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Updated: Monday, Feb. 12, 2001 at 00:42 CST

Hutchison, others calling for end to certification of Mexico's drug-fighting efforts

EL PASO (AP) -- The annual bilateral tension over the United States' drug certification of Mexico is brewing.

Under a congressional mandate, the U.S. State Department must review Mexico's drug-fighting efforts each year. If those efforts are viewed as inadequate, the U.S. government can impose economic sanctions.

Certification has served mostly as a political tool to pressure Mexico into doing more to combat drug- trafficking within its borders. Barring any last-minute delays, the State Department plans to meet its March 1 deadline, officials said.

But officials from both countries are calling for changes.

Last September, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced a bill to suspend the certification process for Mexico this year. She reasoned that Presidents Bush and Vicente Fox -- both relatively new presidents -- need more time to work out their anti-drug strategies.

Fox has said that he wants the United States to terminate the process.

Hutchison's measure got sidetracked with the presidential election, but she plans to gather co-sponsors and reintroduce it next week, said her spokeswoman, Lisette McSoud.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, favor doing away with certification.

"It's a process that has outlived its usefulness," Reyes said. "We ought to spend more effort on solutions that are conducive to better cooperation with Mexico."

In the bigger picture, Reyes said, the fight against drug- trafficking should include education aimed at prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

"We will make an impact if we persevere," he said.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, said that, although he favors keeping the certification process, he is open to reforms.

The Bush administration needs to take a long look at the drug issue before deciding what it wants to do next in the nation's war on drugs, said Jose Garcia, director of the Latin America Studies Center at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. He said he believes that the United States should drop the certification process and use a multinational approach on the drug problem.

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