April 28, 2001
Narco News 2001
Seen as Key to Winning Drug War
From The News
of Mexico City
By REED LINDSAY
The News Staff Reporter
U.S.-led war on narcotics has long
made talk of drug legalization strictly off-limits for Mexican
politicians. But a rising tide of voices calling for the decriminalization
of drug use may augur a sea change in the way drug policy is
formulated in the United States and throughout Latin America.
In the past two months, the Chihuahua
state governor and a high-ranking federal police official have
remarked on the failure of anti-narcotics enforcement and the
possible benefits of legalization. Moreover, in March, President
Vicente Fox, despite his January pledge to wage "a war without
mercy" on drugs, told a Mexico City daily he agreed that
legalizing narcotics was the only way to win such a battle.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell on Thursday told a House of Representatives subcommittee
that drug-fueled conflict in Andean nations is caused "by
what is happening on the streets of New York, on the streets
of all our big cities."
While not raising the issue of legalization,
Powell blamed U.S. demand for his nation's drug problems.
Leads Call For Change
"There are encouraging signs, not
only in countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay, but also
with increasing frequency in the U.S.," said Colegio de
Mexico Professor and former Colombian Ambassador to Mexico Gustavo
de Greiff, a leading advocate of legalizing drugs. "Voices
are calling for a change in policy, not only for the failures
this policy has had, but for the tragedies it has caused."
Appointed as Colombia's attorney general
in 1993, De Greiff cracked down on drug lords in his South American
nation, eventually leading the effort to hunt down and kill kingpin
Pablo Escobar. Such efforts won him U.S. media attention and
glowing tributes from Washington policymakers.
Shortly thereafter, De Greiff began speaking
out in favor of legalizing drugs in the United States as the
only means of ending the violence and corruption wracking his
country. Within months, he was accused by U.S. authorities of
writing a letter defending a Medellin cartel drug smuggler, and
his visa was revoked, quickly ending his tenure as the top Colombian
prosecutor. De Greiff maintains the charges were fabricated to
discredit his pro-legalization stance. The U.S. Embassy on Friday
declined to comment on his visa status.
"I was the only public servant that
dared to speak out about legalization and the U.S. government
thought this was dangerous," he said. "It was the most
immoral form of politics you can imagine."
But political winds may be changing. Attending
Fox's December inauguration, Uruguyan President Jorge Batlle
became the first head of state in the Americas to proclaim his
support of drug legalization in an interview with the Spanish-government
news agency EFE. Although his comments were given sparse attention
by the international media, they since have been echoed by prominent
Most recently, in an interview with a
Mexico City newspaper, Chihuahua Gov. Patricio Martinez, who
in January was shot in the head by an ex-policewoman suspected
of being linked to organized crime, urged serious consideration
of Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's pro-legalization
proposals. Johnson has pushed legislation to legalize marijuana
for medical purposes and to decriminalize possession of small
amounts of the drug.
Two weeks before Martinez's remarks, Miguel
de la Torre, director of support for Mexico's Federal Preventative
Police (PFP), told government news agency Notimex that legalization
was the only solution to the drug problem. Responding to De la
Torre's comments, Fox was quoted as saying "humanity someday
will see that (legalizing drugs) is best."
While such statements do not reflect his
administration's official stand, they resonate with ideas expressed
in the past by Public Security Secretary Alejandro Gertz Manero
and by Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castañeda, who
have criticized the drug war and argued the merits of legalization.
American Hoping For U.S. Support
Propelled by the box office success of
last year's Oscar-winning film "Traffic," there has
been a growing recognition among some Washington politicians
of failures in the supply-oriented drug war and the need to direct
greater resources to treating drug consumers in the United States.
"Fox can play a role in helping to
catalyze a change in emphasis from supply to demand," said
David Borden, executive director of the D.C.-based Drug Reform
Coordination Network. "But I'm not that optimistic our current
administration will do that much. And without substantial change
in the United States, it becomes very hard for other countries,
particularly our neighbors, to change."
While battling demand is being given more
weight in the United States, the Bush administration and the
Republican-dominated U.S. Congress have shown no signs they are
willing to countenance a debate on legalization, analysts have
said. And without such willingness by Washington policymakers,
they say, Mexico and other Latin American countries have little
leverage to take the initiative on legalizing drugs.
"The possibility of a debate about
legalization is beginning to come alive," said De Greiff.
"But we're dealing with a multilateral problem with many
nations and the most powerful in the world, the U.S., will use
all of its force to prevent one country from making a unilateral
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