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Trump suspends plan to classify 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)

The United States will not classify Mexican drug cartels as international terrorist organizations — at least for now.

President Trump tweeted Friday afternoon that he was holding off on the designation at the request of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, “a man who I like and respect, and has worked so well with us.”

The decision came a day after U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr met in Mexico City with López Obrador.

After that meeting, the Mexican president said he was confident that Barr understood that the prospective designation — and the possible deployment of U.S. troops on Mexican soil — would be a breach of Mexican sovereignty.

“Our constitution establishes … that we cannot permit that foreign forces use our territory for military purposes,” López Obrador told reporters Friday morning.

In his Twitter message, Trump said that “all necessary work” had been completed to classify Mexican drug gangs as terrorist groups, but that both nations had instead agreed to “step up our joint efforts to deal decisively with these vicious and ever-growing organizations!”

It was not immediately clear whether Mexico had made any new promises. López Obrador has signaled his openness to enhancing binational security efforts.

When Trump first floated the idea of the terrorist designation in a radio interview with conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly, it caused a furor in Mexico.

Any U.S. interference in domestic affairs is a political red line in Mexico, where interventions in the 19th and 20th centuries are still viewed as humiliating episodes in the country’s history.

Following Trump’s announcement on Friday, the Mexican foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, tweeted: “Cooperation won out and there will be good results.”

Tens of thousands of Mexicans have been killed in recent years in cartel-related violence, despite an enforcement strategy relying on the military. López Obrador, who took office a year ago, has largely rejected the militarized approach as counterproductive.

Despite his cordial relations with López Obrador, Trump is still deeply unpopular here for what many view as his Mexico-bashing rhetoric, including his signature border wall initiative and his public denigration of Mexican immigrants in the United States as criminals and rapists.


© 2019 the Los Angeles Times