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President's FY 2003 Narcotics Certification

Special Briefing on the President's FY 2003 Narcotics Certification Determinations

Paul Simons , Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Washington, DC January 31, 2003

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department. Acting Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Paul Simons is here this afternoon to talk to you about President Bush's Narcotics Certification Determinations for Fiscal Year 2003. After some opening remarks, he will be pleased to answer your questions. So I will turn it over to Paul. Welcome.

MR. SIMONS: Thank you very much and thank you all for coming this afternoon. Last night, the President sent to Congress the "Majors List" and his annual determinations on narcotics certification. I believe you ought to have the fact sheet setting out the provisions of the law and the changes to that legislation in front of you, as well as copies of the President's determinations.

This year, the drug "Majors List" remains unchanged from last year. The same 23 countries are Afghanistan, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Out of that list, the President has designated three countries -- Burma, Guatemala and Haiti -- as having "failed demonstrably" to make substantial efforts during the previous 12 months to meet their international counter-narcotics requirements. And I'll go down and talk a little bit about the performance of each of these countries.

Despite a significant decrease in the cultivation and production of opium, Burma's counter-narcotics performance in 2002 remained inadequate. Building on its performance in 2001, the Government of Burma did take some useful counter-narcotics measures during the past year, which are recognized in the President's statement, including cooperation with U.S. and regional counter-narcotics law enforcement agencies and steps to implement newly passed anti-money laundering legislation.

However, large-scale poppy cultivation and opium production continued and large quantities of methamphetamines were produced in and trafficked from Burma, which had serious adverse consequences on neighboring countries and throughout the region. In addition, seizures of methamphetamines were significantly lowering in 2002 compared with 2001.

Burma also failed to take significant steps to curb involvement in illicit narcotics trafficking by the largest, most powerful and most important trafficking organization within its borders, the United Wa State Army.

The Guatemalan Government's counter-narcotics performance deteriorated substantially in 2002. Specifically, narcotics seizures and narcotics-related prosecutions were sharply down. Police stole twice the quantity of drugs that they officially seized and they were identified with drug-related extrajudicial executions of both narco-traffickers and civilians.

However, the Guatemalan Government did reopen negotiations with the United States on a maritime counter-narcotics agreement and has begun regularly destroying newly confiscated drugs not needed for evidence.

Following evidence of widespread corruption, the Guatemalan Government also disbanded its narcotics police unit and has begun to reconstitute a new anti-narcotics unit.

The President provided a vital national interest certification to Guatemala because the suspension of assistance to Guatemala would result in further deterioration of precisely those Guatemalan institutions that are essential to combating the influence of organized crime in Guatemala. Social and political problems underlying that country's 36-year civil conflict remain and many peace accord commitments have not been met.

Finally, Haiti. Haiti remains a major transshipment point for drugs, primarily cocaine moving from South America to the U.S. market. Regrettably, once again, Haiti's overall counter-drug commitment has remained very weak. The Haitian Government took only two positive actions to counter the flow of drugs last year. They did put into force a bilateral maritime counter-narcotics interdiction agreement and they established an as yet untested financial intelligence unit.

However, Haiti continued to have massive politicization of the national police force, Haiti failed to commit additional resources to their coast guard, and they did not increase the numbers of seizures and arrests over those of prior years.

In the case of Haiti as well, we provided a vital national interest waiver to enable assistance to continue. This assistance is important in order to alleviate hunger, increase access to education, combat environmental degradation, fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and foster the development of civil society in Haiti. Discontinuation of such programs would result in increased poverty, hopelessness and further deterioration of Haitian institutions.

In addition to laying out the "Majors List" and citing these three countries for de-certification, the President, in his letter, also drew his attention to growing problems associated with synthetic drugs. In that regard, he noted the increase in pseudoephedrine shipments arriving in the United States from Canada over the past two years, which is fueling clandestine methamphetamine production here in the United States.

