Mexico's Presidential Election
MS. DIANE REHM
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mexico's PRI party claimed victory in a presidential election yesterday. Its victory would mean a return to political power after a dozen years in the opposition. Joining me in the studio to talk about how the election results will affect Mexico's drug war, its unsettled economy, and U.S. relations, Arturo Valenzuela, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Joining us from a studio in Mexico City, Jo Tuckman, author of "Mexico: Democracy Interrupted," and Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
MS. DIANE REHM
You are welcome to join us this morning, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
Good to have you with us. Jo Tuckman, bring us up-to-date on what's happening there. Has the opponent finally conceded?
MS. JO TUCKMAN
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the closest rival to Pena Nieto in the quick count, he's said that he's going to wait until Wednesday to fix his final position on the result. He gave a speech late last night in which he questions the results, but in a very soft way. I mean, he left himself kind of room to raise questions about the legitimacy of the election, but with -- by no means in the same radical way as he did six years ago in the last presidential election where he cried outright fraud and refused to accept defeat.
Eric Olson, I gather that the disparity between the two was fairly substantial.
MR. ERIC OLSON
Well, it was significant. I think some of us thought it might be bigger than it was. The last polls a week out had Pena Nieto ahead between 12 and 17 points. It looks now like his margin will be five to seven points, you know. There may be some slight changes. It's an important victory. Clearly, it's a significant percentage, but I think one of the surprises last night was that the left did better than many people had thought and predicted. It looks like they lost the presidency. They won overwhelming victories in Mexico City.
MR. ERIC OLSON
They won governorships in Morelos, in other states possibly. So the left really had maybe even a slightly better night than people had anticipated, and the PRI had a good night, but maybe not as great of a night as they thought they might have.
Arturo Valenzuela, how do you see it?
MR. ARTURO VALENZUELA
Well, I see it as Eric just suggested, this again is going to be a divided government in Mexico where we're going to have a situation where the president does not have majorities in the Congress, where no party really is going to be dominant, and this is going to propose a challenge for the country because one of the real difficulties that both President Fox and President Calderon had, was their inability really to work together with effective congressional majorities. There seemed to be kind of a logic in Mexico that the opposition preferred to essentially stifle the president in his initiatives rather than necessarily getting on board with him.
MR. ARTURO VALENZUELA
And so the real challenge for Pena Nieto is to see whether in fact he can build a coalition in the Congress which his predecessors were not successful in doing.
But now, Jo, do we have complete congressional results?
No, not yet. We're going to have to wait a little while for those. I mean, we're assuming that obviously the PRI is going to be the biggest party, but it's not like as Eric and Arturo say, it's not going to have that kind of control that we saw before 1997 when the PRI lost control of the Congress for the first time.
So Arturo, you would not see this then as a return to the past?
No. I would not see this as a return to the past. The country has just changed too much. In the past you had a one party state where the president essentially controlled the nominations at every level, including governors, members of Congress, ambassadors, everything. Did so for six years, and then he went on. He could name his successor, and then he wouldn't disappear forever, but in that sense, it was -- that's why Vargas Llosa characterized it as the perfect dictatorship, because they saw the problem of the president not wanting to stay too long, and yet the control from the top was exclusive all over the place.
That just does not -- is not the case anymore today. The challenge is the opposite in some ways. The challenge is that the PRI is not gonna necessarily have all the levers of power. The governors are now far more autonomous. It's true that the PRI will have two-thirds of the governorships, but they don't necessarily respond to the president anymore as they used to in the past. So this is a complex democracy in the making because we need to remember that Mexico is going through one of the great transitions of the modern era, and let's not forget that, you know.
It does -- it takes -- it takes a long time really to establish and consolidate democratic institutions. Arguably, Mexico is doing better than a lot of other countries that have gone from one party authoritarian states to competitive democracies, but the challenges are still huge, and we need to understand that.
