservations, I believe, about the recent immigration law that took effect in the United States. I wonder if you could explain what those reservations are and what you hope may come from your meetings with President Clinton.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Our main point is that migrants, whatever their condition, legal or illegal, should be at all times treated as human beings. Their basic human rights should be respected, their labor rights should be respected, and that all the procedures and actions that are taken by the U.S. authorities should be respectful of that.
That's our main point. Beyond that, I have insisted that the immigration program is an economic problem that this -- is between the level -- the level of development in the United States and the level of development in Mexico, so I believe that at the end the effective solution is to increase Mexico's development. You can spend a lot of money in law enforcement, but if these differences persist, there will always be an incentive to go around the law to migrate. I think that's something that is not only well established in the U.S.-Mexican experience but in mankind's experience.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And finally let me ask you about the visit itself. It comes at a time of some tension between the two countries, between Mexico and the United States. What do you hope will come from this visit that may improve the relationship?
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: I don't think there has been a tension between Mexico and the United States. And I say that because I am convinced that with the Clinton administration we have had a very respectful, constructive relationship. Perhaps it will be difficult to find any other bilateral relationship in our history, in our common history, as one we have been able to develop. Of course, there have been some sectors in U.S.-American circles that have expressed at some points negative points about Mexico. But I don't make generalizations.
On the contrary, for me, what President Clinton has done vis-à-vis Mexico is much more representative of the general American attitude towards Mexico. And with President Clinton we have found respect, and I think that's a lot. That's something that we Mexicans value significantly. President Clinton went for NAFTA; President Clinton supported Mexico when the peso crisis developed, so I expect that this visit will reaffirm our friendship, our mutual respect, and that we will be able to make further progress on the specific issues that concern both countries, such as aid, drug trafficking, migration, border issues.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. President, thank you very much for talking with us today. Thank you.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO: Thanks to you.