USIS Washington 

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

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

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

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.