Former foreign minister calls for legalizing drugs
Mexican President Felipe Calderón needs to order military troops back to the barracks and halt a losing war against drug cartels, Mexico's former foreign minister told the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on Tuesday.
"He should not have done it," said Jorge Castañeda, who served in Calderón's predecessor's Cabinet. "He wasn't prepared for it."
Castañeda, who was in Houston Tuesday to promote his new book, said Calderón has framed his war on the cartels as a moral crusade, but it can't be won, and certainly can't be continued by whoever takes office there in 2012.
"It is too costly. We are up to 42,000 dead," he said. "By the end of Calderón's term, more Mexicans will have died in this war than Americans in Vietnam."
As a condition of the retreat, Castañeda said cartels need to get the message that they must crawl back into the underworld, and stop the kidnappings, extortion and mayhem that have rocked Mexico for five years.
If they don't comply, the military needs to be unleashed again to go after them for the murder and mayhem, rather than wasting more resources on drug trafficking crimes, he said.
"You don't sit down with them. You don't talk with them. You don't pardon them," Castañeda said of drug bosses.
The cartels have fought each other as well as against government security forces.
Prior to Calderón taking office, the military was used sparingly in the drug war, which was fought chiefly by civilian police.
"It pretty much has to change; the next president will not be able to continue with Calderón's policy," Castañeda said.
Legalizing drugs in Mexico is the only viable long-term solution, he said.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, his former boss, said the same thing when on a Houston visit recently.
"It went too far," Castañeda said of Calderón's war. "If Calderón hadn't messed with it, maybe you wouldn't have this reaction," he said of a number of high-profile Mexicans, from all across the political spectrum, calling for legalization as a result of the war on cartels.
"The question at the end of the day is whether the violence brought the war upon the country, or whether the war brought the violence upon the country," Castañeda said.
He was in Houston to promote his new book, Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans, which examines flaws in the national character that he says have prevented Mexico from realizing its democratic and social potential.