The Miami Herald
October 29, 1999

 What's just passing 'through'?

 Placing of Cuba on U.S. drug list depends on meaning of word


 WASHINGTON -- A politically charged battle over whether Cuba should be put on
 the list identifying major transit points for U.S.-bound narcotics has come down to
 a lawyerly debate on the meaning of the word ``through.''

 Congressional conservatives are demanding the White House put Havana on the
 "majors'' list due out Nov. 1 because smugglers' planes and boats pass through
 Cuban airspace and waters on their way to the United States.

 But some U.S. government lawyers argue that the wording of the 14-year-old law
 mandating presidents to issue the annual list may not allow the inclusion of
 countries that have only a collateral connection to the drug routes.

 Inclusion on the list doesn't imply government complicity in the drug trade. On
 last year's list were Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,
 Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

 But it would switch focus on a politically embarrassing spotlight, requiring
 President Clinton to certify next year whether Havana is doing all it can to fight
 the war on drugs and complicating his policy of increasing U.S.-Cuba
 counter-narcotics cooperation and easing restrictions on people-to-people

 Cuban officials have taken no position on the debate, but painted the
 conservatives' campaign as an attempt to smear the island and hinted that it
 could hamper efforts to increase U.S.-Cuba cooperation on counter-narcotics


 Cuba is likely to pass two key tests for avoiding the ``majors'' list, involving a 7.2
 ton shipment of cocaine seized in Colombia on its way to Cuba last year, and
 past allegations of government involvement in drug trafficking.

 But the final hurdle has become the meaning of the word ``through.'' A gaggle of
 U.S. government lawyers are trying to forge a functional interpretation of the word
 so that Clinton can make a final decision.

 The ruling will be so politically charged that the White House is expected to miss
 the Nov. 1 deadline and wait until Congress goes home for its Christmas furlough
 before unveiling the list.

 The powerful chairmen of the House International Relations and Government
 Reform Committees, Reps. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., have
 already threatened to propose a bill that would force Cuba's inclusion on the list.

 Cuban territorial waters have long been used by Latin American traffickers to
 transfer narcotics from mother ships and airplanes to fast boats that smuggle the
 drugs into the United States.

 Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, wrote
 Burton on May 27 that ``detected drug overflights of Cuba, although still not as
 numerous as in other parts of the Caribbean, increased by almost 50 percent last

 The campaign to add Havana to the ``majors'' list got started after Colombian
 police seized $1.5 billion worth of cocaine Dec. 3 in shipping containers
 consigned to a Havana plastics firm co-owned by the Cuban government and two
 Spanish businessmen. President Fidel Castro quickly said the Spaniards had
 planned to smuggle the cocaine from Cuba to Spain.

 A Burton committee staffer who interviewed one of the suspects, Jose Herrera,
 last week in Spain said he had found ``a compelling case'' that the Cuban
 government was involved in the cocaine shipment.


 The report was less emphatic on allegations that the drugs seized in Colombia
 were to have been smuggled from Cuba to Mexico for eventual sale in U.S.
 markets. But a review of all U.S. intelligence and law enforcement information
 found no evidence that the shipment was going to Mexico, another congressional
 staffer said.

 "We've been hearing Cuba came up clean on those counts,'' the staffer said,
 leaving Gilman and Burton to push to add Cuba to the ``majors'' list based on the
 other shipments that go ``through'' territorial waters.

 The State Department's deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs, Susan
 Jacobs, appeared to agree when she told a congressional hearing last month that
 "through'' did include territorial waters and did not require that drug shipments
 actually touch the countries' land.

 U.S. officials later clarified that, while Jacobs' opinion was shared by most State
 Department lawyers, an inter-agency panel of attorneys was still working on a
 legal yet reasonable and practical definition of "through.''