U.S. says Mexican corruption hinders drug war

WASHINGTON (AP) —President Clinton outlined Tuesday how he wants to spend the 5 percent increase he’s seeking from Congress to fight drugs next year as U.S. officials acknowledged the battle has been hampered by recently revealed ties between Mexico’s ousted drug czar and narcotics kingpins.
“There is a major corruption problem at all levels (in Mexico) — federal, state and local,” Robert Gelbard, assistant secretary of state for narcotics affairs, told a House panel.
The arrest last week of Mexico’s newly installed anti-drug official, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, because of his links to a major drug trafficker “belied previous assumptions that corruption was largely limited to the police,” Gelbard said.
Clinton, however, did not directly address the pressing question of Mexico’s recertification for anti-drug aid, which must be decided by March 1. He said generally that decisions would be made after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright returned today from her overseas trip.
“We are committed to cooperating with our friends in Latin America,” Clinton said. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton’s drug czar, called the scandal “a serious blow to our partnership” with Mexico, but also signaled the administration’s eagneress to get around it.
“The United States and Mexico are trapped economically, culturally, politically and because of drug crime in the same continent and we’d better figure out a way to work on it together,” McCaffrey said.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the administration was “working very hard” for a decision Friday on Mexico’s recertification. Anything more than a slap on the wrist could result in withholding some foreign aid to Mexico.
Administration officials touted Clinton’s proposed $16 billion anti-drug budget for 1998 — an $800 million increase over this year — is the largest in the government’s history. Most of the increase, $350 million, will go to a new prime-time, public service TV ad campaign aimed at teen-agers.
Otherwise, however, the package that Clinton and Gore outlined at a morning ceremony contained no new initiatives.
First proposed last month as part of the president’s fiscal 1998 budget, it includes $75 million for “drug courts” that offer nonviolent drug criminals voluntary alternatives to jail and $42 million to help pay for drug-testing people arrested on federal, state and local charges.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are urging Clinton to decertify Mexico to demonstrate U.S. impatience with the lack of cooperation in the drug war.
“We can’t trust these people, that’s the whole problem,” said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.
Thomas Constantine, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the DEA is now assessing the damage caused by Gutierrez Rebollo, but said, “My assumption is that everything that was available to him has been compromised completely,” including information at the agency he took over.
However, the 39 DEA agents assigned to Mexico are remaining in place, he said. Those agents have known since the 1985 slaying of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena that they had a dangerous assignment, he noted. They also have special protection and are allowed to carry guns.
Gelbard interspersed his criticism of Mexico’s corruption with praise for President Ernesto Zedillo’s quick action in firing the anti-drug leader. He said Mexico has progressed from a year ago, allowing extraditions of two drug leaders to the United States, among other things.