Arturo Valenzuela. He teaches government at Georgetown University. He's former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Joining us from Mexico City, Jo Tuckman, a Mexican-based foreign correspondent. Eric Olson is associate director of the Woodrow Wilson Centers Mexico Institute. We do invite you to join us. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter, or call us on 800-433-8850.
Turning back to you, Eric Olson, considering the fact that as our Arturo says, they're facing a whole new challenge, no longer will the president be the sole person in charge, give me an example of how the change might affect the drug wars for example.
Well, I think the PRI and Pena Nieto, like any newly elected government, wants to have a period of time where they think about the policy going forward. It's not like they have one well-defined in their back pocket that they're just going to roll out in a day or two. They would like to give the policy on combating organized crime and violence their own sort of imprimatur if you will, and they've told me that they have some discussion groups and tables and that will part of the transitional period where they're going to try to define their own policy going forward.
My own impression is that, you know, many of the things that are currently underway will continue, but they will find some unique aspects. They've hinted at some of those unique aspects, and I think, you know, there will be some interesting announcements in the next three to four months about the direction they want to go. They're committed to confronting organized crime, they're committed to working with the United States, they're committed to building up the state's capacity to confront organized crime. Those are the broad themes, but the specifics may be still -- they still need to work out.
Jo Tuckman, speaking of violence and the kinds of reports we've had coming out of Mexico, this morning, we read that an AP intern was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft today, and we know that journalists have been targeted in this drug war. What can you tell us about that?
Well, about the AP intern, I don't know the specifics of the case. I mean, the early information I had was that it -- there weren't suspicions of a direct link to what the intern was reporting on. I mean, in terms of violence against journalists in Mexico in general, it's -- the most acute problem is in the regions, it's in local newspapers, local media outlets, where local journalists face a terrible choice of operating under extreme circumstances where they often either have no choice other than to completely censor what they right, or mold what they right to the powers that be, and the powers that be in some parts of Mexico now including organized crime, either directly or through infiltration of the local authorities.
That situation is ongoing. I don't see any dramatic change, any dramatic impact that the election is going to have on that. I mean, some of the worst cases of regions for violence and intimidation of journalists are controlled by the PRI. Veracruz, for example, has been a terrible place for local journalists. So we'll just have to see. I mean, it's -- we haven't really heard from Pena Nieto what he's going to do differently. What he has stressed though is that he's going to shift the focus to reducing the violence rather than going after the cartels. We don't really know how he's going to do that, or try to do that.
And what does that mean to you, Arturo?
Well, I think, you know, the fundamental problem in Mexico today that's related to this whole issue of violence and the drug wars and so on, is the weakness of institutions. It's particularly the weakness of institutions at the local level in certain regions, the lack of capacity of police, the lack of capacity of the justice system and so on to be responsive. You can go after the drug gangs, but if you in fact don't strengthen the institutions of governance, you're not going to be able to address these problems.
Arturo Valenzuela. He teaches government at Georgetown University. We'll take a short break and be right back for your comments and questions.
And, welcome back, we're talking about the victory of Enrique Pena Nieto who won the election in Mexico marking the PRI's return to power in that state. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Certainly, as we talked about in the last segment, the drug war, security, very much at issue in the election. What about the economy, Eric Olson? What does the new president intend to do about the economy of Mexico where unemployment is high? What do you see happening?
Well, the issue that they've spoken about most specifically has to do with reform and investment in the energy sector. Mexico still has a state owned petroleum company, PEMEX. It's widely considered to be very inefficient, but it's also part of Mexico's own national history and national identity. And it's always been a sticking point between those who want to reform and open it up and those who want to protect it as part of the national identity. The PRI and Pena Nieto has spoken about following a more Brazilian line of opening up that company to private investment, not privatizing it but allowing more private investment.
