By Juan Carlos Hildago
Mexican President Felipe Calderón seems to be experiencing a dramatic change of mind regarding his war against drug cartels. Soon after a drug gang set fire to a casino in Monterrey a few weeks ago killing 52 people, Calderón told the media that “”If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consuming drugs, they should look for market alternatives that annul the stratospheric profits of the criminals, or establish clear points of access that are not the border with Mexico.” Many people interpreted that as a veiled reference to drug legalization.
Yesterday, during a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York,Calderón was at it again: “We must do everything to reduce demand for drugs,” he said. “But if the consumption of drugs cannot be limited, then decision-makers must seek more solutions—including market alternatives—in order to reduce the astronomical earnings of criminal organizations.”
After launching a military offensive against drug cartels that has resulted in approximately 42,000 people killed in drug-related violence thus far, it appears that President Calderón has finally realized that the war on drugs is a futile endeavor and that drug legalization is the only alternative to the mayhem.
Calderón has flirted with an alternative approach before. A year ago, he said that it was “fundamental” to have a debate on drug legalization. Shortly afterwards, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos openly supported the call for a debate. However, Calderón soon recanted, firmly stating that he was against legalization, and the possibility of a high-level hemispheric debate on drug reform died there.
If we take his recent statements seriously, perhaps the massacre in Monterrey finally broke Calderón’s faith in his war on drugs. His two immediate predecessors, Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox, have been vocal proponents of drug legalization in the years since they left office. Calderón still has over a year left in his term. He has been very assertive in the past, demanding that Americans reduce their demand for drugs and change their gun laws in order to curb violence in Mexico. But his rhetoric has proven fruitless time and time again, all the while thousands have needlessly died. Calderon must remain assertive towards Washington, but now he should demand a change in drug policy in the U.S.
Nothing will reverse the damage that his war against drugs cartels has inflicted on his country. But Felipe Calderón could do his country a great service if he becomes the first sitting president to raise his voice to Washington and demand an end to the war on drugs.