U.S. responds to Caribbean drug cooperation suspension
AP, 10 March 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) -The State Department said Monday Caribbean countries will hurt only themselves if they go ahead with a decision to suspend drug cooperation with the United States.
Nations of the Caribbean Community agreed to take that step Sunday out of frustration with the U.S. position on banana exports from the region to Europe.
"Cooperating in the international fight against drug trafficking and abuse is manifestly in the interest of the members of Caricom," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
The United States has said the special banana trade arrangements Caribbean countries maintain with Europe are a violation of World Trade Organization rules. The WTO has sided with the U.S. position.
Rubin said marijuana has been cultivated in Caribbean states since long before the United States brought its case on bananas to the WTO.
Pressure against drug producers, however, has increased recently "with the growing recognition of the problems of marijuana use and the corrupting and corrosive effect of economic dependency on the illegal trade provoking cannabis growers to rationalize their illegal activity," he said.
As an example, he said, Saint Lucia relies heavily on banana exports, yet has "an excellent, close, collaborative and cooperative anti-drug, anti-crime working relationship" with the United States.
At the same time, Saint Lucia "is working diligently to diversify its economy," Rubin added. He said there may be some who want to link drug cooperation and the banana trade but "we don't think it's justified."
An agreement signed in Barbados by President Clinton in May 1997 calls for cooperation by Caribbean nations in anti-drug trafficking measures and extradition of suspects. But regional leaders have increasingly complained that Washington has ignored its end of the bargain by failing to address economic issues important to the Caribbean.
Caricom spokesman Leonard Robertson said the decision to suspend the agreement, often referred to as the Bridgetown accord, was seen by the Caribbean leaders as the strongest way to send a message to Washington.