On Monday, Scott Shackford warned critics of the war on drugs not to expect much from Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Peña Nieto, like the other two leading presidential candidates, promised voters a change of course aimed at reducing the violence that has left some 50,000 people dead since the outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, began his anti-drug crackdown at the end of 2006. But at the same time, Peña Nieto reassured U.S. officials that he would continue to enthusiastically participate in the vain struggle to stop Americans from obtaining the psychoactive substances they want. Yesterday, in an interview with PBS, he sent a somewhat different signal, saying:
I'm in favor of opening a new debate in the strategy in the way we fight drug trafficking. It is quite clear that after several years of this fight against drug trafficking, we have more drug consumption, drug use and drug trafficking. That means we are not moving in the right direction. Things are not working.
I'm not saying we should legalize. But we should debate in Congress, in the hemisphere and especially the U.S. should participate in this broad debate.
Peña Nieto sounds a little more open to legalization than President Obama, who when he isn't laughing at the very idea calls it "an entirely legitimate topic for debate" but not a policy he would ever seriously consider. Peña Nieto's remarks take on added significance in the context of other Latin American leaders' weariness with the drug war and support for reforms such as decriminalization of possession and even legal distribution of marijuana (albeit through government-run outlets). But let's not get carried away. Calderón himself made similar noises a couple of years ago, and so did his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who as president supported decriminalization of possession (a stingy version of which was enacted under Calderón) and after leaving office went further, saying full legalization should be considered. These rumblings are significant but won't have much impact unless Latin American politicians are prepared to defy the U.S. government's pushy prohibitionists or (even less likely) those prohibitionists reconsider their never-ending, always-failing crusade for a drug-free society.
More on the Mexican drug war here.
[Thanks to Tom Angell at LEAP for the tip.]