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Certifiably Stupid

By Nora Callahan

Suddenly we have the Clinton administration recommending that we drop the "certification" of Latin American countries. You know, that pesky process each year where we evaluate how serious our neighbors are in combating drug production and trafficking.

Maybe someone ought to start "certifying" us.

Since 1981, we have spent more than $25 billion on interdiction and curbing drugs at their source. That's when we enter other countries to burn, blow-up, arrest and other such activities.

The recent Rand study found drug treatment programs over twenty times more cost effective than suppressing foreign supply.

Certify us, please.

The Chief of ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy), General Barry McCaffrey said recently, "I don't think the U.S. can unilaterally direct a war on drugs." He is convinced that neither the military nor the police can solve America's drug problem, which he has likened to a cancer, the challenge being to manage it so that it does as little damage to the body politic as possible.

Twenty-five billion dollars later we are told this?

But it isn't up to the Clinton administration or our drug czar. The changes in current drug policy will require an act of congress. So we ought to quit getting so excited when we hear this rhetoric-even when it comes from the mouth of the Drug Czar.

Why? Read on, McCaffrey says one thing and does another.

On our own U.S. - Mexico border, drug seizures are flat, meaning that interdiction is down overall, even though tax dollars spent for border seizures has risen considerably. Customs officials attribute it to the stealth of the traffickers, not a reduction in smuggled drugs.

Or in other words - what we are doing isn't working.

Other officials cite the North American Free Trade Agreement that opened our borders to a unprecedented flood of trucks crossing into our country.

Thanks for bringing that up.

Attorney General Dan Morales recently raised the NAFTA question himself. "Let's be blunt. Without thorough inspection of Mexican trucks, these Mexican cartels will feel like NAFTA means the North American Free Trafficking Agreement," he said in a speech to a conference of Texas law enforcement officials.

While in the midst of a war on drugs, our Congress passed NAFTA without adding so much as one additional secondary search bay on our border crossings. Now it is finally admitted that we need more customs officers in order to deal with the extra border traffic.

Where will they direct those trucks to search them - the shoulder of the road?

Since 1990 federal spending on the drug war has increased by 63.7% and interdiction is down or stable?

They should throw more money at the problem.

That is exactly what McCaffrey, the Drug Czar just did! Aside from federal increases in spending, he has ordered the Defense Department to add $141 million in the 1999 budget to its planned spending on drug-control programs.

McCaffrey said his office could not certify that the Pentagon's proposed $809 million drug-fighting budget for fiscal 1999 was enough to implement the president's policy. "To correct the deficiencies," he said in a letter to Defense Secretary William Cohen, "the Pentagon must include $141 million more in drug control to strengthen operations in Mexico, the Andes, the Caribbean and along the southern border."

The General is asking for increased military intervention - not Customs intervention.

Already hard-pressed to finance a rising number of peace operations, and short of funds for a new generation of weaponry, the Pentagon insists it cannot afford to spend more on counter-drug activities. William Cohen contends that these efforts are excessive and misguided. Besides, defense officials said, trafficking routes for narcotics into the United States have changed in recent years, with fewer drugs being ferried by aircraft and more by small, island-hopping boats across the Caribbean or by land across the U.S.-Mexican border.

Suddenly NAFTA is being blamed for a new insurgence of drugs across our borders. The Caribbean Free Trade Agreement is being ironed out in Congress now. When that agreement solidifies, and our country faces yet another boom in the drug industry, the worry will shift from island-hopping boats to ocean born freighters. We can bet there will be little discussion regarding inspections of these ships, just as truck inspections failed to surface during NAFTA hearings in Congress.

How did Congress respond to the dispute between our Drug Czar and the Pentagon?

Senate and House members have written Cohen urging him to boost defense funding for counter-drug activities.

Military, not Custom efforts mind you - so what about those free trade trucks?

Laredo is now the busiest port in America and 11,000 to 12,000 trucks cross the Texas-Mexico border daily. That figure is expected to rise to 20,000. "NAFTA stipulates that these same Mexican trucks will be allowed unfettered access to all American highways and all American cities by the year 2000," the attorney general said. "As of today, it is well beyond the scope of federal border authorities to respond to this challenge."

Gosh, why didn't they think of that sooner?

A plan to curb border drug trafficking was made into law in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. By October 1998, anyone who is not an American citizen will have to pass through an automated identification system while crossing the border.

Are they going to build those things large enough to drive a truck through? Of course not.

The plan will devastate border communities and lead to billion-dollar business losses in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Delays of days at border points and economic consequence will prevail and Congress doesn't have a clue to what a system like this would cost the taxpayer.

Just put the loss and the cost on the drug war tab. We are obviously, certifiably desperate.

The 105th Congress is discussing the gutting of this provision but California Senator Dianne Feinstein said she will "fight like a tiger" to keep the contentious law intact because the United States must "pounce on illegal immigrants and drug-runners."

You Canadian skiers that head down to Vermont each winter? Well, sorry but we are pouncing here so you'd better ski elsewhere next year.

Coming from Nogales to shop? Sorry.

But if you want to cross in a unfettered hurry - just hitch a ride on one of those big, fat, free trade trucks. And be sure to stayed tuned, coming soon to the vast Atlantic horizon we can watch the ships roll in.

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