There's also a great deal of enthusiasm about opening up the shale gas market and fracking in Northern Mexico where there seems to be quite a bit of deposits and possibility there. They plan -- they have said, they plan to move quickly in these areas. They may, in fact, get support from the outgoing governments, the PAN party on those fronts. It's a delicate issue. It's controversial in some areas. I'm sure the PRD may raise some concerns around that, but I think that's the centerpiece of what they want to do.
They've talked about, you know, generating more public investment for small businesses, creating a small business-like administration to support the small businesses. Pena Nieto's also talked about extending public benefits, health insurance, in particular, to the informal sector. As much as 50 percent of Mexicans that work are working in the informal sector with no security, no healthcare access. So he's talked about expanding that, as well. So there's a number of fronts they plan to move on and, you know, they hope that that will generate new growth and revitalize Mexico's economy.
Arturo Valenzuela, in the meantime, however, you have this enormous inequality between the rich and the poor. How does Pena Nieto feel he can advance this situation and advance it quickly?
Well, as Eric said, there are some key reforms that have still been pending in Mexico. And one that's related to the energy reform is actually a fiscal reform. And that is that Mexico has one of the lowest taxations of any country in the world. And the reason why is it depends so much on oil revenue for the budget of the country. That, in turn, means that they're running into problems as oil production has gone down significantly, so that resource is not available.
So this is another real challenge, to get fiscal reform so you have more state capacity to be able to invest in programs such as poverty alleviation programs and things like that. Let me stress one thing, though, and that is that Mexico is not the Mexico of 1950, which was essentially a rural Mexico, 90 percent illiterate. Mexico is today the 11th, no, the 14th largest economy in the world. It's the 11th largest country in terms of population, but it's the 14th largest economy in the world. It's a country that's emerged significantly as an industrial power in various different areas.
You have aerospace manufacturing facilities there in Mexico. You have high technology areas. Mexican workers are prized by international companies, such as, for example, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier has some of its plants in Mexico. So Mexico is not the rural, sort of, society of 60, 70, 80 years ago. It's a growing industrial country obviously facing enormous challenges as a result of that. The competition with China has hurt them significantly because they don't export raw materials. They export, you know, they no longer have the capacity to export oil.
This is why the fracking, for example, of gas is something that they're looking at. But let's not forget, my point I'm trying to make, is that Mexico really is a very significant economy and it's right on our doorstep.
And yet, Jo Tuckman, it would seem that we here in the States hear mostly about the drug wars, the poverty, the lack of sufficient sanitation, the kinds of incredible poverty that the population endures. I mean, there seems to be a big chasm between what we here in the States know about Mexico and what's happening there and what Arturo just articulated.
I'm not so sure if it's a chasm. I mean, Mexico, just the sense of dissatisfaction with the current situation is clear in the main slogans of the main parties in the election that's just happened. I mean, Pena Nieto promised change. Lopez Obrador promised real change. And Vazquez Mota, Josefina Vazquez Mota, the governing PAN party promised to be different. There's a definite sense that things are not the way they should be. Both because of the violence and because of the poverty and because of the sense that sure, Mexico, the Mexican economy has been growing and it survived, it has survived the international economic turmoil fairly in one piece certainly with stability.
But it's not growing anything like the level required to start genuinely eating into that poverty that affects about half the population. And the inequality that means that, you know, in this country we have the richest man in the world and also some of the poorest people.
And joining us now by phone from Mexico City, Francisco Gonzalez, of Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, thanks for joining us, sir.
MR. FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
Thank you, Diane.
I know you're concerned that all the candidates have offered inflated expectations. Explain what you mean.
Well, Diane, as the campaign got tougher, as particularly the candidate of the left, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, started gaining in the public opinion polls. The rest of the candidates were forced to up their political offer. Lopez Obrador had always had, you know, understandably the most progressive platform. As he started going up in the polls, the PRI, in particular, had to adopt a similar agenda and candidate Pena Nieto started talking a bit like Lopez Obrador about an expansive social policy, more subsidies, too, electricity, gasoline.
