Doing right by Mexico Clinton recertifies: President's decision to protect relationship should be upheld.


CONGRESS may well be on the way to an easy vote to override President Clinton's wise decision to certify Mexico as an ally in the anti-drug war. But among the lawmakers taking this popular position, there will be plenty who hope the president's certain veto will be upheld. Responsibility for a congressionally imposed denial of economic cooperation with Mexico is something the legislative branch is totally unprepared to accept.

A good phrase for this is "creative hypocrisy," which is federal drug enforcer Barry McCaffrey's description of the attitude of many Americans toward their southern neighbor -- especially as it relates to the narcotics issue. It may also reflect a belief on Capitol Hill that the way to get Mexico's attention is to bash it.

In General McCaffrey's view, Americans ought to look inward. The $6 billion we spend each year on hard drugs is fueling "an international crime wave" that washes over countries like Mexico. "It creates corruption and violence," he said, "on both sides of the border."

The drug plague in Mexico, at least in its present dimensions, is of fairly recent origin. With the relative success of U.S. interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, key source countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru turned to Mexico as a conduit of choice. When the narco-billions rolled in, Mexico's small-change corruption was quickly engulfed.

Like leftist intellectuals in Mexico, anti-immigrant groups in the U.S. and protectionists out to torpedo the North American Free Trade Agreement, Drug Enforcement Agency officials have an urge to punish the government of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. For he has failed to stop the drug trafficking. Even his drug czar, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, had to be sacked after he was found to be in the pocket of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, Mexico's top drug-lord.

Decertifiers on Capitol Hill ought to be asked what is their alternative? Do they want further economic breakdown in Mexico, political upheaval, a new wave of illegal immigration and the collapse of commerce with our third largest trading partner? Mr. Zedillo looks pretty good considering what might come after. He is trying to curtail the autocratic power of his own office to open the door to democracy. But in doing so, he runs the danger of strengthening the hand of feudalistic governors. His is not an easy course.

Instead of making Mr. Zedillo's task more difficult, responsible U.S. policy should be to cooperate with him not only in the anti-drug war but in his efforts toward political and economic reform. Mr. Clinton's recertification must be upheld.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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