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GOP Congress Votes to Overturn Mexico's Drug Ally Certification

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to overturn President Clinton's certification of Mexico as a cooperative ally in the war on drugs, but delayed implementation for 90 days to give the Mexican government a chance to prove that it is reforming.

The delay is considered unlikely to make the resolution any more palatable to either Mexico or President Clinton. Traveling in Florida, Clinton said that he would "continue to work with Congress to ensure that legislation that would undermine progress we have made with Mexico does not become law."

In fact, the Senate Thursday appeared headed in a different direction from the House. Bipartisan sentiment was building there for a resolution that would chastise Mexico for failing to stop the flow of drugs across its borders but would not attempt to remove its certification.

In the House, there appeared at first to be wide support in both parties for decertification of Mexico. But the bipartisan mood dissipated with the introduction of a Republican-sponsored amendment that included both the delay in implementation and a harsh denunciation of Clinton administration drug policy as weak, ineffective and strewn with failures.

The Republican language said Clinton had "dramatically shifted precious anti-drug resources away from United States priorities set in the 1980s," had diverted money to "unproven drug treatment techniques" and had failed to make proper use of the military and intelligence services in the war on drugs. The amendment was approved, largely along party lines, 212205.

While the provision for delay was intended to attract legislators who did not want to seem too rough on Mexico, the administration-bashing turned a majority of Democrats against the decertification resolution. It passed, 251175, more than 30 votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a presidential veto.

Clinton called the House move "the wrong way to protect the interests of the American people." He said Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo "deserves our support - not a vote of no confidence that will only make it more difficult for him to work with us and defeat the scourge of drugs." Under existing law, the president must certify to Congress every year that countries where drugs are produced or transported are cooperating fully with the United States in the battle against drugs. In late February, Clinton certified Mexico and 22 other countries - even though Zedillo had recently fired his top narcotics official for consorting with drug dealers for years.

Clinton's certification of Mexico angered many members of Congress, including such prominent Democrats as House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, the ranking Democrat on the House International Affairs Committee.

The resolution would ask the Mexican government to allow additional U.S. agents there and permit them to carry firearms for self-defense; pledge "concrete measures to find and eliminate law-enforcement corruption"; promise to extradite Mexican nationals wanted in the United States for drug offenses; install adequate radar to monitor and detect aircraft entering Mexico; and work out authorization for U.S. Coast Guard vessels to pursue and arrest drug traffickers in Mexican waters.