Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Peruvian Nobel Prize winner flip-flops on drug war, and urges Peña Nieto to abandon Calderón security strategy

Calling the drug war "foolish," he urges legalization, joining a former Mexican president who agrees

*Correction below*
In an unusual turnabout from statements he made repeatedly over the past year, Peru's 2010 Nobel Prize winner in literature has called for an end to the six year old drug war launched by outgoing PAN president Felipe Calderón in December 2006.

At a book presentation on Monday, Mario Vargas Llosa said, "I hope Enrique Peña Nieto abandons this senseless strategy of fighting drugs solely through repressive measures, as has been done by Felipe Calderón. That's not the road, and Mexico is proof of it." Vargas Llosa holds joint Peruvian and Spanish citizenship, and frequently comments on Mexican affairs.

"We should be looking at alternative measures, as many have proposed, such as experimenting with legalization. And the enormous sums which have been directed at combating drug trafficking should be invested in prevention, cure and rehabilitation. I think that's the only way out," added Vargas Llosa.

Calderón's six year administration, which ends on Dec. 1, has been highly controversial for its use of Mexican army and navy units against the country's monolithic drug cartels. The outgoing president maintains the militarization strategy was necessary due to widespread corruption in local and state police forces, which are being "purified," retrained and reconstituted (Honesty checks for local, state police proceed at a snail's pace, with more than half yet to be "verified").

Vargas Llosa's remarks are in sharp contrast to what he said in November 2011, and again this year when he vigorously endorsed PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, who took a distant third place in the July 1 election. In the former instance Vargas Llosa referred to the narcotics trade as a "beast hiding in the cave, a monstrosity, powerful, enormously rich and without the slightest scruples." In the latter, during a conference in Peru on March 20, the writer came out strongly in favor of Vázquez Mota, while noting that the struggle against narcotics trafficking violence "must not yield or bend." Among the four 2012 presidential candidates Vázquez Mota was most closely associated with the drug war policies of her former boss, Felipe Calderón, and she repeatedly assured voters that she would not abandon his use of military forces against traffickers

On Monday the Nobel Prize winner did not in any way acknowledge that he was abruptly reversing course. "Mexico is living through this phenomenon of terrorism resulting from the war against drug trafficking, with battles between groups determined to gain new territory and expel their adversaries, producing atrocious violence. Mexico is an example of what could happen throughout Latin America if we continue to follow a useless policy of fighting drugs solely through repressive measures," he said.

The author will find a strong ally in former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who held office from 2000-2006. Fox is a vigorous and outspoken advocate in favor of complete drug legalization, without any exceptions. No prominent politician inside or outside of Mexico is more unequivocal on the subject.

It's unlikely that Mexico's president-elect, who takes office Dec. 1, will heed the unsolicited advice (Enrique Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican armed forces will remain on the streets). Nor is it probable that most Mexicans would agree with it. A survey reported in June by the U.S. based Pew Research Center showed that 80% still support Calderón's military strategy against the cartels.

Softer words for PRI
Vargas Llosa adopted a rather more conciliatory tone when he spoke of the incoming Institutional Revolutionary Party administration, which will take the reins in Mexico in less than 10 weeks. Last October he referred to PRI as "disgusting, detestable and lawless," claiming that its 71 year (1929-2000) lock hold on Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, had been a "perfect dictatorship." On Monday he expressed the hope that the new government would "recognize the importance of political diversity, continue with the process of perfecting democracy as has been done over the last 12 years, and not permit monopolistic control over the political life of the nation, as in the past." The respected novelist, an unabashed PAN devotee, plainly realizes that PRI will be running the show for the next 72 months. It appears he's prepared to accept that fact and has called a truce.

Note to readers: When I first posted this story I erroneously listed Mario Vargas Llosa as a Mexican writer (I did so in one other previous report about him as well). The error was brought to my attention by a fellow journalist. Vargas Llosa was born in Peru, but has lived for many years in Spain (I believe he considers the latter home). In any case he is an astute observer of and frequent commentator on Mexican issues, and Latin American affairs generally. But he is not a Mexican citizen, and his 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him as a Peruvian. My apologies for the incorrect statement of Vargas Llosa's nationality.

Vicente Fox: legalize all drugs immediately
Opinion: Drug "decriminalization" or legalization, it's all the same at the end of the day

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