Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and some Texas Republicans in Congress are urging the Biden administration to classify Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. It’s an effort to stem drug trafficking as well as illegal immigration at the southern border, since many migrants – at great cost and peril – pay cartels to smuggle them into the United States while fleeing danger in their own home countries.
But Rice University Mexico expert Gary Hale says the terrorist designation is a “knee-jerk” reaction by the Texas governor, and a bad idea. The designation would give the U.S. military the legal authority to kill cartel members as “enemy combatants,” similar to terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Hale says that would hurt the U.S-Mexico relationship.
“Murder is against the law, but killing under a military sense is not. So if a Mexican cartel or a cartel member would be so designated, the United States could then perform military actions against that target and kill them,” Hale said.
He says rather than going after the cartels with military force, the United States needs to help root out corruption in Mexico – not an easy task given that Hale says it’s “endemic,” “part of the culture” and “very difficult to tackle.”
Past efforts like the Mérida Initative under former President George W. Bush, was a step forward. But cooperation between the United States and Mexico has waned in recent years. Hale says the current Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration is wary of the United States and has even restricted activity by U.S. federal law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico.
“It’s a tenuous relationship with regards to law enforcement cooperation,” Hale said.
Still, he says, pushing for greater cooperation rather than going after the cartels with military force is the best long-term solution for weakening them.
“Over the long haul, over the long term, it’s really the the way to go to increase cooperation in law enforcement,” he said.