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Drug Certification Process Doesn't Make the Grade

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Last year, the Clinton administration set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill with its drug "certification" decisions - which rate the antinarcotics efforts of other countries. Members of Congress scurried to release ever longer lists of detailed demands on Mexico, and to champion larger packages of arms for the military and police in Colombia. We deserve more than a repeat performance when this year's decisions are announced this month.

Congress should end the drug-certification requirement. The policy has been an ineffective tool for drug control, undermining other important US interests. Policymakers should work instead to create more effective multilateral mechanisms for combatting the violence and corruption of the drug trade. The focus should be on the real work of reducing the harm and healing the damage of drug addiction and abuse across the US.

Enacted by Congress in 1986, the certification process sets penalties for countries not deemed cooperative on drug-control efforts, including withdrawal of most US foreign assistance not directly related to counter-narcotics programs, US opposition to loans from multilateral development banks, and possible trade sanctions.

More often than not, the process erodes the sense of common purpose and partnership that must be the foundation of international cooperation. The "score card" approach is deeply resented in Latin America, where much of the world's cocaine and heroin are produced. It is widely disparaged as a unilateral, sometimes arbitrary and hypocritical exercise by the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs.

Despite a $25 billion investment in interdiction and "source country" programs over a decade and half, cocaine and heroin are as easily available in the US as they were 15 years ago, and at cheaper prices. Meanwhile, the violence and corruption of the international drug trade are damaging economies, judicial systems, and democratic institutions throughout the hemisphere.


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