Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (2023)

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (1)

MEXICO CITY -- The staggering U.S. fentanyl overdoses and recent high-profile attacks on Americans on Mexican soil have prompted renewed calls for the U.S. to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

Several Republican congressmen are behind the initiative.

They say that designating the Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations would give US authorities the tools they need to take them down.

It may seem like a simple designation. But it's anything but.

See what representatives from each side and the experts covering the topic are saying:

"Target Cartels"

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (2)

Six Republican US Senators introduced a bill called the NARCOS Act on March 29. It would add the “foreign terrorist organization” label to nine notorious Mexican cartels, including the powerful Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. A similar bill was also introduced in the Chamber of Deputies.

"Despite what the President of Mexico says, drug cartels control large parts of Mexico," he said.Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a prepared statement.

“They make billions of dollars shipping fentanyl and illegal drugs to the United States where they kill our citizens by the thousands. Designating these cartels as foreign terrorist organizations will change the game. We will target the cartels and go after those who provide them with material support, including the Chinese companies that send them chemicals to make these poisons.”

China and, more recently, India are sources of “precursor” chemicalsused by drug cartels to manufacture fentanyl and methamphetamine for shipment north of the border.

(Video) Should Mexican drug cartels be designated as terrorist groups? | LiveNOW from FOX

Designation as a terrorist would give authorities and prosecutors more power to freeze the cartel's assets and bar its members from entering the United States, Graham's office said. It would also open the door to prosecuting those who support a terrorist organization.

Mexican leaders said this would violate Mexico's sovereignty and lead to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the nations.

Associate Professor Nathan Jonesat the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University agrees.

It's a bad idea, in part because of the impact it will have on US-Mexico relations," said Jones, who studies organized crime in Mexico.

Any benefit that could be gained "would be negated by the lack of collaboration that would likely result," he said.

More:Mexican families ignore the danger of the cartel and roam the desert in search of the remains of missing loved ones

"Politics Here and There"

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (3)

At the beginning of March,Four Americans were kidnapped and two of them killedafter crossing to Matamoros, Mexico for a medical procedure.

The Gulf Cartel later claimed responsibility and turned over its members who committed the acts.

The crimes have raised calls for the terrorist designation discussed during the Trump administration and opened the floodgates to further criticism of President Joe Biden's border policies.

"The Mexican government is being held hostage by tens of thousands of paramilitary members of terrorist organizations that effectively control Mexico..." former US Attorney General Bill Barr told Fox News. "They can use force and oceans of money to corrupt the government..."

President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obradorsaid criticism of the situation was purely political.

"There have been politics here and there, but we have to work together to respect our sovereignty," said López Obrador, who blamed the US fentanyl crisis for the "lack of hugs, hugs" in American families.

Another professor who studies security and intelligenceJaved Ali an der University of MichiganHe wonders what it would take for the US government to take the step of labeling him a terrorist.

(Video) Vittert: It's time to label drug cartels terrorists | On Balance

"After what happened with the four Americans, at what point will the US start exploring some of these other tools and options that we have to put more pressure on the cartels?" asked Ali.

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (4)

"Would it be controversial? Absolutely. But look how bad it is now. I would be willing to take at least a small risk to put pressure on the groups that are most threatening to both countries and see if that leads to better results.”

However, Ali said it should not be up to the US to act unilaterally.

“There's a lot more violence on the Mexican side of the border than on the US side of the border, so I think it's in Mexico's interest to take a fresh approach here too, and do it in partnership with the US. ," he said.

More:Will El Chapo's Son's Arrest Slow Drug Exports To US? The next steps are crucial, experts say

sovereignty at stake

Mexican officials continued to protest the strong language from Washington, D.C.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard traveled to Washington to meet with the Mexican diplomatic team and launch a campaign "to defend Mexico in the US following unacceptable attacks by lawmakers and former Republican Party officials."

Graham called for the terrorist designation to be used to allow military action against the cartels.

"Now is the time to get serious and use all the tools in our toolbox, not just the law enforcement way, not just the police way, but also the military way," he said during a press conference following the kidnappings by Matamoros.

(Video) Time to label cartels terrorists: Texas GOP rep

Ebrard opposed a possible US military intervention in Mexico to defeat the cartels, saying "because of my dead body" and "we will not allow Mexico to be pressured".

While experts on both sides of the border quickly agreed that doing so would be a violation of Mexico's sovereignty, they recognized that more cooperation was needed to combat drug trafficking.

