More than 12,000 people were murdered last year in the Mexican drug war, The Washington Post's Nick Miroff reported, a figure that's been largely unchanged over the past three years. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to cut down on the violence, and he recently talked with the German news magazine Der Spiegel about his priorities. Here are a few highlights, along with some context:
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, more than 60,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in the drug war during the last six years. You have been in office for two months now. How do you propose to end the carnage?
Peña Nieto: We must fight inequality and poverty if we want to re-establish peace and security. Seven million Mexicans live in extreme poverty, which is why I have launched a crusade against hunger. We also have to improve our educational system and stimulate economic growth.
[What it means: About half of Mexico's population lives in poverty and half is middle-class, as The Washington Post's William Booth has reported. Peña Nieto has said he wants to push a third of the country's poor into the middle class and has promised to get half of college-age Mexicans to go to college. (Mexico has some of the lowest education levels in the world.)
Some analysts have noted that Peña Nieto has been decidedly more mum about fighting the drug war than his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, instead preferring to tout education reforms and other social programs. Some analysts have said that's a poor strategy for Peña Nieto, since past administrations of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were often seen as corrupt and soft on the cartels, Miroff reported.
In response, he's argued before that education and a stronger economy are the keys to fighting crime, saying that without jobs, "millions of my countrymen have no other option than to dedicate themselves sometimes to criminal activity."]
SPIEGEL: Most of the drug mafia's weapons come from the United States.
Peña Nieto: That's why Mexico supports U.S. President Barack Obama, who has come out in favor of stronger controls on the gun trade. The most important thing is to regulate the sale of large-caliber weapons and assault rifles.
[What it means: Mexican leaders have a long history of calling for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in the United States. Calderon in 2010 said that of the 75,000 guns and assault weapons that have been seized in Mexico in the past three years, more than 80 percent were traced back to the United States.
Like his predecessor, Peña Nieto has repeatedly called for better arms trafficking controls in the United States, telling PBS last summer: "We have not seen a good level of efficiency by the U.S. in terms of how to better control arms trafficking -- I'm talking about high-caliber weapons -- into our country."
Now that the White House is once again pushing Congress to vote on such a ban, it may further warm U.S.-Mexican relations -- although most analysts say congressional approval of an assault weapons ban would be a tall order.]
SPIEGEL: Some U.S. states have relaxed the prohibition of marijuana. Doesn't that deprive the drug war of its credibility?
Peña Nieto: It should at least encourage a debate. I'm opposed to legalizing marijuana because it acts as a gateway drug.
[What it means: Marijuana may or may not be a gateway drug. Legalization may or may not bankrupt the cartels. But here Peña Nieto is reinforcing earlier statements by his administration that legalization in the United States may undermine efforts to stop the flow of marijuana across the border.
Shortly after Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the drug, Peña Nieto’s top adviser, Luis Videgaray, told a radio station in Mexico: “Obviously, we can’t handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States ... it now has a different status,”.]