Now the problem with this, now he has won the election, the problem with this is that upwards of 90 percent of the annual federal budget in Mexico is already earmarked. And so that means that, you know, future is concerned, President Pena Nieto is going to have, in fact, quite a narrow room for maneuvering to try to deliver on these promises. The first hundred days of his presidency will be crucial to establish if he's able to manage these inflated expectations. If this happens, then I think I would have a bit of a difference of opinion with some of today's guests.
In as much as the PRI is made up of very pragmatic individuals, yes, the country will have a divided government. The president will not have a majority in the lower house of Congress. There are autonomous governors. Now, if Pena Nieto manages these inflated expectations, manages to come across as a strong and effective president early on, my sense is that particularly PRI governors, PRI legislators are, in fact, going to fall behind him and are going to allow him to govern a bit less uncomfortably than the last three presidents.
So from your point of view, how much can Pena Nieto reasonably do, say, beyond that first hundred days if he is able to put together a team supportive of his own agenda?
I think two basic things which, in fact, reflect the main concerns expressed time and time again by a majority of the Mexican population. The first one has to do with the failed strategy on the war on drugs declared by President Calderon. If Pena Nieto manages to bring down the levels of violence, he will have scored a big, big goal. How he will do it, I'm sure it's not going to be, you know, very neat, nice way. It will probably be in a dirty way. Whatever you hear in terms of public pronouncements about, you know, not stopping the war against organized crime might, in fact, be a smokescreen. And my sense is that the new government is going to try to establish red lines vis-a-vis the cartels and create a system of incentives where there are rewards and punishments and the Mexican state recuperates the monopoly over the use of force that is lost. That's number one.
And number two. I think that it's very important for the president to show real commitment regarding injecting competition into the economy. One of the things that most Mexicans have been complaining about is that the last four governments, five governments, three PRIs since the late 1980s, and then the two PAN governments we had in the first decade of the 21st century, remained, you know, basically in bed with the major economic actors. Pena Nieto has to go after some of the more salient monopolies. It could be telecoms, it could be the media, it could be the oil industry, it could be the teacher's union, these have to, at the end of the day, strike a blow that allows him to create an image of strength in order to bring, first and foremost, his party members behind him. As long as they see him as an effective player they're going to fall behind him because the PRI is not characterized by a rigid ideology. It's characterized, first and foremost, by pragmatism.
Francisco Gonzalez, Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'd like to go back to something you said regarding the drug wars. You said he would somehow deal with the problem in a dirty way, somehow establishing a red line. What do you mean by that?
Diane, here in Mexico, at least circles close to the governments, it is well known that, you know, there are a number of governors who are openly, almost openly involved with organized crime. They basically work for the cartels. There are others who don't. The government knows who is playing what cards and my sense is that President Calderon, when he took power and decided to use this as his signature policy, never, ever veered from it despite receiving significant negative feedback, particularly after 2009, 2010.
It's not as if this is just a complete secret and no one knows about it. People in government know who is with the cartels, who isn't. It's not a straightforward thing. You're talking about a very intricate pattern. Mexico has 32 states, 32 governors. But, within government circles, it is a, if you want, a public secret. It's known who's playing with who. Pena Nieto has to be very clear about what he will do with those who are either working for, or turning a blind eye, or in any way cooperating with the drug cartels.
One of your guests, I think Arturo, mentioned one of the key problems is that the justice system is broken. That is absolutely correct. And the problem with that is that fixing it will take years because it's an issue not only of changing institutions, it's an issue of changing political culture, changing attitudes. And so what can be done in the very short term now that power is being renovated, is to really instill fear in the heart of the main decision makers to run the Mexican territory in the sense that the new government will not tolerate any official working for, passing information to, the cartels.
In that sense, I think that is something which is a renovation of power allows for after six years of what has become really a failed policy.
Eric Olson, what is your take on what you've just heard?
