Briefing on the President's Narcotics Certification Determinations
Paul Simons, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
September 15, 2003
MR. ERELI:Welcome back, everybody. We're pleased that you're here. We have today with us Mr. Paul Simons, Acting Assistant Secretary for INL. He will be providing an on the record briefing on the annual Presidential Determination of Major Illicit Drug-Producing and Drug-Transit Countries.
He'll begin with a brief statement and then take your questions.
Thank you very much.
MR. SIMON: Thank you, Adam, and welcome.
Today the President sent to Congress his annual report on the Drugs Majors List as well as his annual Determinations on Narcotics Certification for fiscal year 2004. I believe everyone ought to have the fact sheet that we distributed earlier today that sets out the provisions of the law and the changes to the legislation, but let me just review those very briefly for those who don't have a copy.
There has been no change to the law with respect to the Majors List. The President, every year, needs to send up to Congress a list of countries, which meet the statutory definition of being a Major Drug-Producing or Transiting country. And that language has not changed from prior years.
What has changed is the due date for that list, which is now due September 15th, and will be due September 15th in each of the subsequent years. So basically, the President will put out his Majors List on September 15th and also at the same time, put out the list of countries that don't meet the Drug Certification Requirements.
In prior years, under the old system, the Majors List used to come out on November 1st and we didn't do the certification until March the 1st. Now, the two processes have been united.
With respect to the President's specific determination, the Majors List I sent forward remains unchanged from fiscal 2003. There are 23 countries on the list: 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. And then drawing from this list, the President made a determination of which countries had "failed demonstrably" to meet their international counternarcotics commitments.
Now, this "failed demonstrably" standard has now been around -- this is the third time we're implementing the "failed demonstrably" standard. It has now been put in as part of permanent law in Congress. So in the future, we will be operating under the "failed demonstrably" standard until such time as Congress changes the legislation.
Prior to this change in the legislation, up to one and a half years ago, the standard was "fully cooperating." So we shifted about a year and a half ago from "fully cooperating" to "failed demonstrably."
This year, on September 15th, today, the President designated two countries, Burma and Haiti, as having failed demonstrably to make significant efforts during the previous 12 months to meet their international counternarcotics requirements. And I'll say a little bit about both of those countries' performances.
Burma's performance in the past year remained very much a mixed picture. We did see the area under poppy cultivation being reduced by about 24 percent, according to United Nations figures. But nevertheless, Burma does remain the world's second largest producer of illicit opium; and, of real concern to us as well; it remains one of the world's largest producers and traffickers of amphetamine-type stimulants, which have created major problems to health and security throughout Southeast Asia.
The Government of Burma did take several useful counternarcotics measures in the last year, including cooperating with the U.S. and regional counternarcotics law enforcement agencies, working with some of its neighbors. But on the basic issues, the dismantling of the drug organizations, the attacking drug-related corruption and in the money-laundering issues, there were still very substantial deficiencies.
In the case of Haiti, Haiti remains a major and growing transshipment point for drugs, primarily cocaine, moving from South America to the United States. We are very concerned about the situation with respect to drug-related corruption in Haiti. The Government of Haiti has done very little to cooperate with the United States to interdict the flow of drugs or to honor its international counternarcotics commitments.
The police in Haiti continue to be very highly politicized. Haiti failed to increase resources to the Coast Guard. And Haiti's performance on drug seizures and arrests was very much deficient. We believe that Haiti must act to improve its law enforcement and judicial capabilities, and to also attack the problem of corruption.
The President did provide a national interest waiver for Haiti, as in previous years, in view of the need for the United States to continue to provide assistance to attack some of the root causes of poverty which underlie many of the country's most severe problems.
So those are the two countries that the President cited as having failed demonstrably. I think you all have copies of the President's letter. He mentions several other countries' performance in this letter. He refers specifically to the performance of the Government of Guatemala, which, as you recall, he did determine back in January, had failed demonstrably.
He notes in his letter that the Government of Guatemala has made certain efforts to address its institutional weaknesses, in particular, the issue of increasing seizures, increasing the professionalism of drug-related law enforcement, but he also notes that he expects Guatemala to continue its efforts and to demonstrate further progress in coming years.
