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March 21, 2000

A Review of the Annual Certification Process

The Honorable Senator Paul Coverdell
Statement before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing today on the annual drug certification process. For years, this process has come under criticism, some of it warranted. But certification continues to serve as one of the few tools we have to focus attention on our critical multilateral efforts to combat illegal narcotics. In my mind, there are few issues that deserve more attention or which more directly affect the security and well-being of Americans than illegal drugs. So I welcome this hearing and this opportunity to examine collective counternarcotic efforts.

Unfortunately, drugs continue to flow unimpeded across our borders. Mexico, which will be a focus of today’s hearing, is the major transit country for illegal drugs entering the United States, responsible for more than 60% of the cocaine on our streets, 17% of all the heroin seized in the United States, and for a vast majority of the methamphetamine trade. Most disturbing of all, Mexican cartels continue to operate and expand their power with virtual impunity, outside the scope of the laws of both countries. Their ability to intimidate, corrupt, and assassinate has only increased, posing a direct threat to Mexican democracy as well as to our own country. To date, joint efforts to target the major kingpins have failed. If we are going to effectively target the drug business, this must change.

Also of concern is Haiti, which the President has decertified with a national security waiver. Currently 12-15% of the cocaine that enters the U.S. is going through that country. Colombians in Haiti, and now Haitians themselves, are increasingly involved in the shipment process. And Venezuela, which was fully certified by President Clinton, continues to prohibit drug surveillance flights over Venezuelan air space --a major sign of non-cooperation.

The bottom line is that we cannot effectively deal with the threat of illegal narcotics by ourselves. Though we have seen significant progress in the level of cooperation of our neighbors and allies in the hemisphere, there is room for improvement. To that end, the certification process remains a good tool to focus on these collective efforts to combat drug trafficking. But we also need new legal and economic tools that will target the real problem --the growing power and impunity of the drug cartels. An example is the Coverdell-Feinstein Drug Kingpin Act which was signed into law in December. This legislation targets major drug kingpins by blocking their assets in the United States and by preventing their access to U.S. markets and businesses. The idea is to avoid bilateral, country-to-country conflict and instead focus collective efforts directly against the bad actors.

Mr. Chairman, the annual certification process is also a good opportunity to review our own efforts. To be fair, we could be doing much, much more. Under the current Administration, the decline in supply zone and interdiction efforts has been devastating. The Clinton Administration’s blind eye toward source and transit zone efforts partly explains the current explosion of coca production in Colombia and the steady flow of illegal drugs across our borders. A recent GAO report, Assets DOD Contributes to Reducing the Illegal Drug Supply Have Declined, is particularly revealing. The report cites, among other statistics, that: (1) the number of DOD flight hours dedicated to detecting and monitoring illicit drug shipments declined by approximately 68% from 1992 to 1999; and (2) the number of DOD ship days declined by 62% during the same period.

Mr. Chairman, our own negligence and the deteriorating situation in Colombia has lead to an unquestionable national emergency. The drug-fueled crisis in the region threatens the future of democracy in Colombia and continues to fuel the flood of drugs onto our streets. The Administration took months to act and now Congress is delaying in funding the Colombia aid package. While securing the cooperation of our neighbors in the struggle against illegal drugs is important, we have clearly failed to lead by example. We must act immediately on Colombia, for our own national security interest as well as for the future of the region.

I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses this morning and thank the Chairman again for holding this hearing.