WASHINGTON — Mexico’s incoming president Enrique Pena Nieto called Sunday for a “new debate” on the drug war raging in his country and urged the United States to play a “fundamental role” in the review.
A week after returning the once-authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power on campaign promises to reduce the violence that is blighting Mexican life, Pena Nieto said it was time for a re-evaluation.
“Yes, I do believe we should open up a new debate regarding how to wage war on drug trafficking,” the young telegenic new leader of the world’s 11th most populous country said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“Personally, I’m not in favor of legalizing drugs. I’m not persuaded by that as an argument,” he said. “However, let’s open up a new debate, a review in which the US plays a fundamental role in conducting this review.”
Demand for cocaine and marijuana in the United States fuels the rampant narcotics trade in Latin America, and Mexicans have long said the illegal flow of guns from across the US border is driving up the death toll.
The center-left Pena Nieto, 45, won last Sunday’s presidential election with 38.21 percent of the vote as opposed to just 31.59 percent for his main opponent, veteran leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador has accused the PRI of vote-buying and vowed to challenge the results in the courts, but barring a stunning reversal Pena Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico’s new leader on December 1.
The presumptive president-elect campaigned hard on reducing the drug violence that has marred the past 12 years of rule by the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
The PAN and outgoing President Felipe Calderon hemorrhaged support due to the violence that has killed over 50,000 people since 2006 and turned parts of Mexico into war zones.
Calderon took the cartels on, attempting a military crackdown. It is still unclear how Pena Nieto plans to go about fulfilling his promises.
“What we seek now in our new strategy is to adjust what’s been done up until now. It’s not a radical change,” he told CNN.
“It’s to broaden the coverage and above all, the emphasis I aspire to of reducing the violence in our country.”
The center-left PRI was synonymous with the state as it governed for seven decades until 2000 through a mixture of patronage and selective repression — isolating political foes through bought elections and skewed media coverage.
A question put to Pena Nieto by Zakaria betrayed the fears of some in Mexico that the new leader might be more open to backroom deals with the cartels.
“But there can only be a reduction in violence, Mr president-elect, if the cartels also agree to a reduction in violence. If they keep fighting, you will simply be unilaterally disarming?” Zakaria asked.
Pena Nieto’s reply was short on specifics.
“I’m persuaded that if we achieve the specialization in the work carried out by the various branches of the federal police and the inspector general’s office, waging war on impunity will allow us to combat crime,” he said.