U.S. Seeks Closer Ties on Drug Front!

U.S. Seeks Closer Ties on Drug Front!
Posted by FoM on June 22, 1999 at 10:27:46 PT
By George Gedda 
Source: C News
WASHINGTON The Clinton administration sees the possibility of enhanced U.S. counter-narcotics cooperation with Cuba, but two Cuban-American lawmakers argue it is ridiculous to do business with a regime that they say collaborates with drug chieftains.
Four U.S. officials, none high-ranking, met Monday in Havana with Cuban officials to discuss possible telephone links to improve communications on suspected drug shipments through the Caribbean and the Straits of Florida. At present, communications are limited to telex links. Official contacts between the two sides are generally restricted to migration issues but discussions on narcotics flows are not unprecedented. Participating in Monday's meeting were two State Department and two Coast Guard officials. They had no plans to offer assistance to Cuba, to share intelligence or to discuss joint operations, said a State Department official, who asked not to be identified. Michael Ranneberger, who heads the State Department's office of Cuban affairs, said the meeting was not part of an effort to normalize relations with Cuba. "This is not a policy change," he said. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., objected strongly to the meeting, saying it was preposterous for the administration to give Cuban President Fidel Castro credibility on the drug issue. She said Castro is notorious for helping drug traffickers. Similar objections were voiced by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who, like Ros-Lehtinen, is a Cuban-born South Florida Republican. Diaz-Balart said in a telephone interview that a grand jury in U.S. District Court in South Florida prepared an indictment against the Castro government concerning tons of cocaine that entered the United States. The Clinton administration shelved the indictment in 1993 despite "massive" evidence of Cuban involvement with drug kingpins, the congressman said. But Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug control policy chief, said last month that Cuba has shown a willingness to help the United States fight international drug trade. Only a small portion of the drugs entering the United States come through Cuba, McCaffrey said, adding that the island's location and a growing tourist market could make it an opportune target for drug traffickers. McCaffrey also credited Cuba with acting on intelligence the United States provides to Cuban authorities. Cuba lacks the resources to counter large drug-trafficking organizations, so drugs are routinely flown over Cuba or dumped in Cuban waters without effective resistance by local authorities, he said. 
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