An ongoing upsurge in murders due to a realignment of Mexican drug trafficking groups as a result of law enforcement actions against the organizations is bringing legalization talk back to the pages of Mexico's newspapers, if not to the government of President Vicente Fox. Early in Fox's term, high ranking members of his government, including Fox himself, made noises about legalization, but that talk faded as the Fox administration quietly returned to business as usual.
As big bust after big bust yields spectacular headlines, but nothing ever changes, the rumbles for reform are beginning again. Provoked by remarks this week from Secretary of Defense Gerardo Clemente Vega García and Attorney General Rafael Macedo, Mexican drug analysts and members of the judiciary warned that more of the same will change nothing.
"The criminal organizations are trying to reconstitute themselves, to confront each other, to occupy the spaces that they occupy in relation to one another," said Macedo at a Monday news conference. "It is a war among traffickers. Although it is certain that today we live in a crisis because the drug trade wants spaces, there will be no truce with crime, cost what it costs," he vowed.
Those costs were apparent this week, as the press was full of accounts of 18 murdered "narcos" last week and the 11 bodies dug from the "narco-tomb" in Ciudad Juarez on Wednesday. Thirteen Mexican police officers have been detained in that case. All told, at least 70 people have been reported killed in internecine warfare between the traffickers this year -- and it is only the end of January.
Two days after Macedo spoke, Vega Garcia complained at his news conference that the drug laws were too lax and the judiciary too lenient. "If there is something we have to stay focused on in this country it is that the judicial power can see the possibility that the laws are made tougher and that they don't favor the criminals so much, but that the laws support society," he said.
That provoked law professor Clemente Valdes to tell the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada that "you won't be able to do away with the drug trade with stiffer penalties and stuffed prisons." That's because that sort of response doesn't deal with "the root of the problem," said Valdez. "The drug trade is totally profitable for the criminals. We cannot doubt that the business of drugs corrupts entire governments, police forces, ministers, judges and magistrates, because it manages impressive volumes of money," explained the jurist. "We must look for deep solutions to those problems that are public health problems, but have been transformed into security problems," Valdes concluded.
Leading Mexican expert on the drug trade and national security Jorge Chabat of the Center for Economic Education and Investigation concurred. "Here the problem is not so much the executions that are occurring, but that they increase and arrive at other spheres, such as politics, the looming election campaigns... and especially with the possibility that drug money penetrates some of these areas," he told the newspaper El Universal. The possibility that drug violence and drug money could contaminate the nation's political life "is something that we cannot ignore because it has already occurred in other countries and because conditions in Mexico are beginning to be similar," he said.
The upsurge in trafficking-related violence "has to do with the natural movements of the drug trade, and if we review recent years we find a similar pattern, with highs and lows that certainly have to do with internal reorganizations and with the system of rewards and punishments that there is in this illicit business," he said. For Chabat, it is time to think again of legalizing the drug trade. "Drugs ought to be legalized," he declared, "or we will continue having these sorts of manifestations of corruption and violence.