Mexican President Vicente Fox last weekend become the second Latin American leader to embrace the legalization of drug use and the drug trade as a possible means of dealing with the grave social problems created by the existing drug prohibition regime. In remarks made to Mexico City newspapers, he has now seconded Uruguay's President Jose Batlle, who has been arguing the case for legalization since last fall (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#uruguay).
Fox's comments came in response to reporters' questions about Federal Police Chief Miguel Angel de la Torre. In an exclusive interview the week before with Notimex, the government news agency, de la Torre had called for legalization of drugs as the only method of ending the violence and corruption of the illicit drug trade (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/177/html#narconews).
According to accounts published in the Mexico City dailies Unomasuno and El Sol de Mexico, the question and answer session went like this:
"A high official of the Federal Preventive Police has called for opening debate on drug legalization in Mexico," asked the reporter. "What is the president's opinion?"
"My opinion is that in Mexico it is not a crime to have a small dose of drugs in one's pocket. Those people are not arrested or jailed, but they are committing a crime. Nevertheless, this has not lowered consumption; to the contrary, it is growing," replied Fox. "Drug consumption is a separate issue. That must be the task of the Secretary of Health, that must be the task of parents, that must be the task of society as a whole."
The reporter pursued the question, asking Fox whether he agreed with de la Torre's view that ending prohibition was the only way to stop violence and corruption.
"That's right, it's true, it's true!" exclaimed the Mexican president. But he quickly added that Mexico would not act alone.
"But the day when the alternative of freeing drug consumption from punishment comes, it will have to be done throughout the world because we are not going to gain anything if we do it in Mexico, but the production and trafficking of drugs to carry them to the United States continues here. Thus, some day humanity will view it [legalization] as the best in this sense."
Fox's comments are a turnaround from his election campaign last summer, when he refused to countenance talk of legalization and instead argued for tougher penalties and "zero tolerance." They also suggest that a Mexican drug policy independent of the United States could be forming despite Mexican kowtowing to the US hard line at the Fox-Bush post-inaugural summit in January. The joint communique released then said, "Drug trafficking, drug abuse, and organized crime are major threats to the well-being of our societies. To combat this threat, we must strengthen our respective law-enforcement strategies and institutions and develop closer, more trusting avenues of bilateral and multilateral cooperation."
But as DRCNet has previously reported (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/162.html#mexicoreformers), two of Fox's cabinet members, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and public safety czar Alejandro Gertz Manero, have publicly and cogently argued for the case for drug legalization. And although Castaneda signed on to the January document, he has also called for a global crusade to strangle the violence and corruption of the illicit drug trade by ending prohibition. And while Fox has vowed to wage "the mother of all battles" against violent cartels, his remarks indicate he has begun to realize the futility of such a strategy.
With Uruguayan President Batlle vowing to put legalization on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City next month, Fox's comments give resonance to Batlle's efforts. But Mexico's ambassador to Canada, Alfonso Nieto, told the Vancouver Sun that Mexico will not bring up the subject at the meeting.
"The president is talking about the possible decriminalization for possession of some drugs for personal use as some other countries have done, but that would require international agreement," Nieto said. "But for the time being, we have declared war against drug trafficking."
The debate on drug legalization is heating up in Mexico. And by the way, "Traffic" opened there last weekend. It set a record for the largest foreign film premiere ever in Mexico, opening at 250 screens nationwide.
DRCNet thanks NarcoNews for their ongoing coverage of the drug war and drug war debate in Latin America and wishes them good fortune in their impending court battle. Please visit http://www.narconews.com for further information and to find out how to help.