Mexican candidate: government erred in not going after arms

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Ruling-party presidential candidate Jose Antonio Meade said Wednesday the Mexican government made a mistake by focusing more on seizing drugs headed for the United States than on weapons headed into Mexico.

Meade said that if he wins the July 1 election he would focus more on inspecting vehicles coming into Mexico and better training for police.

Homicides in Mexico rose by 27 percent between 2016 and 2017. Its homicide rate was 20.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, compared to 19.4 in 2011, the peak year of Mexico’s drug war. Most of those killings involved guns, many smuggled in from the United States.

“Clearly we didn’t pay enough attention to guns, we put more attention on drugs, that was a mistake,” said Meade, who served continuously in Mexico’s Cabinet since 2011. “I take responsibility for my own role, I was Treasury Secretary (in charge of customs inspectors), and I take responsibility for the fact that this issue wasn’t on our agenda, and it should have been.”

He acknowledged that Mexicans are angry about rising violence and that the government has been almost completely unable to seize the assets of drug traffickers.

“What we have seen is that the asset seizure laws we have don’t work,” Meade said. In the 10 years since Mexico implemented the laws, the government has not brought any successful cases. Meade suggested changing to a more U.S.-style model, which puts the burden of proof on suspects; if they can’t prove their money was legally made, they lose it.

But though he is running second or even third in the polls, Meade said he has no intention of distancing himself from outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, in whose Cabinet he served in several different posts.

Low approval ratings for Pena Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party may be dragging Meade down.

“The ritual of breaking with your predecessor comes from an earlier era when there wasn’t a democratic competition,” Meade said, referring to the 1970s and 80s when outgoing Mexican presidents practically anointed their successors. “Today, breaking with your predecessor occurs when you offer alternatives on issues that have been handled badly, and there are many issues that have been handled badly.”

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