We are particularly concerned about this development in the context of the upsurge in the abuse of synthetic drugs here in the U.S. and we look to continued excellent cooperation with Canadian law enforcement authorities on this important issue.

The President also noted our growing concern about the rising consumption of ecstasy in the United States over the last several years. Ecstasy abuse among 15- to 25-year-olds in the U.S. has increased and it has moved beyond the rave scene into schools, shopping malls and coffee shops. We continue to be concerned in this regard about the Netherlands' role as the world's leading producer and exporter of ecstasy, and this is noted as well in the President's letter.

In 2001, Dutch Government sources estimate that more than 60 percent of global seizures of ecstasy tablets originated in the Netherlands. In addition, a total of 9.5 million ecstasy tablets were seized in the United States and our law enforcement agencies believe that a majority of these tablets originated in the Netherlands.

At the same time, we are working very closely with the Government of the Netherlands and appreciate the seriousness with which it is confronting the issue. We are confident that the Government of the Netherlands is committed to close collaboration and cooperation internationally to eliminate ecstasy production and trafficking. And we look forward, as the President notes in his letter, to developing cooperatively specific actions to more effectively combat criminal elements and individuals responsible for the production and trafficking of ecstasy.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to any questions you might have.

QUESTION: Could you give us a brief rundown on how the Colombians are doing?

MR. SIMONS: The Colombians?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. SIMONS: Do you want to talk about drug certification or more broadly?

QUESTION: No, more broadly. Have they made progress since the new president took office?

MR. SIMONS: Very much so. We have been very impressed with President Uribe's dedication to the counter-narcotics cause. President Uribe identified drug trafficking as one of the principal sources of revenue to the FARC and to the other terrorist groups in Colombia, and for that reason he has rededicated himself to the objective of a coordinated anti-narcotics effort, including an intensified aerial eradication effort as a principal pillar in what he sees as an effort to deny resources to the terrorists.

And in the final four months of last year, we were able to, through aerial eradication, spray over 60,000 hectares of coca in the southern part of Colombia, and we believe that we've begun to turn the corner on coca production and we would hope to, with the strong cooperation of the Colombia Government, maintain a very vigorous pace of eradication this year in 2003.

So, overall, we have been very impressed with President Uribe's commitment and dedication. It was taken up during the Secretary's visit and I think the Secretary mentioned it in his press conference in Bogota. So we're fully satisfied.

QUESTION: You had an interesting comment in your introductory remarks about how the Guatemalan police had stolen more than double the amount of illegal drugs that they had seized. How do you know that? Where does that statistic come from?

MR. SIMONS: That statistic comes from our law enforcement agencies on the ground in Guatemala.

QUESTION: Did they say they steal stuff and resell it, presumably? Or they stole it and then they were caught stealing it?

MR. SIMONS: They may have had other -- they may have acquired it in other ways and then sold it.

QUESTION: I'm curious. This is the first year, yes, that you guys have -- or the President has talked about synthetic drugs in this report? Or is that not correct?

MR. SIMONS: Well, synthetic drugs figure in a number of the statements --

QUESTION: But this is the first year that you guys have --

MR. SIMONS: I mean, for example, Burma is a substantial producer of synthetic drugs, methamphetamines.

QUESTION: What I'm referring to is the Dutch and the Canadians here. I mean, is this the first time that you guys have singled out countries for not doing enough to cut down on --

MR. SIMONS: No. Last year, if you go back to last year, there was language in the President's statement on the ecstasy issue and the Netherlands.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. SIMONS: So this is an ongoing issue. But let me -- can I expand on that a little bit? If you back to the drug -- the "Majors List" legislation as it stands, it was put together back in the '70s and the '80s when the major focus in terms of the law was on cultivation of drugs, agricultural-based drugs -- coca, heroin and marijuana. So this is an effort to bring the synthetic drugs picture into the equation.

