Mexico's New President Peña Nieto Is Probably Not Going to End the Drug War


In less than two weeks, Mexico's President-Elect Pena Nieto has managed to send some incredibly mixed messages about his country's future participation in the war on drugs. Boiled down, Nieto's position seems to be this: He's not going to make any major changes to Mexico's drug policy without the consent of the U.S.

"I'm not saying we should legalize," Nieto told PBS last week, adding that he could be persuaded otherwise. That claim has since evolved. "Personally, I'm not in favor of legalizing drugs," he told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired yesterday, adding, "Our new strategy is to adjust what's been done up until now." 

Bloomberg News interpreted Nieto's interview with Fareed Zakaria thusly: "Pena Nieto To Expand Drug War, Debate Drug Legalization." Except that debate has to be started and led by the U.S., which is not interested. See these statements from the Obama administration:

"It's worth debating [legalization] in order to lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalization." – Vice President Joe Biden

"We cannot lose, because if we lose we will say to the generations that come after us 'you are condemned to live in a disgusting and repulsive world,' and that's a conversation I do not want to have with my children or grandchildren in years to come." – William Brownfield, the State Department's man in Mexico and one of the architects of Plan Colombia.

"It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs….[cartels] are like caged animals, attacking one another." – the DEA's Michele Leonhart.

Nieto told the Washington Post, meanwhile, that he'd like to see more U.S. military instructors in Mexico, teaching counterinsurgency training. "Without a doubt, I am committed to having an intense, close relationship of effective collaboration measured by results," he told the Post. His one caveat? He doesn't want U.S. agents behaving in Mexico like they do in Honduras. 

In an interview in Mexico City, he told the L.A. Times (which describes Nieto as "a well-rehearsed master of gesture, an attractive if sometimes robotic speaker who never veers too far from the script"), "We will widen the fight on organized crime, fighting drug trafficking, but also put a special emphasis on the crimes that generate violence in society."

None of those components add up to a smaller or less violent drug war.