How the Latin American Drug War Will End
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Whether Yo Soy 132, along with the likes of Sicilia, can really move the drug war issue to center stage and galvanize Mexico politically remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Peña Nieto and the PRI are on guard lest social protest get out of hand. If students begin to mobilize against the drug war, and cultivate sympathetic ties with the likes of the Zapatista rebels in the southern state of Chiapas, the government would be hard pressed not to alter course on its counter-narcotics strategy. During the recent presidential election, the somewhat dormant Zapatistas chose to remain politically silent. However, the Zapatistas have been publicly supportive of Sicilia, and rebel spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos has called for an end to the drug war.
Civil Society Forces Cross-Border Debate
With so much on the line politically, economically and militarily, domestic elites in Washington and Mexico City have been reluctant to push for meaningful change in the drug war. Yet, even the Obama White House may be forced to bend somewhat. Encouraged by Colorado and Washington State, legalization advocates are preparing other referendums in northeastern states as well as the American west. And in Texas no less, campaigners may even seek to introduce a motion to legalize marijuana in the state legislature. Though Texan activists will no doubt face a steep uphill climb, local voters are horrified by drug-related violence in Mexico just across the border and are looking for alternative solutions.
In Mexico, too, the PRI has been forced to reckon with shifting political realities. In the wake of the Colorado and Washington state referendums, incoming President Nieto stated that his country would have to rethink its drug war policies. Commenting on the shifting tides in the U.S., Nieto’s chief of staff implied that the drug war had suddenly become somewhat perverse. “Obviously,” he said, “we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status.”
Meanwhile, the marijuana issue has split opinion within Mexico’s three major parties. While the PRI is divided, there are some who argue that it is time to have an open and thorough discussion about the drug war. Take for example Cesar Duarte, the PRI governor in the state of Chihuahua bordering Texas. Shocking his peers, Duarte has openly come out for pot legalization and argues that the export of marijuana could represent a great business opportunity for his countrymen. In addition to the PRI, there are also signs that the rightist PAN or National Action Party may be wavering: recently, former president Vicente Fox denounced the drug war as useless.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the status quo, however, emanates from the leftist PRD or Democratic Revolutionary Party. Fernando Belauzarán, a PRD congressman from liberal Mexico City, has introduced a bill similar to the one that passed in Colorado. Under Belauzarán’s plan, all Mexicans would be allowed to grow up to five marijuana plants for legal consumption. Though Belauzarán is aware that his bill might not pass, the legislator is determined to raise the discussion again and again in an effort to force a debate within Mexican society.
Inertia of the Elites
Despite this political pressure in both the U.S. and in Mexico, the establishment has waffled on marijuana. Earlier this summer, Peña Nieto said he would welcome a debate on drug legalization in Mexico. However, the president has continued to deploy the military to the streets while battling the cartels. Nieto has avoided holding major press conferences about the drug war, hoping that perhaps he can buy time or at least distract the public.