QUESTION: Okay. Specifically on this, I just wanted to know what -- you say you expect Dutch authorities to move effectively and measurably in the coming year. What do you expect them to do? And is this -- do you expect them to do it because you know that they are in the planning stages of doing something, or is this one of these we expect them to do it because you think they should do it because it's the right thing to do?

MR. SIMONS: No. We have discussed with them and we will be working with them on a bilateral action plan on ecstasy over the course of the next year, and we've been discussing this with them. This has been an ongoing source of discussion between our law enforcement authorities and Dutch law enforcement authorities.

QUESTION: And just with the Canadians, how is it that the President can commend Canadian law enforcement agencies when they -- when he also says that Canada has, for the most part, not regulated the sales, their laws are not adequate, they should be stronger, and they have had inadequate control of illegal diversion. I mean, I don't understand how this -- how they come in for a commendation when he's basically ripping them as being --

MR. SIMONS: Right. The issue here is the law enforcement agencies have been doing a terrific job and we've had terrific bilateral cooperation. The problem that we're citing is the legislation and the legal regulations, which we don't think are strong enough. So there's a distinction between the legislative framework and the law enforcement side. And so what we're focusing on is the need to get strengthening on the legislative regulatory side.

QUESTION: How did the U.S. Government see the performance of Mexico, especially when, you know, we have been seeing a lot of cases where the government has exposed corruption (inaudible) of the PGR.

And also, Mr. Masedo de la Concha, the General Attorney of Mexico, he spoke about this problem that they having to make a more effective interdiction at sea, especially because, you know, the lack of resources. I wonder if the U.S. Government planned to support Mexico to have a more effective interdiction at sea.

MR. SIMONS: All right. Our bilateral law enforcement and anti-drug cooperation with Mexico during the year 2002 was the best it has ever been. We are working very, very closely with the Mexicans across the whole range of anti-drug cooperation areas. We're working together to dismantle trans-border drug trafficking organizations. We have specialized working groups functioning in areas including interdiction, extradition, chemicals, money laundering and demand reduction.

Since there really has been a tremendous uptick in the level of cooperation that we have been able to achieve with the Fox administration, so we are very, very pleased with what we've been able to do with the Mexicans over the last couple of years. In particular, the operational cooperation between law enforcement agencies has really strengthened.

QUESTION: How about the interdiction in international waters? I mean, does the U.S. Government plan to support those efforts in order to have a more effective labor in that area?

MR. SIMONS: We are. We are working together on interdiction. I'm not aware of any difficulties that we're having. But we have an ongoing working group that deals with that and we're working through all those issues.

QUESTION: How does poppy cultivation in Afghanistan this year compare with last year?

And second, on Guatemala, you focused on the police unit but there's also been a lot of concern about the armed forces. Can you say anything about that and what measures they might have done since the October hearing to improve the situation?

MR. SIMONS: All right. The Afghan poppy crop runs from -- it's planted in the fall and it's harvested the following summer. So the information that we have relates to the crop that was harvested last summer, 2002, and that crop was substantially larger than the crop the year before. Farmers definitely returned to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and we have estimates that range up to at least 30,000 hectares of poppy were grown last year in Afghanistan, which is a substantial increase and which returns it to one of the largest poppy-growing countries.

This is obviously a very troubling development, but at the same time we've been working internationally very actively to begin to provide the Transitional Afghan Government with the tools that it needs to get this situation under control. The UK has the lead on this among the G-8 countries. We've devoted substantial resources. The UK has devoted substantial resources. We're looking into the key areas, including interdiction, alternative development, institution building.

But it's going to be a long-term process in Afghanistan. The rural economy is very weak there. The security situation in the rural areas is complex. And the institutions need to be completely rebuilt. And so it's going to be a very difficult effort, but we're fully committed to working with the Afghan Government, as well as the UK and other international partners to make progress there.

On the issue of the Guatemalans, we identified corruption both in the police force as well as in the military as problems in Guatemala. The corruption is widespread in Guatemala and extends to all facets of the security force, police as well as military.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that? You think that active duty members of either the police or the military comprise parts of criminal organizations, or are they simply colluding?

