Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2001
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 The Vancouver Sun
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Mike Trickeyl


Mexico's President Backs Drug Legalization It's The Only Way To Win 
War On Drugs, Leader Suggests

OTTAWA -- Mexico's president has dropped a bombshell before next 
month's Summit of the Americas by telling Mexican newspapers that 
legalizing drugs is the only way to win the expensive and bloody war 
against narcotics trafficking.

Crossing a line Latin American leaders traditionally do not tread, 
President Vicente Fox speculated in weekend interviews with two 
Mexican newspapers that the only way to win the war against drugs was 
by legalizing them and, thereby, eliminating the profit-motive and 
violence that goes with illegal trafficking.

Fox's comments followed statements by his top police officials that 
legalization is the only way to win the war on drugs.

"That's right, that's true, that's true," Fox told the newspaper 
Unomasuno when asked if he agreed with the assessment of a senior 
police official who supports the legalization route.

Sitting Latin American leaders have avoided support of legalization 
for fear of economic reprisal by the United States, which has taken a 
zero-tolerance position against drug use, trafficking and production.

Fox said Mexico would not and could not act unilaterally and that he 
did not expect any international action to be coming soon.

"When the day comes that it is time to adopt the alternative of 
lifting punishment for consumption of drugs, it would have to come 
all over the world," he was quoted by El Sol de Mexico. "Humanity 
some day will see that it is best in that sense."

Legalization is not now on the agenda of the Quebec Summit of the 
Americas April 20-22, which is bringing together 34 hemispheric heads 
of state and government.

Earlier this month Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle Ibanez pledged to 
raise the question at Quebec. In a live Internet discussion with the 
Washington Post last week, he said he will attempt to open debate on 
legalization of drugs either formally or informally.

"Imagine the money you spend to impede drug traffic and imagine that 
huge amount of resources on education for the people who really need 
help," he said, adding that Uruguay has not experienced any backlash 
from the U.S. for his drug position.

Batlle said the best way to address the civil war in Colombia would 
be to legalize drugs and admit Colombia into NAFTA.

Officials at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa said Fox is not advocating 
legalization of drugs nor is Mexico going to attempt to bring the 
topic to the Quebec summit agenda.

"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," Alfonso 
Nieto said Tuesday.

"But for the time being, we have declared war against drug 
trafficking. A total battle against drugs."

Nieto also said while there has been some public debate in Mexico 
about drug decriminalization, it has not yet been discussed by the 
National Congress and it is not part of the country's summit agenda.

"There are other issues, like democracy-building, like security, like 
free trade that have a much higher level on the agenda."

Canadian officials say they have had no indication that Mexico has 
changed its approach to fighting drug producers and traffickers.

"In all of our meetings with the Fox administration so far, they have 
never brought up the subject of legalizing narcotics," said Foreign 
Affairs spokesman Francois Lasalle.

Mexico has sent a series of conflicting messages on its approach to 
the war on drugs since Fox was elected last fall.

He stunned the United States with the appointment of two 
pro-legalization officials to senior positions in his cabinet.

Alejandro Gertz, the former police chief of Mexico City and now 
public security minister, has talked in the past about the need to 
take economic incentives out of drugs and that Mexico should be 
considering the Netherlands' approach to drug use and sales.

Mexico's new foreign minister, Jorge Casteneda, a left-leaning 
academic and former guest columnist for Newsweek magazine, has 
written in that magazine that legalization might be the only way to 
win the war on drugs and made reference to U.S. President George W. 
Bush's former cocaine use.

However, any plans the Mexicans might have had to embark on a course 
sharply divergent from the Americans' policy of prohibition appeared 
to be derailed after Fox and Bush met in January.

The official communique released after the presidents' summit 
contained language that was a return to the American position of 

"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 co-operation.

"We want to reduce the demand for drugs and eliminate 
drug-trafficking organizations. To this end, we will undertake 
immediate steps to review policies and co-ordination efforts in 
accordance with each country's national jurisdiction."

By earlier this month, however, Mexico was again talking about legalization.

"The debate is there, in the Mexican society," deputy foreign 
minister Enrique Berruga told reporters prior to the 
Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in Ottawa.
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MAP posted-by: Josh Sutcliffe