Finally, there is some description in the President's letter of the situation in Canada. We continue to work closely with the Government of Canada on the illicit drugs issue, but we remain very concerned about the flow of high potency marijuana from the United States -- into the United States from Canada, as well as the continued diversion of precursor chemicals, principally, those to manufacture methamphetamine.
We are hopeful that Canada's newly implemented regulations will disrupt some of that flow of precursors. And again, we continue to have excellent operational law enforcement cooperation with the Government of Canada.
The President also mentioned, as he did in January, the situation with the Netherlands and ecstasy. It's a matter of significant concern. We have been working very closely with the Government of Netherlands over the past six months. We've put in place an action plan to address ways that our law enforcement authorities can work more closely together. But as the President notes in his letter, he urges the Government of the Netherlands to focus its efforts on dismantling the criminal organizations that are very much at the heart of the ecstasy production problem in the Netherlands.
And, finally, the President expresses his deep concern about the drug trafficking situation with respect to North Korea and the continued allegations of involvement by state agents and enterprise in the narcotics trade, chiefly the methamphetamine trade, which affects a lot of the countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as the possible involvement of the North Koreans in opium production and in heroin trafficking.
At this point, I think I will stop and I'll take any questions that you might have.
QUESTION: Mr. Simons, could you expand a little bit on the President's decision to remove Guatemala from the "failed demonstrably" list? You said that they had taken certain efforts to comply. Have these been significant, dramatic, large-scale efforts, or not?
And, secondly, when you briefed us back in January, you said that it was your assessment, you said that U.S. officials believed that the Guatemalan police had seized -- had stolen twice as much illegal, illicit drugs as they had actually seized. Have they shown any improvement on that? Are they stealing a little less?
MR. SIMONS: Okay, that's a good question. First, I think it's -- the President makes his determinations each year, so it's not really a question of removing a country from the list. He makes an independent assessment under the statutes each year as to how a country performs.
In our view, the President's decision last January to declare Guatemala as a country that had failed demonstrably to make significant efforts was a real wake-up call for the Government of Guatemala. The decision, as you probably know, stoked a significant internal debate inside Guatemala, considerable press attention, political attention.
And, essentially, what we do every year with respect to all the countries in the world that are present on the Majors List is, we present them a list of drug-related benchmarks we expect that they will comply with over the course of the year, and on which we evaluate their performance. So, essentially, that was the process that was applied in the case of Guatemala.
And again, while I don't think that you can minimize the issue of drug-related corruption, which was really the basis on which the President made his decision in January, a number of these benchmarks were addressed by the Government of Guatemala. We feel that they took the process seriously as a result of the de-certification decision. Specifically the seizures in Guatemala to date are up to over 5 tons, which is more than double the prior year. We've seen some major financial seizures from major traffickers.
We note that anti-narcotics prosecutors are developing additional cases for prosecution. The government, in response to our request, has established several narcotics "roving judge" positions to deal with requests for warrants that are related to narcotics cases. We had our first extradition of a Guatemalan national in almost 10 years, in the course of the past year.
We have seen some additional effort on the part of Guatemala in the money-laundering field. And we have seen some action on the part of the Guatemalan congress to change legislation that allows seized assets in narcotics-related cases to be shared with the police and the prosecutors.
So there have been some -- and, finally, I should mention -- and this took quite a considerable effort on the part of the embassy and the Guatemalans -- we concluded our longstanding Narcotics Maritime Agreement with Guatemala, which had been holding fire for years.
So I think it's fair to say that there were a number of steps that were taken, but I don't want to suggest that we don't have quite a long way to go. And I think the President makes it quite clear in his letter that he is very much expecting Guatemala to demonstrate further progress in the coming year.
QUESTION: What about my second question? Is the police now seizing more drugs than they are stealing?
MR. SIMONS: I don't have anything specific lately on the question of disappearances of drugs from Guatemala, but certainly the seizures are up.
QUESTION: Do you still believe there is a lot of corruption and that there still is a lot of police stealing of these drugs?
MR. SIMONS: Well, what has happened in the last eight months is there has been yet another reorganization of the Guatemalan drug police, and they are in the process of vetting and hiring basically an entirely new organization. So it's a little hard to tell.
I think one of the other aspects that made this year's drug certification process different from prior years was that we had a shorter period in which to evaluate performance. With the President's last Certification coming out on January 31st, we really only had about six months' worth of performance.