Well, in large part I agree with a lot of what Francisco has to say. I think that one of the problems with the Calderon administration is they pursued a policy of going after the high-value targets, going after the heads of organizations. And didn't think a great deal about what happened once those people were taken out. How these organizations would fracture and become more violent and actually, at times, create a bigger problem.
They also were rather scattered in their approach, being more reactive than proactive and focused in their approach to organized crime. And the third thing that Francisco points out and Arturo has said, as well, is they were good at going out and rounding up the bad guys. Sometimes they rounded up good guys, too. Threw them all in jail and then there were no legal proceedings, no, very few cases were actually worked their way through the court systems, there were very few actual sentencing. So what you had is a, you know, tremendous overcrowding of a prison system that itself was already ineffective and corrupt. And sometimes that made the situation worse rather than better.
When you have large segments of a population in a town, young people put in jail for maybe minor infractions and they're suddenly jailed with, you know, hardened criminals, this is all a part of the problem. And so dealing more strategically in a more focused way and with these organized syndicates has really got to be the first order of business.
Eric Olson, associate director, the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
And it's time to open the phones as we talk about Mexico's elections. And we'll go first to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Malone. You're on the air.
Good morning, Ms. Rehm. You're great.
I just wanted to -- I saw a documentary on the cartel a couple of months ago and it just seemed to me how difficult this problem is to unwind. You have -- we're one of the major customers of the cartel, along with some others and also you have an economy -- this particular economy that is feeding into or recruiting from the areas that have extreme poverty. So young people are coming into this business and they are -- they're making money that they otherwise would not. They would rather make that money and commit crimes rather than starve. So how to you unwind that kind of situation?
Well, look this is an excellent question and obviously you can't unwind it very easily. And the reason why these issues cannot be dealt with with just simply going in there and holding a hard fist like some people argue is that, you know, you can send in troops and you can do that. You aren't going to solve the problem over the long haul unless you're able to look at this as a broad complex set of issues that need a strategic and multiphas-ic approach and a whole series of different strategies.
One of them, of course, is United States has to reduce its demand for a lot of these sorts of thing. The Mexicans are correct when they say, without that demand, you know, our situation wouldn't be so complex. But secondly, you know, it's not just a matter of getting the police out there and that kind of thing. You also have to provide opportunities for young people who look to the drug trade because they don't have other opportunities.
You have to strengthen the communities and then you have to strengthen, as I said earlier, the justice system. People have to sort of understand that the rule of law means you can't get away with this kind of behavior.
And if you've got -- as you've just heard from Francisco, if you've got governors who are participating in that, I mean, how can you pull that back from them?
Well, this is one of the great challenges and I would go back to the -- you know, the first 100 days of Pena Nieto are going to be very important. I agree with that, however he's not going to be able to exercise that leadership unless he can get strong support from other sectors within the society. And there are two sectors that I'm particularly concerned about. One, opposition forces within the congress who tend to think oh well, we can't work with this president because if he succeeds than we're gonna be not able to, you know, take the political benefit out of this. And this kind of logic of winner take all is very, very, very damaging.
And then the other thing -- and I saw this very closely when I was in the administration -- the second Clinton Administration at the National Security Council at the White House with Colombia -- is that unless the business elites, unless the people at the very, very top, understand that the future of their society, of their country is at stake and are willing to sort of put in their own efforts, you know, pay higher taxes, unless there is that kind of will which -- then Mexico's just simply not going to succeed. And that's Pena Nieto's real challenge.
Jo Tuckman, do you see that at work among the business leaders themselves?
Do I see the business leaders getting behind...
Wanting to cooperate, yes.
Well, so far, we haven't seen any indication of that really. I mean, the political and economic elite hasn't really got behind any kind of general rejection of political corruption and of, you know, attempts to root out money laundering through the legal economy as well, which a lot of analysts accept has to be part of the package. So far we haven't seen it. Whether Pena Nieto has a kind of greater sway within the business community then the PAN governments of the past, I guess he kind of does, but I don't think it's total, by any means.