MR. SIMONS: I will have to get back to you on that one.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? DEA has identified dozens of Guatemalan military officers, active duty or retired, whom they have accused of drug trafficking. But in nearly every case, only two of -- only two sanctions have been imposed. Either they've been discharged from service by the Guatemalan military or they've had the privilege of visiting the United States denied them by the U.S. Embassy.

The last officer who was so accused was General Ortega Menaldo, who is a close associate, according to press reports, of President Portillo. The Embassy denied his visa last March.

Now that the Bush Administration has decertified Guatemala, does the State Department or the Administration plan on taking any measures to try to bring any of these military officers, both active duty and retired, to justice?

MR. SIMONS: I don't have anything on that. I'll have to get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Afghanistan? What happened to the notion of alternative crops? I think cotton was suggested maybe or something. Is that in play or not?

MR. SIMONS: Right. Very much so. I mentioned that's one of the pillars, alternative cropping, as well as strengthening of law enforcement institutions, eradication and interdiction. It's underway. We've put about $17 million into alternative cropping, starting earlier this year. We have a major cotton project underway in Helman Valley, which is the center of drug cultivation. We're looking at other potential alternative crops.

But one of the complications is that the price of opium, despite apparently large increases in production, has maintained itself stubbornly high, about $500 a kilo. So the economic incentive structure is definitely pointed in the direction of continued opium cultivation. So that's a factor that, again, complicates the effort to wean these farmers off these crops.

QUESTION: Just to follow on that, is it against U.S. policy to outright pay farmers not to grow poppy?

MR. SIMONS: We don't have a program in place in Afghanistan where people are paid not to grow. We don't -- the programs that we have underway essentially provide for economic alternatives to growing poppy.

The British did have a program earlier this year in which -- which we supported, which involved paying farmers compensation for eradicating their crops. And that was underway earlier this year.

But the U.S. involvement in terms of alternative cropping has been limited to providing funding for economic alternatives.

QUESTION: If I can follow on Afghanistan, please. Before we had Taliban, the government that we could not talk about anything, but now we have a new government there. So how much the new government is cooperating as far as eliminating all these drugs and --

MR. SIMONS: The new government has been very cooperative in the anti-drug effort. If you look back over the course of the past year, within his first month in office President Karzai announced a total ban not only on cultivation of poppy but also production and sale and transport, which is well beyond where the Taliban had gone. And he took some very politically courageous steps early last year to support this eradication program that the British were involved in, which was a very difficult program to undertake.

He has also been very active in supporting the establishment of national drug control policy, drug control staff, and in getting police units created to begin to go after the crops, and in seeking additional alternative livelihood assistance from the donors.

So his commitment is there. The question, as with everything in Afghanistan, is the situation on the ground. The very low base level of initial institutions to work with implies that it will be a long-term effort.

QUESTION: Just one more, I'm sorry. Since Pakistan is also producing drugs there and neighboring Afghanistan, you think there is a link between the two, Afghan farmers and Pakistan farmers? How much relations are there or do you see any link?

MR. SIMONS: Well, we've been involved with Pakistan for about 20 years now in eradication programs, and we believe that opium poppy has virtually been eradicated in Pakistan. So Pakistan has been a transit zone for Afghan-produced opium, but not a production zone. And we work very closely with the Pakistani authorities, especially the anti-narcotics force in Pakistan, to conduct operations against the flows of Afghan drugs into Pakistan.

QUESTION: Back on Guatemala. How is this new Guatemala status going to affect the ongoing free trade talks between Central America and the U.S.?

MR. SIMONS: Well, as I mentioned, we did provide a vital national interest certification to Guatemala, and my understanding is that -- I've got to find it here.

We are hopeful that Guatemala can change its record on counter-narcotics cooperation before the free trade talks have concluded.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's go to the last two questions. One down here and one over there.

