March 8, 1999
U.S. responds to Caribbean drug cooperation suspension

                  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

                  "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 Bill 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.

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.