I think it's a very hard thing to do to construct that kind of alliance across the political and economic elite. Obviously, it has to be the step forward, but it also has to be done with transparency. And I think one of the big questions hanging over the future administration is the issue of transparency. Francisco mentioned things being done dirtily behind the scenes. It has to also be done explicitly to gain the trust of a large sector of the population that see this government with a certain trepidation.
All right. Let's go to Oklahoma City. Good morning, Scott. You're on the air.
Good morning, Diane. Thank you for having me.
Well, I wanted to address something that you guys have been discussing and obviously it's about the drug trade. You guys are talking about it being complicated and it needs to be a strategic and multifaceted situation. And unless the top, you know, really is willing to change things nothing is going to happen. But do you feel like that then creating a sort of redline with the cartels would in turn sort of legitimize their stance within the government so to speak? I mean, unless you take a hard line towards the cartels how are you really going to oust this corruption?
It's a very good and a very tough question. My sense is that here there are two lines of operation. The first one, and the one where the future president will have a bit more of a say, a bit more of a chance to have a -- or create an impact is trying to go after in a mercen-ist way after official corruption after the tacit explicit alliances between either civilians and/or military police leaders and the drug cartels. That's number one, given the -- up until now Mexico remains a country where, you know, it's no exaggeration to say that impunity reigns, and it reigns big time.
I think the second line of operation which the caller is referring to is more complex, the one where the government reaches out directly towards the organized criminals and tries to craft a variety of agreements. You know, the present Mexico for the last ten, twelve years has time and again uncovered stories where either state or federal officials are in touch -- know are in fact godfathers of children of some of these leaders. They know each other. Now how a new president frames that issue is a very tough question. I do not have the answer.
My sense is that the priorities to establish the redlines within the state, with those public servants who we know are in touch and profiting from organized crime.
All right. To Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Ballurd.
Good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
Your guests have already talked a good deal about the drug war and that seems to be a bit of a (word?) problem, I guess recently. I was wondering what this election means for the EZLM rebels and Chavez, if anything at all.
Well, Subcomandante Marcos the leader of the Zapatistas actually has spent the entire campaign completely silent. I know of no communication that he's made through it -- throughout. The Zapatistas didn't figure at all as a topic, as an issue within the campaign and nor did indigenous rights either. It was very interesting that the -- there was the governorship race of Chiapas at the same time as the presidential election. It was won by the Green Party candidate.
A 32-year-old former senator of the Green Party in Mexico is notoriously not Green, mercenary, opportunistic. And his initial interview when he's, you know, getting -- he won by a huge margin, around 35, 40 percentage points. Not one mention of indigenous issue which is so crucial in Chiapas. So really I guess it might mark the final evidence that the Zapatistas have lost their relevance although, you know, Marcos is known for surprises. So, you know, it's never a good thing to predict that.
Arturo, you had U.S. congressman James Sensenbrenner speaking out at a House subcommittee hearing last week saying at Pena Nieto's pre-party "minimize violence by turning a blind eye to the cartels. And then Pena Nieto responded saying Sensenbrenner was ill-informed. You've already got this tension that exists on both sides of the border about these drugs. What do Sensenbrenner's comments mean? And how does that affect Pena Nieto's ability to form a cohesive effective government?
Well, my own personal opinion is that that kind of comment is not really a constructive one. It characterizes a reality with a brushstroke which is just simply simplistic. The fact of the matter is that the United States has a huge state in what happens in Mexico. There's no question about it. It's one of the most important bilateral relationships that we have in the entire world. We need to continue to cooperate with the Mexican government in trying to address some of these problems.
It's in our fundamental basic national interest to do so. This means, I think, that the administration will be looking to cooperate with a new government to try to -- to follow up on many of the things that were already begun that were constructive such as this broad range sort of multifaceted approach to the problem in Mexico. And we certainly I think look forward, I think the administration does to cooperation with the new government as it comes in. It's fundamental to the U.S. interest for us to try to lower the decibels in the rhetoric and try to see how we can get much more constructive cooperation.
