09 February 1999
(Scholars discuss Clinton Feb. 15 trip to Mexico) (870) By Eric Green USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- A leading scholar of Mexican affairs predicts the Clinton administration will certify, as it has in preceding years, that Mexico is cooperating fully with the United States in the anti-drug effort. At a February 9 briefing on President Clinton's upcoming trip to Mexico, hosted by the Brookings Institution, Rafael Fernandez de Castro said it is highly unlikely Clinton would not certify that Mexico is cooperating fully in the anti-drug effort. Fernandez said it is especially unlikely since it would come just a few days after Clinton's February 15 meeting with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo in Merida, Yucatan. A denial of full certification "would be a slap in the face" to Mexicans coming so soon after Clinton's visit, said Fernandez, who is a Brookings scholar, and also a professor and academic dean at the Instituto Technologico Autonomo de Mexico in Mexico City. The U.S. Congress mandates that by March 1 each year the president must judge the cooperation of countries that are major producers or traffickers of illicit drugs. If a country is not certified as cooperating, the State Department can waive the offending country's penalties in the interest of U.S. national security, or it can impose the penalties, which means the loss of some foreign aid and the U.S. vote for loans from international lending institutions. The United States does not attempt to impose its own standard of what constitutes adequate anti-drug policy on the part of other countries. "Cooperation" under the U.S. law means that the country in question is cooperating fully with Washington's efforts to advance the terms of the 1988 U.N. Convention on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, or that the country is taking adequate steps on its own to advance those terms. Fernandez' comments came as Mexico's Interior Secretary, Francisco Labastida, met top U.S. law enforcement officials in Washington to discuss mutual anti-drug efforts. Labastida announced last week that Mexico was launching a high-tech, $500 million anti-drug effort that he called "a total war" on drug traffickers. However, another Brookings scholar at the briefing, Robert Leiken, cast some doubt on Mexico's ability to control its drug trafficking problem when he said Mexico City, Guadalajara, and other cities and regions are facing a major crime wave. "It's really hard to imagine" that Mexico can cope with its drug problem when it can't cope with its internal crime problem, said Leiken, who formerly was executive director of the advisory panel on Radio and Television Marti. Leiken, who said he had just returned from Mexico, unveiled headlines of leading Mexican newspapers with news about the new anti-drug campaign. Leiken said the campaign has sparked controversy over allegations it relies too much on high-tech anti-drug devices such as x-raying truck traffic at the border, while downplaying traditional anti-drug measures such as using informers to infiltrate major drug organizations. One "fly-in-the-ointment" to U.S.-Mexico anti-drug cooperation, Leiken said, is last year's "Casablanca" sting by the United States, which Mexico condemned as violating its sovereignty. Mexican officials rejected earlier this week a U.S. extradition request for five men accused of laundering drug money. On another subject -- Mexican politics -- Leiken said the country's year 2000 presidential election could be the most wide-open contest in many years, and "potentially" its most violent because "the rules of the game have not been determined." The 2000 race, he said, might repeat the events of 1994 when the original candidate for president from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was assassinated. Zedillo, he said, is probably the lamest lame-duck president that Mexico has ever had because of indications that contrary to Mexican tradition, he will not hand-pick his successor. "For the first time," Leiken said, there will be candidates running for the PRI nomination, along with candidates from opposition parties. As evidence of PRI vulnerability, Leiken pointed to a recent victory by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) over the PRI in Baja California Sur state, and a narrow loss to the PRI in the southern state of Guerrero. PRI's loss in Baja California was said to be one of only a dozen or so times that the party has lost a state race in 70 years. The PRI has governed Mexico since 1929. The PRD victor in Baja California, Leonel Cota, had defected from the PRI after losing that party's nomination for governor. The practice of former PRI candidates bolting their party to run for office under the banner of other parties is becoming so prevalent, Leiken said, that it has been given a name -- "horizontalism." "So the whole political system" in Mexico is "in a great deal of turmoil right now," Leiken said, with opposition parties joining forces to oust PRI candidates. The uniting of opposition parties is creating another "straw in the wind," Leiken concluded, that could lead to more PRI defeats in upcoming elections.