"It is indeed a violation of sovereignty, but in the fight against global problems like climate change, the pandemic and in this case drug trafficking, all countries have to give up some of their sovereignty to face global challenges," said David Saucedo a security analyst based in Mexico.

“I agree to bi-national cooperation to fight drug trafficking. I'm not even ruling out the possibility of other DEA agents in Mexico working together to take down criminal cells and investigate drug trafficking leaders in Mexico.”

Jones of Sam Houston University also said that sovereignty is at stake, "and because of that immaterial sovereignty [the Mexican government] has to respond diplomatically at some level.

“And what is likely to happen is that there would be even less law enforcement cooperation. And that's a shame, because it causes people to die on both sides of the border and makes it less likely that we'll solve serious crimes to prevent violence on both sides of the border."

Is the Mexican government in control?

Graham made his claim about the Mexican government's lack of oversight during a March 22 congressional hearing of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

When asked by Graham if there are places in Mexico where the government has no control, Blinken said, "I think it's fair to say yes."

President López Obrador replied that Blinken had been forced to say those words.

“There is no place in the state where there is no authority. Can I Mr. Blinken to know that we are destroying secret labs all over the place all the time," the President said.

More:Eruption of Mexican cartel violence against innocents raises concerns about what is to come

But there are places in Mexico where the government is not present,a bishop from the state of Michoacán told the Mexican newspaper Proceso.

A security report by a group of Mexican bishops, to be handed to Pope Francis at the Vatican, says organized crime has progressed to the point where it has control of certain parts of Mexico and collusion with authorities at all levels of government.

"When you leave your city, your country where you live, to fulfill an obligation, you don't know what can happen during the day when you cross the border," Bishop Carlos Garfias told Proceso, referring to national and some state lines within Mexico.

The definition of terrorism

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (6)

(Video) Should cartels be treated as terrorist organizations? | Morning in America

Do the Mexican drug cartels' activities meet the criteria for terrorism?

"A terrorist group commits acts of violence with religious motives, with political motives, to force governments to take action or not apply certain policies," Saucedo said.

“Drug trafficking groups have political and white-collar crime motives. Their goal is not to destroy a government but to force it to adopt positions that respect its interests. In fact, they also committed drug terrorism against civilian populations,” Saucedo explained.

More:City Hall Massacre: Local Mexican leaders risk their lives to hold office in cartel territory

According to the U.S. Department of State, the legal criteria are that it must be a foreign organization, must engage in terrorist activity, and must threaten the safety of individual U.S. citizens or national security.

"You can argue convincingly that (cartel) activity meets those three criteria," said Ali of the University of Michigan, who has a background that includes the FBI and the National Center on Counterterrorism.

Mexican government and military leaders claim that the cartel's activities are criminal activities, not terrorism, and that the expulsion would negatively impact Mexico as a whole.

boots on the floor?

Are drug cartels "terrorist organizations"? US and Mexican leaders have some strong opinions (7)

According to the daily narrative in Mexico, the title would mean American boots in the field in Mexico.

However, security experts who spoke to The Courier Journal are not counting on it.

“There are conservatives who are calling for direct military intervention in Mexico. I think that's unlikely, in part because of what it would mean for US-Mexico relations, and in general..." Jones told The Courier Journal.

"Barring some challenging circumstances, I don't think any United States president will launch a military operation against a cartel in Mexico after something horrific happened — not without the Mexican government's partnership," Ali said.

Saucedo said the US and Mexican militaries lack the intelligence and investigative skills needed to fight drug cartels.

(Video) Should U.S. label Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations?

“Only civilian institutions like the DEA, the FBI, the Attorney General's Office and the Mexican Federal Police can do that. From a practical operational point of view, being on the ground is not enough,” Saucedo said.

Karol Suárez is a Venezuelan-born journalist based in Mexico City. She is a writer for The Courier Journal. Follow her on Twitter at @KarolSuarez_.

This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal:Should Mexican Drug Cartels Be Labeled "Terrorist" Groups?


What is the most powerful cartel in the world? ›

The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most powerful drug cartels in the world and is largely responsible for the manufacturing and importing of fentanyl for distribution in the United States. Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid that is more than 50 times more potent than heroin.

Why are drug cartels called cartels? ›

In the late 1970s and early 1980's, the American Drug Enforcement Agency, requiring a term to refer to Latin American based or originated criminal organizations, began to use the already existing and associated with illegal activities word cartel for them.

What is the history of cartels? ›

The creation of cartels increased globally after World War I. They became the leading form of market organization, particularly in Europe and Japan. In the 1930s, authoritarian regimes such as Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini, and Spain under Franco used cartels to organize their corporatist economies.


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