But I think it is noteworthy that the government is committed to polygraphing and establishing other kinds of tests, anti-corruption tests, for its police. We'll just have to see how that process goes along.
QUESTION: If I could follow up on the issue of extradition. Isn't it a fact that this Guatemalan suspect, who was recently extradited to the United States, is, in fact, not wanted on drug charges, but is, in fact, wanted on murder charges not related to drug trafficking, nor is he suspected of drug trafficking?
And can you confirm for us, as the State Department '98 report reads, that no Guatemalan drug suspect has been extradited to the United States since the 1994 murder of the country's constitutional court president, Gonzalez Dubon?
MR. SIMONS: To answer your first question, I understand that, in fact, this suspect was wanted on a homicide charge and not a drug charge. But, again, I think what I was trying to point to was the fact that for the first time in 10 years, Guatemala has been prepared to extradite a Guatemalan national to the United States.
Clearly, we'd like to see more of that ahead. We'd like to see more of it in the drug area. But, again, it's one of these issues that shows, at least the beginnings of, some positive movement.
QUESTION: Sure, if I could just follow up. On the issue of military corruption, you addressed that eight months ago. You said there was extensive corruption in the police and military forces. Spokesman Boucher has identified Retired General Ortega Menaldo as a drug trafficking suspect.
U.S. officials in Guatemala City have told the Guatemalan press that two other military officers, both former intelligence officers, Gajeja Si Gajejas (ph) and Napoleon Rojas, are also drug trafficking suspects. The DEA has identified at least 31 officers as late as up to 1995 as drug trafficking suspects.
And eight months ago you were asked what does the Bush Administration plan to do about the problem of ongoing impunity for military officers, active duty and retired, suspected of running drugs. You replied, and I quote, "I don't have anything on that. I'll have to get back to you."
The next day your office declined comments, so I pose the question again. Does the Bush Administration have any plans to try and bring these officers to justice? Or isn't it the fact that you now face the problem, and you have for years, that you are unable to prosecute high level suspects, as (inaudible) noted to Congress a year ago, in either Guatemala or the United States?
MR. SIMONS: Well, I think, certainly, both this year and last year, we took a very close look at the issue of drug-related corruption, both in the police and in the military. It's an issue that we are very concerned with. It was essentially the basis for the President's decision to decertify earlier this year.
So it is an issue that we take very seriously, that we have had conversations, you know, at the highest levels of the Guatemalan Government, that we continue to have conversations at the highest levels of the Guatemalan Government. I don't believe in my presentation today that I have signaled to you that we have gotten as far as we would like to be on the issue of drug-related corruption. It's still a big problem there. But we have seen some movement in related areas that suggest that the Guatemalans are taking this process seriously. But they have a very long way to go.
QUESTION: Can you compare that to Burma and Haiti in terms of -- you said that Burma has taken some steps, but there are still a lot of deficiencies. How are those deficiencies greater than some of the deficiencies that the Guatemalans have overcome?
MR. SIMONS: Well, I think the issue with Burma is quite a bit different. We have a different relationship with the Government of Burma than we do with the Government of Guatemala. We have far fewer levers, we have less information, we have less access, and we have a lot less cooperation with the Government of Burma. And it just has to do with the kinds of bilateral relationships that we've had over the years.
So, in the case of Burma, you know, we have a situation in which you have a major-producing, drug-producing country, not just a drug-transiting country, a drug-producing country that is the second largest producer of opium in the world. It's one of the largest methamphetamine producers, and in which we really don't see very much indication that the government is active in beginning to shut down, you know, the very core of the trade, which is the production side.
So it's really a difference in terms of order of magnitude there. And the Burma situation has been very serious for many years. And the fundamental problem there, which is, you know, the presence of drug trafficking groups that can operate with impunity and have a really major impact on social conditions in China, in Thailand, in Malaysia, throughout Southeast Asia. It's a very, very serious problem. So I really do think that it's quite a different kind of situation than what we have in Guatemala.
QUESTION: Can you expand what you -- when you say that it has a major impact on living conditions in Southeast Asia, what do you mean by that?
MR. SIMONS: Well, if you read the newspaper in Thailand or talk to public officials in Thailand or even in southern China, the number one issue of the day is domestic drug use, specifically with respect to Thailand methamphetamine use, which is engulfing the country. There may be as many as 3 million methamphetamine users in Thailand. It's the most serious public subject of debate in the country.
