Just last Thursday, I ran a column pleading with President Enrique Peña Nieto to reconsider his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drug policies. In Germany last week. it was announced that Foreign Relations Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu would replace him to explain the nation’s anti-drug policies.
Perhaps far more influential than my humble column convincing President Peña Nieto to travel to New York was a special article published in the daily El Universal by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called “UNGASS, an Opportunity We Just Can’t Miss.”
Though neither Peña Nieto nor Mexico was mentioned by President Santos, the problems caused in Colombia by organized drug traffickers are only too similar to the ones in Mexico. In both nations the repression of marijuana and cocaine has brought about a high mortality rate of government officials, not to mention the literally tens of thousands of victims killed in the rather obscure wars between criminal groups fighting for territorial control.
But there were also many questions surrounding President Peña Nieto’s incomprehensible refusal to attend UNGASS and perhaps the one that hit the closest to home is that the UNGASS meetings were a brainchild of the 2006-2012 Felipe Calderón administration.
True to Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential tradition, Peña Nieto followed what pundits consider “the actions of the stinko of the past,” which being the president immediately relieved him of the visit. It was only natural for Peña Nieto to follow suit on tradition, but that is something presidents can do in Mexico, not regarding the nation’s participation in UN affairs.
Be that as it may, the president did fly to New York to speak at UNGASS, where he presented his top ten priorities to improve the nation’s drug interdiction policies.
Also there was curiosity in knowing his present stance on marijuana, given that in the past three months his administration sponsored several public symposia in which experts in different fields of law and medicine were for the most part in agreement that the hemp be legalized.
Previously, Peña Nieto had always said “no” to legalization, but last year, in a strange personal anecdote, he was approached by his children who afterwards hinted that maybe marijuana could be legalized. Peña Nieto says they asked him, “Dad, does that mean we can light up a joint at home?”
This is a question that also poses parents a problem.
In Tuesday’s speech it was clear the president changed his tone from “no” to “somewhat,” leaning for the point of view of legalizing medical use and opening the ban on labs to process grass for pharmaceutical production. That’s a step forward.
And for those who just plain enjoy smoking weed, he opened up to lowering criminalization standards as to make users less exposed to being considered criminals, which is what is happening and is bringing ruin to many a life as thousands of university students have a police record as drug dealers.
Among Peña Nieto’s Top Ten is number eight, which calls for the softening of penalties and other alternatives that do not include jail time.
The fact now is that the president has spoken out publicly on the drug issue in Mexico and the ball is now in the congressional court to modify the marijuana laws and decriminalize as much as possible the use of marijuana for entertainment purposes.
By the way, in his short speech President Peña Nieto did not mention any drug by name but hinted that for the most part he was speaking about marijuana.
But he did not directly address the case of hard drugs such as nefarious methamphetamine which is addictive from the first time it is used, nor of the opium plantations which medical labs never see and which, instead of being turned into curative opioids, are converted into heroin.
The one positive aspect of Peña Nieto’s showing at UNGASS is that he hinted his willingness to listen to the changes society is demanding, and budge away from his previously hard-line repression policies that only give the Mexican government a bad name as a human rights violator.