Thursday, July 07, 2011

former mexican presidents lead the debate

Reuters | Once praised lavishly by the United States for waging a war on drugs, Mexico's last two presidents now say legalizing them may be the best way to end the rising violence the U.S.-backed campaign has unleashed.

Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox led efforts to crush drug trafficking gangs in Mexico between 1994 and 2006 but the rapid escalation of violence over the past four years under President Felipe Calderon has convinced them a change of tack is needed.

"As a country, we are going through problems due to the fact that the United States consumes too many drugs," the 68-year-old Fox told business leaders in Texas last month. "I would recommend to legalize, de-penalize all drugs."

Though public support for some legalization is growing on both sides of the border, resistance is firmly entrenched in the U.S. government and analysts say Mexico is very unlikely to liberalize its drug laws without Washington's approval.

Calderon is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He has staked his reputation on breaking the cartels and is unlikely to press for radical change in what remains of his presidency but the death toll is surging and Zedillo, Fox and other former Latin American leaders are pressuring Mexico to consider opening up the market.

Victims' families are adding to the clamor for change.

Calderon has begun to soften the hard-line rhetoric that won him allies in Washington, stressing his readiness to discuss the merits of drug legalization.

"I'm completely open to this debate. Not just on consumption, but also on movement and production," he told a meeting with victims' families in Mexico City on Thursday.

But he added: "This issue goes beyond national borders. If there's no international agreement, it doesn't make sense."

Since he sent the army to fight the cartels in late 2006, some 40,000 people have died. If the rate of killing persists, the total will surpass U.S. combat deaths in the Vietnam War by the time a new president is elected in mid-2012.