And, again, they have a country on their border, which is supplying them virtually all of their requirements of this drug and they really have not a lot of brakes being applied to that production. Similarly, with respect to China, a large volume of the heroin that used to go from Burma into the United States' market is now lodging itself in China, in southern China, creating major strains on public health, public health facilities, the security services and this is a very, very serious issue for all of Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: So there is close cooperation with Guatemala. Burma is a different kettle of fish because there is far fewer access, less info, less cooperation. Does that then sort of put Haiti in between?
MR. SIMONS: Well, I think we look at these on a case-by-case basis. We don't kind of rank them one against the other. The question is whether on an individual basis these countries meet the criteria or not.
In the case of Haiti, we have a situation in which for years -- and it's not a recent phenomenon -- the levels of drug-related cooperation have -- corruption -- have increased to the point that we really have no reliable interlocutor in the Haitian law enforcement community that we can work with to attack the problem. So our concern is that Haiti is acting as something of a magnet in the Caribbean for cocaine flows because, generally speaking, if you look anywhere around the world, drugs tend to flow through states or non-state actors that are the weakest and are the most complicit and tolerant. And this is the situation in Haiti, so we have a real problem.
We just don't have the ability to work with law enforcement there. Our law enforcement agencies don't have viable interlocutors, so it's hard to even get started on any process of pursuing casework, pursuing leads, everything you need to basically put an operational case together. So, and it's been this way for some time in Haiti and we don't see any effort, any serious effort by the government, to reduce the politicization of -- and the corruption in the police service there. So that's really the hub of the problem.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. SIMONS: Wait, hold on. We've got somebody else who didn't ask.
QUESTION: Actually, if you want to follow up, that's fine.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Haiti, can you explain to us what kind of aid will continue, given the President's national interest waiver? Is it humanitarian or is any of it sort of drug combating aid?
MR. SIMONS: Right. I mean, the way the certification process works, if you are decertified, if you're certified as having failed demonstrably, you can still receive anti-drug aid. So you get anti-drug aid no matter what.
If you get the presidential waiver, you can receive all forms of U.S. assistance. So, basically, Haiti is able to receive the full complement of U.S. assistance as a result of the waiver.
QUESTION: Thank you for clarifying that. And if I can just understand one other thing. Does the U.S. Government actually give Haiti any counternarcotics aid, given that you don't have any interlocutors there, at least on the law enforcement side? Or is that --
MR. SIMONS: We have some funding set aside notionally for Haiti, and certainly we would be prepared to put additional funding forward, but as we discuss the issue with our law enforcement partners inside the U.S. Government, we have to identify viable projects and we have to identify viable counterparts, and we also have to show Congress that we are making efficient use of the resources that they provide us. And so this has been the stumbling block.
So I believe our assistance program to Haiti is actually under $1 million per year right now, so it's not a large program. Certainly other countries in the immediate area that are cooperating with us, we have found other ways to expand our assistance to those.
QUESTION: I'd just like to go back to Burma for a second. You said the market for the Burmese products, being heroin, meth or opium, is shifting more toward Asia, away from the United States. Can you say what percentage of Burmese heroin or opium ends up in the United States?
MR. SIMONS: I don't have the percentage of Burmese heroin that ends up in the United States, but I believe that the DEA statistics suggest that about seven percent of U.S. heroin -- this is based on seizures -- comes from Southeast Asia, so it would come from Burma. So about seven percent of what we consume comes from Southeast Asia.
But that would be, I think, considerably less than seven percent of what Burma produces because they produce much, much more than what we consume. So we're a relatively small market for Burmese heroin.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, there has been some seizures of North Korean heroin. And, as you know, the President is very concerned. So unless I missed something, why aren't they on the list that you issued?
MR. SIMONS: Well, I think the issue, with respect to North Korea; the President did mention them for the first time, which I think is a strong indication of the concern that we have this year. So I think it's notable that the President signaled North Korea's allegations of involvement in methamphetamine and in the heroine trade.
