Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, strode onto a St. Louis stage Tuesday night wearing a conservative business suit and pedestrian black loafers. The cowboy boots and “Fox” belt buckle that were his trademarks while in office until late 2006 were gone.
The serious attire gave hint to the serious message he delivered: Mexico should consider legalizing some illicit drugs.
The towering man with a baritone voice spoke to a jammed house at the Busch Student Center at Saint Louis University. A few hours later in Mexico City, his successor, Mexican president Felipe Calderón, kicked off his country’s Independence Day celebration at the traditional mass gathering in El Zócalo plaza.
As Mexico celebrates the 199th anniversary of the cry for independence from Spain, it is reeling from drug violence sown by feuding cartels. In St. Louis, Mr. Fox suggested there needs to be a new uproar, one that surely would reverberate north of the border.
“We need a public debate whether to legalize drug consumption,” he said.
That topic might be unthinkable in U.S. political circles, but it’s gaining traction in Mexico as drug violence worsens.
An estimated 10,000 people have been slain in drug-related killings in Mexico since early 2007. By way of perspective, in all of the United States, with a population three times larger than Mexico’s, 15,000 people died from murder or manslaughter in 2007.
Mr. Fox said he initially opposed Mr. Calderón’s decision to mobilize the military against cartels, but said, “Now Calderón has to continue the war and win.”
“I had not envisioned that it would go this far,” Mr. Fox said.
In August, Mexico decriminalized “personal use” amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs. The idea was to allow law enforcement to concentrate on fighting organized crime. Now, authorities are encouraging drug abusers to seek treatment rather than face prosecution.
The United States, predictably, reacted negatively to decriminalizations that define personal use of marijuana, for example, as 5 grams or less (about four cigarettes). Now Mr. Fox is suggesting that Mexico consider taking the next step: legalizing drug consumption entirely.
Mr. Fox says a thirst for riches propels the street violence. So legalizing drugs — as Holland has done — could have the same effect that ending Prohibition had in the United States in 1933: Removing the incentive for criminals.
But if the domestic market in Mexico collapsed because of legalization, the export market might become even more valuable. Any move toward legalization would work only if done in concert with the United States, Mr. Fox said.
“The whole problem in Mexico derives from the huge consumer market here in the United States,” he said in an interview before his speech.
More than 1,600 persons have been killed so far this year in Ciudad Juàrez. Across the border in El Paso, Texas, which bills itself as the nation’s “third safest city,” officials worry that the violence will cross the border.
Mexico imports $250 billion in U.S. goods each year; economics alone dictate that the United States must do whatever it can to help solve the its neighbor’s crisis.
Mexico’s challenge, Mr. Fox said, is to preserve the gains made before the drug violence escalated and a worldwide recession took root. That will require a willingness on both sides of the border to think radically.
By Gilbert Bailon
September 17, 2009
St. Louis Today