How Antidrug Bill Could Make Mexico Mad

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Just as the U.S. is beginning to regain Mexico’s confidence as a partner in the war on drugs, Congress is about to enact legislation that could send Mexico back on the warpath. The New York Times reported Tuesday that legislation imposing widespread economic sanctions against narco-traffickers and any companies doing business with them is pending in the House, and has already been passed by the Senate. The Clinton administration fears the legislation might undermine confidence in the Mexican economy, and would provoke an angry response from that country’s government. Mexico was enraged last summer by "Operation Casablanca," a sting operation conducted by U.S. agents inside Mexico unbeknownst to the Mexican authorities.

"It’s taken a long time to repair relations following ‘Operation Casablanca,’ " says TIME Latin America bureau chief Tim McGirk. "This legislation would certainly be a blow, because the Mexicans would take it as a challenge to their sovereignty. They’re very thin-skinned about anything that can be construed as U.S. interference in their internal affairs." Although the Clinton administration is satisfied with President Ernesto Zedillo’s antidrug efforts, Mexico is irked by the annual review to which it is subjected by Congress before being recertified as a drug war ally. But despite Mexico’s efforts, a whopping 3 tons of cocaine and heroin are moved across the border into the U.S. each month. And that may trump sensitivity to Mexican sovereignty issues in the minds of U.S. legislators.