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US Singles Out Burma, Haiti, Guatemala for Failure to Cooperate in Drug War - 2003-02-01

The State Department Friday said Burma, Guatemala and Haiti had "failed demonstrably" to cooperate with the United States in battling drug trafficking. Of the three countries, only Burma will be subject to U.S. sanctions because of its poor marks in the drug fight.

The report on cooperation in anti-narcotics efforts is an annual requirement by Congress, and the most prominent change in this year's report is the demotion of Guatemala from the ranks of U.S. anti-drug allies into the small category of states whose efforts were deemed unsatisfactory.

At a news briefing, acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Paul Simons said Guatemala's counter-narcotics performance "deteriorated substantially" in the past year. He said narcotics seizures and arrests by Guatemalan authorities declined and that the country's anti-drug police units were mired in corruption.

"Narcotics seizures and narcotic-related prosecutions were sharply down," he said. "Police stole twice the quantity of drugs that they officially seized. And they were identified with drug related extra-judicial 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 need for evidence."

Countries like Guatemala, rated as having demonstrably failed in anti-drug efforts, would be subject to a cut-off of U.S. aid and face U.S. opposition to international loans. However President Bush invoked a clause of the 1986 law from Congress allowing him to waive the penalties if it served vital U.S. national interests.

Mr. Simons said an aid cut-off would have resulted in a "further deterioration" of Guatemalan institutions trying to combat corruption and organized crime.

A similar waiver was given in the case of Haiti, even though Mr. Simons said that country's counter-drug commitment remained "very weak." Haiti is described in the report as a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, mainly cocaine, heading for the United States from South America. But it said an aid cut-off would only worsen conditions in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Burma had openly campaigned for certification of its anti-drug efforts and Mr. Simons credited it with some useful steps, including cooperation with U.S. and regional law-enforcement agencies and action to curb money-laundering. But he said production in Burma of large quantities of opium-based and synthetic drugs continued last year.

"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," he said. "In addition seizures of methamphetamines were significantly lower 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 report included criticism of two close U.S. allies, Canada and the Netherlands in connection with the burgeoning trade in synthetic drugs. It said there had been an "alarming" increase in traffic across the Canadian border of one major synthetic, pseudo-ephedrine, as well as highly potent marijuana.

It said a significant amount of the synthetic drug "ecstacy" or MDMA originates in the Netherlands and said the United States expects Dutch authorities to move effectively in the coming year against "ecstacy" labs and traffickers.

Despite the critical comments, neither Canada nor the Netherlands were listed among the 23 countries, mostly in Latin America and Asia, identified in the report as major narcotics producers or transit-points.