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Trump says he’s designating Mexican cartels as terrorist groups

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
November 27, 2019

President Donald Trump is preparing to label some of the major Mexican cartels involved in US-Mexico border violence as terror groups.

Trump confirmed the new action against drug cartels in a Tuesday interview with media personality Bill O’Reilly. According to Business Insider, Trump would not say what additional actions he would take against the cartels.

By designating cartels as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), the Trump administration could enable the Secretary of the Treasury to freeze cartel assets and bar its members from U.S. entry.

O’Reilly then asked if Trump would take other steps against the cartels once they receive the terror group designation, such as employing drones and other military assets to take out the cartels.

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

To establish the FTO designation, the State Department reportedly has to satisfy three criteria. The group has to be foreign, engaging or demonstrably planning to engage in terrorist acts and there terrorist acts have to demonstrate a risk to US security and economic interests.

Earlier in 2019, the State Department completed the process of labeling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a part of the Iranian military, as an FTO.

Early on in November, an American Mormon family traveling through Mexico suffered nine deaths and eight more injured in an attack alleged to have been carried out by cartel members. In an early reaction to the news, Trump signaled US readiness to assist Mexico and “wage war” on the drug cartels.

Alex LeBaron, a former Mexican lawmaker and relative of some of the victims killed in the November attack denounced the idea of a U.S. “invasion” in a Tuesday tweet. LeBaron said both the U.S. and Mexico share responsibility for the drug and weapons trading that fuels the cartels.

Mexico’s foreign ministry has also begun to reach out to the Trump administration, according to Reuters. The Mexican government is seeking to address the complications the terror group designation would cause for the U.S.-Mexico bilateral agenda.

According to one Washington Post analysis, such a terror designation could hinder the Mexican government’s ability to negotiate for peaceful outcomes with the cartels. The ability to seize cartel assets and perform other sanction methods may also be redundant as the Treasury Department already sanctions the criminal groups.