WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
31 Jan 2003 | News

Drug Certification: Ineffective Tool for Addressing Serious Problems in Latin America

Today the Bush administration announced its certification decisions, in which it judges the antinarcotics efforts of major drug producing and trafficking countries. Countries that are decertified face a range of sanctions including a cut-off in US economic assistance, with the exception of antinarcotics and humanitarian aid.

Both Guatemala and Haiti were decertified, though sanctions against them were waived for national security reasons.

The problems of corruption in Guatemala and Haiti deserve serious attention by the Bush administration. In Guatemala, there is compelling evidence that clandestine groups, with ties to the military and the government, are involved in a range of criminal activity, including drug trafficking. They are also responsible for the surge in human rights violations over the last year. Protecting human rights in Guatemala requires that the Guatemalan government successfully investigate, dismantle, and punish clandestine groups. The Guatemalan government has yet to adequately address this problem. According to WOLA Program Officer Adriana Beltrán, "The Guatemalan government needs to be pressed about ties to clandestine groups involved in drug trafficking and human rights abuses. In fact, the administration has just endorsed the creation of an international investigative commission to examine the role of illegal armed groups in Guatemala. We applaud these kinds of efforts to hold Guatemala’s feet to the fire. But decertifying Guatemala is not the answer."

Certification is not the right instrument for addressing drug-related corruption and official ties to clandestine criminal groups. "Certification holds these and other important foreign policy concerns hostage to the single issue of drugs," said WOLA Director Bill Spencer. "It is not an effective drug control tool. It allows the US government to blame other nations for our failure to significantly curb drug demand at home."

The Bush administration should address Guatemala’s serious problems directly, without relying on the drug certification process. Continuing, consistent pressure from the United States and international institutions is needed to encourage the Guatemalan government to investigate, dismantle, and punish clandestine criminal groups and the government officials linked to them. The US government should push multilateral banks to condition further loans to the Guatemala government upon decisive actions against clandestine groups. The United States should also maintain its longstanding ban on Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training (IMET). The US government should also continue the policy of revoking the visas of Guatemalan military and government officials whom it believes are involved in human rights violations or serious criminal activity.

According to Spencer, "The US government should craft a new drug policy that promotes real partnerships with other countries, stems the corrosive effects of the drug trade on democratic institutions throughout the hemisphere, and embraces the essential principle that US drug control begins at home."