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Mexican lawmaker: Jobs, education key to fighting drug war

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones says Mexico's current war on drugs is a "fight of firepower"
  • There could be as many casualties as there were in the Vietnam War, he says
  • Beltrones is a former governor of Sonora state, which borders Arizona

(CNN) -- Mexico's government must create jobs and improve education to help fight drug trafficking, the country's senate president said in an interview with CNN en Espanol.

"Together they form a true strategy for fighting crime and violence," said Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones Rivera, a top official in Mexico's opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Currently, Mexico's war on drugs is a "fight of firepower between criminals and the state," he said.

"We have seen 30,000 people die in the past four years," Beltrones said. "And we are very close to seeing, at the end of this six-year term, an equal number of dead as in the Vietnam War."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced a crackdown on cartels shortly after taking office at the end of 2006. Since then, more than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence across the country. And Calderon's government has dispatched about 50,000 troops to the nation's trouble spots.

A past governor of Sonora state, which borders Arizona, Beltrones also discussed California's recently defeated proposition to legalize marijuana.

Proposition 19, which failed to garner enough support from California voters earlier this month, left many Mexican lawmakers wondering what they would do if it had passed, he said.

California has already legalized medical marijuana. Supporters of Proposition 19 argued that the "prohibition" of marijuana -- much like that for alcohol decades ago -- has created a violent criminal black market, led today by international drug cartels. But opponents prevailed earlier this month.

Still, Beltrones said the debate over legalizing marijuana is an issue Mexican officials will have to tackle "sooner or later."

"But we could not do it without developing a strategy with the United States, which is the drug's largest consumer... Crime and drug trafficking, which are transnational problems, need international solutions," he said.

CNN en Espanol's Mario Gonzalez contributed to this report.