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More Holes Than Swiss Cheese in Last Monday’s White House Recertification of Guatemala

William B. McIntire
Research Associate
COHA (1)
18 September 2003

Ø       Veritable collusion between Washington and Guatemala City projects an invented sense of improvement in that country’s anti-drug performance, where virtually none exists.

Ø       To appease U.S. trade interests, deceptive White House fabrication attempts to justify its recommendation that the country be recertified.

Ø       Bush administration sacrifices legitimacy of its war on drugs and the integrity of anti-narcotics policy in order to facilitate passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Ø       Certification process once again proves to be a sham.

Ø       For the Bush administration, clearly trade trumps drugs.

On Monday, September 15, the White House, using doctored information and skimpy statistics, recommended to Congress the recertification of Guatemala, reversing a Bush administration decision made last January in response to the dramatic evidence of Guatemala’s failure to meaningfully cooperate with Washington’s anti-drug efforts. Recertification would normally qualify the newly reaccredited country to receive U.S. financial aid. However, for Guatemala, it remains a largely symbolic action, since Washington waived all sanctions against the country, maintaining the flow of bilateral aid in the interest of preserving what meager anti-narcotics operations remain. Shortly after the original decertification, 21 members of the U.S. Congress asserted that, until Guatemala was recertified as the result of a dramatically improved drug interdiction record, they would not vote to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

In his Monday memorandum to the State Department President Bush, using self-obfuscating language, touted Guatemala’s “willingness to better its counternarcotics practices,” but shied away from coming forth with any evidence to support it. Instead, the country was merely omitted from a section of the memorandum listing nations that had “failed demonstrably…to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.” Whereas Guatemala, Haiti and Myanmar had been blacklisted in January, only the latter two remained in the September 15 statement. The Bush administration, understandably sheepish to recertify Guatemala only months after decertifying it, and with no tangible evidence to justify doing so, camouflaged the announcement in the memorandum, hoping not to draw too much attention to its actions. The underhanded nature of this decision represents a massive downgrading of the authenticity of both Washington’s and Guatemala’s supposed anti-drug efforts. Guatemala would certainly not qualify for certification if actually put to even a minimally objective test. In making its determination, Washington proved once again that its certification process was little better than a total sham.

White House Deception

Since the White House decertified Guatemala last January, the DEA observed that the country had become the “preferred Central American location for storage and consolidation of drug loads,” and boats and light aircraft regularly bring drugs into the country. The official White House report had to acknowledge that Guatemala’s alleged improvements were only the “initial steps” that had to be taken and the “permanence of these improvements had yet to be determined.” In other words, no significant steps have been made to curtail the flow of narcotics through Guatemala. Meanwhile, the White House is concerned mainly with fulfilling its free trade aspirations in Central America and realizes that they would not likely be achieved if Guatemala remains uncertified. Thus ignoring the true deficiency of Guatemala’s efforts the Bush administration is trying to slyly sweep its anti-drug campaign under the rug, caricaturing the entire certification process just as the Clinton administration did with Mexico in 1997. As with the present Bush administration, free trade logistics, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), rather than a faithful evaluation of that country’s anti-drug performance, were the order of the day.

President Bush expects “Guatemala to continue its efforts and to demonstrate further progress in the coming year,” apparently hoping that recertification will self-prophetically lead to increased cooperation with his war on drugs, a trend he claims erroneously in the memorandum has already been manifest in the recent attitude of Guatemalan authorities. Interestingly, only hours before the White House announcement, Guatemalan officials announced that they had just seized record quantities of drugs, perhaps hoping to gull some into believing that interdictions had reacquired past levels. Suspiciously, no arrests had been made, nor statistics cited, to reinforce this claim. Some allege that previously seized drugs had been recycled and “seized” again to create the false pretense of successful interdiction.

By spinning the facts of Guatemala’s performance (pointing to the country’s supposedly renewed dedication to counternarcotics efforts) and continuing to use the certification process as a political weapon, the White House risks further disenchanting its remaining hemispheric allies in its fading war against drug traffickers.

1. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.”

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October 12, 2003

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