Mexico Drug Violence Has Killed 28,000, President Considers Legalization Debate

Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon said he would consider a debate on legalizing drugs Tuesday as his government announced that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006.

Intelligence agency director Guillermo Valdes also said authorities have confiscated about 84,000 weapons and made total cash seizures of $411 million in U.S. currency and $26 million worth in pesos (330 million pesos).

Valdes released the statistics during a meeting with Calderon and representatives of business and civic groups, where attendees exploring ways to improve Mexico’s anti-drug strategy called on the government to open a debate on legalization.

Calderon said he has taken note of the idea of legally regulating drugs in the past.

“It’s a fundamental debate in which I think, first of all, you must allow a democratic plurality (of opinions),” he said. “You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides.”

Three former presidents – Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Cardoso of Brazil – urged Latin American countries last year to consider legalizing marijuana to undermine a major source of income for cartels. And Mexico’s congress also has debated the issue.

But Calderon has long said he is opposed to the idea, and his office issued a statement hours after the meeting saying that while the president was open to debate on the issue, he remains “against the legalization of drugs.”

In proposing the debate Tuesday, analyst and writer Hector Aguilar Camin said, “I’m not talking just about marijuana … rather all drugs in general.”

The most recent official toll of the drug war dead came in mid-June, when the attorney general said 24,800 had died. Valdes did not specify a time frame for the new statistics.

The government does not regularly break down murder statistics, but leading newspapers who kept their own counts say last month was the deadliest yet under Calderon: According to national daily Milenio, 1,234 were killed in July.

The Mexican government says most victims were involved in the drug trade.

Some attendees criticized the government for lacking consistent statistics on the drug war and an effective way to communicate its successes. They also said the government needs to do more to combat the financial arm of organized crime.

“There’s no systematic policy for investigating or seizing the assets of organized crime,” said Jose Luis Pineyro of Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University, “nor a system of locating the properties of organized crime.”


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