Mexico President Felipe Calderon told the Conference of the Americas in Washington, D.C. on May 11 U.S. drug policy needed "coherence" to help him out in his violent war on drugs.
A speech like this might easily be dismissed as his way to deflect some of the reproof. Calderon's use of the military and the exploding number of casualties have brought wide public criticism in Mexico. The dismay with the policy is so widespread that his National Action Party, PAN by its Spanish name, is given a diminishing chance of retaining power after the 2012 presidential election.
The drug war price is upwards of 35,000 lives since this phase began in 2006. Ironically, it has been generally successful, but costly in lives and treasure. It has brought down many notorious capos, heads of crime organizations and cartels, and their lieutenants. The military has been widely criticized for human rights abuses and excessive force. Its deployment virtually assures increased skirmishes and violence.
Early in Calderon's administration, the United States and Canada gave 9,000 Mexican recruits professional police training. Police connections with organized crime may have topped off in 2009 when 516 officers were detained for that reason. The newspaper Reforma reported this week that the number has declined, possibly indicating the nexus between police crime-fighters and criminals has slowed, and organized crime's corrupting effect may be declining.
Calderon's approach is a daunting one to correct 100 years of minor governmental and judicial corruption. That may be one reason why his call for "coherence" is one to listen to. It is also a call for help, a sign of realism and a way to gain a foothold on drug production and distribution, rather than simply plan the next skirmish.
In Washington, Calderon pointed out the obvious: U.S. demand drives the market. Meanwhile, Mexico's crime fighting introduces greater risk to the gangs which are marketing drugs in the U.S. Hence the price of those commodities increases. That, in turn, encourages more and new distributors into the scene because high prices mean high profits.
Meanwhile, said Calderon, it is unfair for the Mexican government to detain poor farmers of small marijuana plots and have the plots eradicated, while 14 U.S. states allow its consumption and in some cases even its production.
While Calderon did not bring it up, during the previous administration of Vicente Fox, the Mexican congress passed drug legalization reform as a way to deter further development of the Mexican youth market for excess drug inventory meant for the U.S. But then President George W. Bush personally intervened to keep the bill from becoming law.
Calderon's shout out is preceded by two reports. In 2008, former president Ernesto Zedillo headed a Brookings Institution study group that recommended continent-wide legalization and treatment measures to take the criminal elements out of the market. Then in February of this year Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue issued a report saying the 40-year-old U.S. "war on drugs" needs "far-reaching debate" on alternative approaches.
But Calderon's in-sync posturing is also disingenuousness. On the one hand he says he is open to discussions about legalization. On the other, he criticizes the practice of medical marijuana.
Does he know better ways to cut demand and exit criminal elements? What these words really mean is that policymakers are at a loss about what to do, how to do it, or whether they want to do it. They should spend more time reading past reports instead of writing new ones. The consensus of a quarter century is telling.
We have an off-the-books illegal-drug market operating within the continent. These substances stupefy, addict and affect brain functions. It is a public-health issue.
As such, it's time to take the crime out of drugs and criminals out of distributing them. The hundreds of billions of illegal drug dollars circulating in the world's financial and commercial systems need to be applied to in legal activity.
What to do with those hundreds of billions? That's the discussion that needs to be taking place.
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.