WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY – President Donald Trump said he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups for their role in trafficking narcotics and people, prompting a speedy request for talks by Mexico.
“They will be designated … I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process,” Trump said in an interview aired on Tuesday with conservative media personality Bill O’Reilly.
Soon afterwards, Mexico’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it would quickly seek a high-level meeting with U.S. State Department officials to address the legal designation as well as the flow of arms and money to organized crime.
“The foreign minister will establish contact with his counterpart, Michael R. Pompeo, in order to discuss this very important issue for the bilateral agenda,” the ministry said.
Once a particular group is designated as a terrorist organization, under U.S. law it is illegal for people in the United States to knowingly offer support and its members cannot enter the country and may be deported.
Financial institutions that become aware they have funds connected to the group must block the money and alert the U.S. Treasury Department.
The Chip Roy factor
Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican whose district is near the southern border, has long called for the cartels to be added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. A bill he proposed in March, The Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act, would give law enforcement additional powers to fight the cartels’ transnational crimes.
The legislation received renewed attention in the aftermath of a bloody attack earlier this month on U.S. citizens in Mexico. Three women and six children of dual U.S.-Mexican nationality were killed in the ambush in northern Mexico. Mexican authorities said they may have been victims of mistaken identity amid confrontations among drug gangs in the area.
Roy on Wednesday cheered news of Trump’s declaration.
“Enough. These organizations must be identified as the terrorist organizations they are, targeted, and destroyed. Unlike many in DC wringing their hands about how this might somehow harm our efforts, President Trump is taking action.” #StopCartelTerrorists https://t.co/6yQs9d08x5
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) November 27, 2019
Mexican officials not ready to declare war on cartels reign of terror
Trump had previously talked tough about the cartels. On Nov. 5, a day after the massacre of Americans, he offered in a tweet to help Mexico “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”
However, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rebuffed Trump’s proposed approach. Speaking during a live news conference later that day, Obrador thanked “any foreign government which wants to help.” But he seemed to stand by his “hugs, not bullets” approach to the country’s decade-long drug war, which kills thousands of Mexicans every year.
“War is irrational,” he said. “We are for peace.”
On Wednesday, Alex LeBaron, a former Mexican congressman and relative of some of the victims, on Twitter rejected the idea of a U.S. “invasion.”
“We have already been invaded by terrorist cartels,” he wrote. “We demand real coordination between both countries… both countries are responsible for the rising trade in drugs, weapons and money.”
The LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and victims’ relatives said the killers must have known who they were targeting.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Eric Beech; additional reporting by Diego Ore and Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City; editing by Chris Reese and Richard Pullin; Pluralist contributed to this report.)