All right. To Cooper City, Fla. Good morning, Richard.
Good morning, Diane. A pleasure to speak with you.
I don't understand how you can talk about the violence -- the drug cartels without also mentioning the legalization movement and how that would affect things. At the conference of the Americas I believe in February, out of 35 nations 33 of them thought that legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and cocaine could be -- I mean, stop the violence eventually.
Well, I don't think that's what the presidents were saying, that it would stop the violence. I think what they were saying in Cartagena, if I'm correct, is that they thought it was time for there to be a broader discussion about drug policy and how the priorities of drug policy are being defined. And, you know, I think a lot of us agree that it is time to take a step back and think about what U.S. drug policy has meant and what the results have been.
Part of that may be a discussion about legalization or decriminalization. But frankly to think that legalization is somehow going to just wipe out violence in these countries is to really misunderstand the complexity of the problem. It could be an element but Mexico, for instance, is a consumer country and increasingly so. A lot of the violence in Mexico is more related to local crime, extortion, kidnapping, car theft, turf wars over local consumption.
The big international trafficking of cocaine from Colombia into the United States is violent at times but there's not an incentive to be violent because they're about getting that cocaine into the United States and in the U.S. markets as quickly as possible. So I don't think that it's going to be a panacea like some people would like to suggest. Some of the largest increases and consumption in cocaine have actually been in increasingly middleclass countries in Latin America. Brazil and Argentina have a growing problem of consumption as well.
The U.S. cocaine consumption has been on a downward trend for the last decade. So I think it's a little more complex than simply saying let's legalize it and it'll all go away.
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Arturo, I know you wanted to comment.
Yes, I agree completely with Eric on this. This is not a silver bullet that's going to solve the problem. There's some people who say if we just simply legalize somehow the problem's going to go away. The problem with that position is that it loses track of the fundamental public health problem that is engendered by the consumption of drugs. The reason why these drugs -- and by the way, I think it's fine to have a conversation because there may be different approaches to different sorts of substances. But the reason why some of the really dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine are in fact legal is because they are such a menace to the public health of countries.
And in countries in Latin America where there's increasing consumption of this sort of stuff, the last thing that one needs really is a legalization phenomena that's going to lead to greater consumption in societies with such weak institutions that they would not be able to handle this. I had a very interesting conversation with a gentleman who won the race in Mexico City as mayor of Mexico City by a significant amount and he's on the left of the PRD, Miguel Angel Mancera, and it was about this issue of legalization.
And he said to me, listen I would never support that. I have a real problem in the Mexico -- he was the attorney general in Mexico City before -- he said, I already have a problem in Mexico City with 24 percent of young people being addicted to alcohol with about 15 percent of them being really seriously addicted to alcohol. What would I do if I had to face a legalization of cocaine? So that's the issue that we need to address.
So, Francisco, just very briefly, how optimistic are you that Pena Nieto's regime can move forward?
As a Mexican, as someone with stakes, with skin in the game, family, friends, acquaintances, I wish the answer was, you know, there's a high likelihood that the renovation of power is, in fact, going to lead to a significant improvement for the lives of Mexicans in the relatively short term. The reality is, we are facing a series of structural challenges which have been accumulating now for probably a decade and a half. In particular, the lack of dynamism in the economy due to the monopolies and the spiraling of violence due to the war on drugs have created a very significant vacuum, a deficit for the credibility of what democracy can achieve. (unintelligible) ...
All right. And we'll -- excuse me, I'm afraid we'll have to leave it right there. We are out of time. Francisco Gonzalez of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Arturo Valenzuela, he teaches government at Georgetown University. Jo Tuckman, a Mexico-based foreign correspondent and Eric Olson of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute. Thank you all.
Thank you for having us.
And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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