Mexico Stomps Feet Over Trump Pledge to Designate Cartels as Terrorists

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Mexico has expressed opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s intention to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations, with Mexican President Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador asserting that his government is doing its part to fight organized crime.

Echoing concerns from Mexican authorities that a terrorist designation for the cartels could be used by the U.S. as pretext for a unilateral invasion, Lopez Obrador stated that “Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory.”

The Mexican head of state said the focus of his administration is on disrupting the cash flow and money-laundering operations of the cartels, as well as halting illegal arms trafficking from the United States.

The financial intelligence unit of the Mexican Finance Ministry has frozen the accounts of 771 people, totaling more than 5.3 billion pesos, or $274 million.

A statement by the ministry said that Mexican officials have had several meetings with their American counterparts regarding the arms flow and that “satisfactory” progress has been made.

Gladys McCormick, a security analyst at Syracuse University in New York, predicted Lopez Obrador and Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, are likely to “put up more of a fight” on the issue of the cartels’ terrorist designation.

“Ebrard is waiting to hear from [U.S. Attorney General William] Barr on what precisely such a designation will entail for Mexico given the lack of details and precedent such designation carries,” McCormick said.

Labeling an individual or organization a terrorist group makes it illegal for any U.S. entity, including banks and other financial institutions, for knowingly giving them support. It also denies terror-designated individuals and organizations from entering the U.S.

President Trump reaffirmed his decision to take the fight to the cartels during a radio interview with Bill O’Reilly, who asked whether a terrorist designation was forthcoming.

“I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days,” the president said.

O’Reilly asked whether the U.S. would “start hitting [the cartels] with drones and things like that?”

“I don’t want to say what I’m going to do, but they will be designated,” President Trump replied.

“Look, we’re losing 100,000 people a year to what’s happening and what’s coming through on Mexico,” he continued. “And they have unlimited money, the people, the cartels, because they have a lot of money because it’s drug money and human trafficking money.”

Critics of the president say that such a designation would worsen U.S.-Mexico relations without providing results in the fight against organized crime.

“It’s a terrible idea in part because it will reduce Mexican cooperation as many in Mexico fear it’s a first step toward some kind of military intervention, which Trump keeps mentioning when he talks to Mexican presidents,” said Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from June 2016 to May 2018.

“There is no political will in Mexico to invite US troops in,” said Jana Nelson, a Mexico expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, D.C. “It is both an issue of nationalistic pride and an understanding in Mexico that what fuels drug cartels are weapons sold to them in the United States and drugs consumed by Americans.”

Others support the president’s plan.

“The United States can no longer afford to sit idly while our friends in Mexico are being overrun,” wrote Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas), who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Our backyard is on fire. It is time we grab the fire hose.”

President Trump’s pledge to go after the cartels comes as drug-related violence on the southern border has seen an uptick.

Earlier this month, nine members of a dual citizen American-Mexican family — who belonged to a breakaway Mormon community — were violently gunned down in an attack in northern Mexico in what was believed to be an act by cartels. The victims were three women and six children.

In response to the attack, the president tweeted: “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”

Earlier this month, the Sinaloa cartel terrorized the city of Culiacàn after police arrested the son of the infamous drug lord Joaqin “El Chapo” Guzman. Sporting armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and explosives, cartel members caused havoc until government officials ceded and let Guzman’s son go.

Lopez Obrador, who ran on a platform of combatting violence with “hugs, not bullets,” has faced criticism for his handling of the situation.

Nevertheless, the Mexican president has balked at the notion of a more direct American role in the drug war, saying that he would leave it at “cooperation, yes; interventionism, no.”

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