(TMU) — Mexican media and public figures are increasingly growing nervous about the possibility that continued drug cartel violence in the country could lead their northern neighbors in Washington to act rashly by declaring the powerful criminal groups to be “terrorist organizations,” resulting in a U.S. military intervention on Mexican soil.
The speculation comes after nine U.S. citizens from a Mormon sect were slaughtered this week by a drug cartel. On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered in the remote farming community of La Mora in the northern Mexican state of Sonora to mourn the deaths of the innocent civilians, many of whom were children.
Also on Thursday, Mexican daily Sin Embargo published a story detailing how U.S. lawmakers and top media outlets are pushing for the U.S. government to declare the cartels to be “terrorists.” Such a move could clear the path to unilateral actions by the Pentagon, handing the mantle of a “war on drugs” to the U.S. Armed Forces after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (commonly known as AMLO) has repeatedly made clear that he is in favor of pursuing socio-economic solutions to the huge problem of crime in the country or, as he puts it, “hugs and not bullets” (“abrazos, no balazos”).
The newspaper said:
“Treating criminal organizations as terrorists would allow U.S. military operations on Mexican soil as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.
The United States Army operates—through such a justification—in several countries of the world without having to consult with local authorities.
And it carries out such [military] attacks on the pretext of ‘legitimate defense’ because U.S. law justifies these as ‘preventive’ attacks.”
— La Jornada Maya (@LaJornadaMaya) November 6, 2019
Indeed, in recent days some U.S. legislators have spoken about the need for unilateral military action in Mexico without the consent of the country’s authorities. On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told Fox News that it’s clear that the Mexican government can’t control crime, adding:
“President Lopez Obrador came into office almost a year ago saying that his strategy for dealing with the cartels was going to be more hugs, not bullets. That may work in a children’s fairy tale, but in the real world when three American women and six American children were gunned down and burned alive the only thing that can counteract bullets is more and bigger bullets. If the Mexican government cannot protect American citizens in Mexico, then the United States may have to take matters into our own hands.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also said that he favors passage of a law that would dub Mexico’s cartels to be classified as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) on the same level as such notorious groups as ISIS. On Tuesday, he said:
“There are parts of Mexico that I’d rather go to Syria than Mexico.
I’m having my staff check whether or not Mexican cartels are terrorist organizations within the confines of the U.S. law. If they’re not, I’d like to make them.”
And on Wednesday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) wrote an opinion piece for the Hill that luridly compared the crimes of Mexico’s cartels to the worst atrocities of al-Qaeda and ISIS. In a piece titled “To fight Mexican drug cartels, we must designate them Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” the representative said:
“The United States can no longer afford to sit idly while our friends in Mexico are being overrun. Our backyard is on fire. It is time we grab the fire hose.”
Also this week, the Wall Street Journal wrote an aggressive editorial titled “The Cartelization of Mexico” that explicitly called for U.S. military intervention in Mexican territory. In the op-ed, the editorial board excoriated AMLO’s policies, claiming:
“Mayhem has risen under the Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office last year and promised to end the anti-cartel campaign accused by his two immediate predecessors. He called the war on drugs a failure and promised to ‘start a peace process with organized crime organizations and adopt transitional justice models that guarantee victims’ rights.’ This is left-mumbo-jumbo for surrender, and the cartels have taken the message and gone on the offensive.”
Concluding, the editorial board said:
“But if Mexico cannot control its territory, the United States must do more to protect Americans in both countries from the cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should be able to find out the identity and location of those who ordered or carried out Monday’s killings, ensuring that their passing would be a signal that American justice has long reach. An American military operation cannot be ruled out.”
Also Monday, the far-right New York Post offered a similar prescription, arguing that “while a modern invasion by U.S. forces may not be imminent, it’s not unthinkable,” citing President Trump’s tweet this week offering to send the U.S. Army to help “wage war” on cartels.
….monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2019
In the face of this concerted push for the United States to intervene in Mexico and violate Mexico’s sovereignty, AMLO has pushed back and insisted that a continuation of the failed “war on drugs” would hardly benefit his country. On Wednesday, the Mexican president pointed to the tens of thousands of victims of Mexico’s drug wars and said:
“We are carrying out a different policy … We are carrying out a different policy, because the policy they applied for 36 years was a resounding failure and caused so much damage, so much sadness, so many deaths and losses for the Mexican people.”
And at the same time, Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazno pointed out how many of the weapons that were used to perpetrate the attacks, such as .223 Remington cartridges for AR-15 rifles, were clearly manufactured in the United States.
Yet while many Mexicans are expressing extreme unease about U.S. talk of a military intervention in the country, others are extremely critical of the Mexican government’s strategy of non-confrontation with the cartels, which led last month to the spectacular failed arrest of Ovidio Guzman, the son of notorious jailed cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in the northern city of Culiacan.
AMLO remains adamant that the U.S. would not be permitted to dictate policies to the Mexican government, especially over such a sensitive subject as the country’s struggle with cartels. In a heated exchange with reporters last week, he pointedly snapped:
“We do not receive orders from Washington!”
But it remains to be seen whether Washington will respect Mexico’s sovereignty or act on its own, potentially plunging its southern neighbor into a new—and deadlier—phase in the fight to control organized crime.