The Major's List itself, if you look at the legal standard, you either have to be producing certain numbers of hectares, in this case, 1,000 hectares, of opium poppy. That's one of the standards that would automatically put you on. We don't have evidence -- firm evidence, that North Korean is producing that amount. They may be, but we don't -- we aren't at a level of certainty to establish that fact.
And then, the second criteria for putting a country on the Major's List, is if they are a significant direct source of narcotics that significantly affect the United States, which would imply that the drugs are actually coming into our market. And again, in this case, we are clearly taking a look at it, but the evidence to date has been, if you look at the pattern of seizures involved with North Koreans, they have taken place in Australia, Philippines, Japan, largely.
So it appears that the North Koreans are largely serving those markets. So, at this point, I think it's safe to say that we remain, you know, very much seized with the issue, and we'll keep a close eye on it, in subsequent years.
QUESTION: Yes. You said that if a country is decertified, it can still receive U.S. assistance for programs against drugs. Was this the case with Guatemala? Did they receive in the last six months assistance from you?
MR. SIMONS: Yes, actually, last year -- or I should say on January 31st of this year -- the President indicated that Guatemala had failed demonstrably, but, at the same time, he issued a national interest waiver. So for the past eight months, Guatemala has been able to receive the full complement of U.S. assistance, similar to the case with Haiti. Now, that's not the case with Burma. Burma does not have the national interest waiver.
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers? How much money was that?
MR. SIMONS: I'll have to get back on you on that.
QUESTION: Okay, and a follow-up. How did you make sure that this money didn't go to corruption?
MR. SIMONS: The assistance with respect to Guatemala?
MR. SIMONS: Well, it's a good question because I think when we were here in January I indicated that we had frozen a pretty large amount of our annual counternarcotics budget to Guatemala specifically because we felt that we could not ensure that that money wasn't going to be utilized in a way that contributed to corruption.
In the meantime, I mentioned some of the steps that had been taken, and we have been able to resume some of our drug-related assistance activities on the basis of those steps, including support to the Guatemalan counternarcotics police, which had been put on hold.
So I think it's important that -- to note that when countries begin to take some actions that, you know, we need also to see those areas where we can support those positive actions.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, if I can just ask a quick follow-up. When was this money unfrozen, then?
MR. SIMONS: It was unfrozen at some point within the last eight months. I can get back to you on a specific date.
QUESTION: What is the United States doing to intensify its efforts to stop North Korea's involvement in the illicit drug trade?
MR. SIMONS: With North Korea, we are actively involved in a series of diplomatic as well as law enforcement initiatives, largely centered around the -- our East Asia partners. We have launched an effort to reach out to South Korea, to Japan, to the Philippines, to Australia. We are exchanging information on cases with these countries. We are reviewing and intensifying intelligence cooperation with them. We are taking a look at the ways that our law enforcement agencies can work more closely together to get a handle on the problem.
So, from our perspective, it's a regional approach that draws in a number of countries that have been directly affected by the North Korean trade.
QUESTION: Yes. In 1999, INL reported -- again on Guatemala -- that Guatemala was moving 200 to 300 tons of cocaine annually to the United States, and this year in the INL report it reads that Guatemala is moving up to half. So the question is how is it -- can you explain how the administration is certifying that Guatemala has not failed demonstratively in terms of drug trafficking and cooperating on drug trafficking when it's unable to prosecute high-level suspects from a country that, by your own estimates, is moving up to half of the cocaine reaching American markets?
MR. SIMONS: Well, I think you raise a good point, which is that among the transit countries Guatemala is one that we keep a very close eye on because, as you note, it is a point through which a large percentage of drugs do flow through and eventually enter the U.S. market.
Again, our approach with the Guatemalans has been to emphasize cooperation on interdiction. This has been, really, the centerpiece of our program with Guatemala for years. And, again, if you look at the record over four or five years, up to last year, we did have some fairly substantial positive results. We had good law enforcement cooperation. We saw seizures of substantial quantities. And then there was clearly a major, major falling off, and we think we are started back in the right direction -- seizures heading back up, reconstitution of the police drug unit.
Again, I am not asserting, and the President is not suggesting, that all is well in Guatemala. He specifically cites the need for continued progress in Guatemala in his letter. So they clearly have a long way to go. But again, in terms of what we asked them to do over the course of the past six months, they began to address a number of those issues.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. SIMONS: Thanks a lot.
Released on September 15, 2003
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