Mexican president Fox appoints drug reformers to his cabinet

"It is indispensable to rescue the fundamental idea of ending the economic interest in drug trafficking" - Alejandro Gertz Manero, Mexico's new top cop

Newly elected Mexican President Vicente 'Cowboy' Fox named the first members of his cabinet while taking office on December 1st. According to reports from "Fox offered a list of US-educated businessmen who, by their own admission, will continue the neoliberal economic policies imposed by the United States upon Mexico. However, Fox also nominated as his Foreign Minister - the equivalent of the Secretary of State in the US - the author and political consultant Jorge G. Castañeda" - a highly regarded drug reform advocate.

Castañeda will oversee the Mexican embassies abroad and deal face to face with US and other foreign powers. Reaction has been swift and angry from certain sectors of the elite US foreign policy club, a knee-jerking display of Cold War nostalgia that, on the surface, denies logic: Castañeda, on the grand economic questions, is one of them.

So how to explain the bothered response from Roger Noriega, top aide to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Jesse Helms? Noriega denounced Castañeda's appointment instantly in an Associated Press story. He charged that "Castañeda's attitude and writings have been fairly anti-U.S." He continued, "Inasmuch as Mexico's relations with the United States are so important, we were hoping for someone in the foreign ministry who could play a constructive role in that relationship. That may still happen, but it remains to be seen whether Castañeda can put aside his anti-U.S. prejudices and work with us."

And from other quarters: "At a time when Mexico is moving closer to the United States in economic terms, it will move further away from the United States in diplomatic terms," said Delal Baer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. These voices of the extreme right in US foreign policy circles are not speaking of Castañeda's alleged "leftist" credentials; years ago Castañeda abandoned them, dismissed the revolutionary movements of Latin America, turned against Cuba, and in those matters is likely to please his new critics, in part by borrowing upon his "reckless youth" to justify unjust US-imposed policies.

Then what's the rub? Why are the most ardent US drug warriors criticizing Castañeda? Simply put, Castañeda's long-time and articulate stance against drug prohibition has them worried. On this point Castañeda tackles the problem with a perspective and proposal that many government officials recognize in private and elude in public: "The decriminalization, over the long term, of certain substances that are currently illicit and the utilization of market mechanisms to undermine the profits that come from the prohibited character of drug commerce," asserts Castaneda in published reports.

It appears that Castañeda is not backing down from his long-held pro-decriminalization position. To the contrary, he is hinting that a "grand campaign" might be in the cards for bilateral relations in the coming years; a campaign to call the bluff on the hypocrisy of US drug policy throughout América. US policy toward Mexico in recent years has desperately tried to keep the lid on the drug legalization debate in Mexico. They see it as Pandora's Box: If they let the debate happen, then history could follow. US officials know that the Mexican public does not believe that the drug war is sincere or meant to combat drugs. The Mexican people have seen too much; they know better.

Certain to give hard-line US drug warriors even more nightmares was President Fox' nomination of Mexico City Police Chief Alejandro Gertz Manero as the nation's Secretary of Public Safety. Gertz Manero will be responsible for overseeing all Mexican law enforcement agencies, consolidating them, implementing Fox's plan to abolish the PGR (Attorney General's office) and developing the coherent national strategy against crime.

Gertz Manero, a long-respected Mexican intellectual who was appointed Police Chief in1998 by Mexico City's first elected mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, fast developed a reputation as tough on crime, tough on corruption, and yet a realist and humanist when dealing with the victims of crime, including addicts.

In May 2000 Gertz Manero called for a Third Path to combat the harm associated with abuse and trafficking of some drugs and modeled on the pragmatic, humanist policy of the Netherlands. He wrote, according to NarcoNews: "The production and transit countries for drugs, like Cambodia, Colombia and Mexico, live with their own hell, while their institutions are infiltrated by drug traffickers and suffer a constant decay, their social structures brutally erode without finding answers or viable solutions."

"The third path has worked for countries like Holland that try to end the economic pressures of drug trafficking and recognize that drug addicts are ill, taking charge to allow the free use of drugs by those addicts inside of a therapeutic project, so that those who have irredeemably fallen into this vice do not become instruments of the economic interests of crime," insists Gertz Manero.

In the end, Castaneda concludes: "Legalization of certain substances may be the only way to bring prices down, and doing so may be the only remedy to some of the worst aspects of the drug plague: violence, corruption and the collapse of the rule of law. To many in the United States, for good reasons and bad, legalization remains anathema; but its costs and benefits must be assessed in the light of the pernicious, hypocritical and dysfunctional status quo. Using present tactics, the war on drugs is being lost; it is long past time to reassess a failed policy."

President Fox gets a big 'thumbs up' for the early commitment to appoint realistic, humane men to important cabinet posts and to a Third Path which may soon serve to undermine and lay to rest the war on drugs' policies which have filled US prison, demoralized so many families and shattered our Constitutional system of laws.

(Warm regards and thanks to Al Giordano at: