Español“We human beings do not respond to prohibition; we respond to reason,” boomed the voice of the mustached Mexican on stage, the voice of not just any man from south of the border.
Former President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) traveled to Washington, DC, for the weekend of February 14-15, to greet young liberals and libertarians from around the world. His message, beyond advice and inspiration for aspiring leaders: end the War on Drugs now.
“It’s been a total failure, [an] absolute failure,” he said to eager applause.
Along with economist Deirdre McCloskey of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Fox gave one of the final featured presentations during the Sunday portion of the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference. The former head of state came to the right place for sympathetic ears, as the audience of approximately 400 gave him a standing ovation.
Given the younger demographic, Fox devoted the first half of his speech — approximately 30 minutes in total — to underlying values of leadership and to what makes for a successful nation. The two pillars, he asserted, are freedom and democracy, and he even leaned on natural rights and quoted various US Founding Fathers.
You just need to look at Latin America to see what goes wrong without them, he opined: “We went through the 20th century in [the] hands of dictators … in [the] hands of authoritarian governments. And the consequences are what we see today. It is a region that is lagging way behind … in education, in access to opportunities, in income … in having a closer distance to happiness.”
He cautioned the assembled “freedom fighters” not to remain on the sidelines, that the menace of authoritarianism is constant: “If we stay only on the purpose side … on the ideas, it will never be enough. A purpose has to have performance, [it] has to take you to action.”
As Fox transitioned into the War on Drugs, he took on a poignant tone. “What the hell is going on with Mexico?” he said, as he expressed sadness at the tens of thousands of young people murdered there each year: “Those kids, like you … were not born criminals.… And yet they die, and yet they [are] killed … on this so-called War on Drugs.”
He wanted the audience to know that Mexico is neither a major drug producer nor a major drug consumer. So Mexicans are caught in a trap, Fox said, between the producers in South America and the consumers in the United States worth tens of billions of dollars.
“The way, I see, for coming out of that trap, is legalization … taking away a business that is run by criminals, to be run by entrepreneurs.”
His outlook on this happening was optimistic, and he praised Portugal as a noble example of success, along with many US states. In case there was any doubt, he also affirmed that his logic for freedom of choice, with responsibility and education, applies across the board: “I’m an activist in trying to promote the change, worldwide if possible, and for all drugs.”
To hit home the urgency of the matter, Fox called on the aspiring leaders to be weary that drug money has enabled a synergy between cartels and corrupt officials in Mexico and across Latin America. He wants a “crusade” against this, since “corruption is an evil, a cancer that we must eradicate.”
Still, he sought to end on a positive note, and expressed great enthusiasm for the event. He also took the opportunity to promote his presidential library and policy institute in Guanajuato State, Centro Fox, and to invite young people to come for a visit or even to hold a Students for Liberty event there.
“We want to promote this kind of youth in our nation… [and] we have plenty of tequila and enchiladas,” he said with a grin.
Latin-American student leaders present, of EsLibertad, have been similarly interested in forging a relationship with Centro Fox, and joined the former president in a private meeting.
Gonzalo Mellado Montes, a member of the EsLibertad executive board and Chile director, shared Fox’s vocal concern for the “current decline of freedom in Latin America.”
“It is necessary,” Mellado says, for other ex-presidents and public figures to follow Fox’s lead and “take responsibility for the trajectory that continues in their nations after their terms end, particularly when it comes to supporting the ideas of future generations.”