QUESTION: Yes, could you give us a little bit of status on the renewal of aerial overflight interdiction, overflights in the Andes, and whether you think that as these get a little bit more substantial once again, whether you think that some of these countries, the transits, might decrease? I mean, why they're still -- maybe that's why they're still on the list, because of the flights.

MR. SIMONS: Well, renewal of the air bridge denial program is an important priority for the Administration. It was discussed by the Secretary during his visit to Colombia and the Secretary told President Uribe, and he also told the press when he was there, that we were going to work to get this program up and running as soon as possible in the next year.

Since the Secretary's trip, which was in December, we have held two rounds of negotiations with the Colombians. In fact, we've got a team down there right now working with the Colombians to work out a number of the safety provisions that Congress laid out in their modification to the legislation in 2001 to make sure that when this program gets up and running again that it incorporates appropriate safety provisions that minimize the risk of the kind of accident that occurred in 2001.

We are hopeful that we can get these negotiations concluded very soon and get this program up and running very shortly.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, can I just briefly follow up? Do you think that the lack of the use of the air bridge has contributed to these Andean countries continuing to be a major transit point?

MR. SIMONS: Certain we think that the air bridge would be a very useful device to strengthen interdiction among the Andean countries. The situation has changed a little bit. Back in the mid-'90s when the air bridge was up and running in a big way, Peru and Bolivia were the major cultivating countries and Colombia was a processing country. Since then, the cultivation has largely shifted to Colombia, which is now cultivating and processing. And this is where all that value-added is now being concentrated with the terrorist groups in Colombia. It's a major strategic change in the whole drug picture in South America.

So now you have the situation where the air bridge might be more useful in terms of with respect to Colombia, instead of preventing, say, coca from going from Peru to Colombia, it could be more useful in preventing shipments out of Colombia, preventing drug proceeds from returning to Colombia. So I think the utility is still there, but it addresses kind of an evolving situation with respect to who's growing and where the stuff is going.

Same thing with respect to, say, Peru and Bolivia. What we know now is that a lot of the coca in that part of the Andes goes out via Brazil, it goes to Brazil, it goes to Europe. It doesn't necessarily come to the U.S., doesn't go up through Colombia. But air bridge could still be a very useful device to prevent some of that shipment from taking place.

MR. BOUCHER: Last one.

QUESTION: On Canada, please. The increasing amounts of high-potency marijuana, is that an enforcement or a legislative failing? Or both?

MR. SIMONS: The marijuana issue is probably some combination of both. I would say here, though, with respect to marijuana that the U.S. is also a major producer and consumer of marijuana. Marijuana moves in both directions across all of these borders. It certainly is an issue of concern. It's an issue that we raise with the Canadians. But it's a shared issue. And a lot of these issues are shared issues. We have the pseudoephedrine issue involves Mexico, it involves the United States and it involves Canada. These are shared challenges. So we have law enforcement working together. We've got the judicial side working together.

So it really -- I don't think this is really an issue of trying to finger-point.

QUESTION: But on that, on the pseudoephedrine, if I'm pronouncing it correctly, Canada has just announced these new regulations on the 1st of January. It's the position of the Administration that they're inadequate. How are they inadequate? What should they say?

MR. SIMONS: We think they need to be strengthened. The situation with respect to pseudoephedrine within the last five years, imports of pseudoephedrine into Canada have gone from about 30 metric tons to somewhere about 175 metric tons. We would like the Canadians to take a closer look at who it is that's importing these substances and take a closer look at the legitimate uses that might be in terms of these importers. So we'd like them to take a look at the conditions for sale, conditions for importation, and to make sure that they're legitimate users.

QUESTION: And if I can have one last kick at this cat, the DEA has suggested that money going back down the trail from the import into Canada, the legitimate import into Canada, then the illicit export into the United States, is winding up with terrorist groups, notably Hezbollah. Is that the position of State?

MR. SIMONS: I don't have anything on that one.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much.

[End]

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