Dr. Alejandro Poiré at the Latin American Matters Forum

By Patrick Reilly

April 28, 2016

On April 28, the Latin American Matters student association at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy hosted its third annual Policy Forum, a day-long event featuring several experts on contemporary issues facing Latin America. After one of the panels, Global Voices Interviews Editor Patrick Reilly spoke with Dr. Alejandro Poiré, current dean of the prestigious Mexican university Tec de Monterrey, who served as Mexico’s secretary of the interior under President Felipe Calderón from 2010 to 2012. Patrick spoke with Dr. Poiré about his experiences with Mexico’s efforts to combat drug cartels and strengthen internal security.

This interview has also been published in the Gate, ​the partner student publication of the Global Voices Interview Series.

Global Voices: President Felipe Calderón named you Mexico's secretary of the interior in 2011. When you took office, what were your top priorities?

Dr. Alejandro Poiré: It was the last year of the Calderón administration, I had been involved in different positions in the administration over the course of it. And one of the key things that we wanted to achieve was to guarantee that the federal election was going to take place in an environment of security and peace—in particular, during the campaigns and the actual day of the election. So that was a very important piece of our agenda. Another very important piece was to maintain and improve coordination of the security agencies from the federal perspective, especially with state and local authorities, and of course improve the pace and implementation of our constitutional reform to enhance human rights that was passed that year, and to make sure that all of the conditions that were there were quickly implemented. So those were the priorities.

Global Voices: What differences do you see between the Calderón and Peña Nieto administrations with regards to fighting the drug cartels?

Poiré: I think there's a very clear and obvious difference in our emphasis of the rule of law and also in our communication strategy to try to explain what was happening, to try to address the concerns of society. I think those are clear differences.

Global Voices: In recent years, a lot of the discussion about drug policy in the US has focused on more lenient sentencing and rehabilitation. Do you think those or any other domestic policies within the US could help reduce the drug violence in Mexico?

Poiré: Well, during President Calderón's administration, we decriminalized consumption not just of marijuana, but of almost every single prohibited substance. We decriminalized it, and we decriminalized both possession and consumption. That’s one element that I think is often overlooked. What I think is also very frequently overlooked is the fact that the criminal violence around the drug trade is generated by the development and the growth of these criminal organizations. Those organizations are fighting for the huge revenue that's actually created on this side of the border in the United States.

I think there are two things that could happen: one of them is to see a massive move toward the liberalization and regulation of these drugs in the United States and also in other markets like Europe. That is not exactly something that countries like Mexico and Colombia and Central American countries can affect directly, but we can influence that debate. The second possible solution is to reduce impunity, and to improve the judiciary, of the police systems and of criminal investigation systems to increase the quality and depth of prevention policies on our side of the border. I think as important as it is to keep an eye on what's happening—in terms of the markets—on regulations for these drugs in the United States, Mexican citizens and public officials owe it to themselves—we owe it to ourselves—to keep on strengthening what we can actually do. I think that's what is still missing.

Global Voices: Are there any steps that you would like to see the United States take to help strengthen Mexican institutions?

Poiré: I think from the beginning of President Calderón's administration and through the administrations of both President George W. Bush and President Obama, we have seen a different role of the US—broadly speaking—through the initiative. First of all, we have acknowledged very explicitly shared responsibility for these problems, Second of all, we are substantially increasing all sorts of programs for cooperation and joint participation in certain areas of this issue. A number of things could still happen—a better enforcement of the illicit gun trade, a very significant emphasis on what I think is a social tragedy in this country. There was a very significant piece today in the New York Times about four toddlers shooting themselves because of the massive availability of guns here in the United States. So I think those are also issues for the US to think about—not just because of the impact that they have in societies in Latin America, but quite particularly in this case because of the impact that it has on society here in the US as well.

Global Voices: Does gun control meet the same intensity of resistance in Mexico as it does in the United States?

Poiré: No, no, no. It's a different market; it's a different historical background. It's not such a hot-button political issue as it is here in the United States. Again, in this case, even if there is a significant challenge in the United States, what is driving the problem on our side of the border is actually the huge amount of money that is derived from the US market for drugs, and it is these cartels that are using this money to buy guns in the United States. It's a complex issue, so we need people working together to try to find more effective ways to enforce laws that are currently in place in the United States and in Mexico with regards to the illicit gun trade as well.

Global Voices: In your work either as spokesman for Calderón or secretary of the interior, what was the most memorable moment?

Poiré: I had the opportunity to implement some of the recommendations by the International Human Rights Commission directly with some of the victims of human rights abuses. I was personally involved in one of those with a woman who was herself a victim of some of these abuses. I really pushed hard to make sure that some of these human rights initiatives were completely fulfilled, and I can still hear the voice of the victim Valentina—her plight and her anger and her determination and her strength.

...I think that was a reminder—and it was, as we proceeded with the implementation of these recommendations—that we have a lot to carry on in terms of access to justice and peace-building, and it is essential that some of these complaints can actually be made directly and openly and very publicly, as this woman's was made, to public servants. Because every single public servant has to be co-responsible for universal goals that we still need to keep working on—access to justice, absence of human rights abuses, full enjoyment of every single one of these human rights, and equality against the law. In order to be able to do that, we still need to build better, more accountable state institutions.