EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – U.S. lawmakers outraged at soaring fentanyl overdose fatalities continue pressing to declare Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations and go after them wherever they are.
Even a top Biden administration official this week told a Senate committee he’s open to the option.
What if “rather than just interdicting at the border, we go to the source and declare Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law? Would you consider that?” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“Yes, we’d certainly consider that,” Blinken replied.
Such talk angers politicians in a country that saw U.S. troops cross its borders in search of a rogue Mexican general in 1916 and take away half of its land after a two-year war in 1848. Most of all, it dismisses progress made under the 2021 Bicentennial Framework security agreement, a Mexican diplomat said.
“We are very much willing to continue cooperating. We don’t need to be pressured. We don’t like pressure from some sectors and especially this idea that threatens Mexican sovereignty, which is crazy, which is used by some people for political purposes, especially when they really don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, consul general of Mexico in El Paso.
Ibarra says scores of Mexican army, navy, National Guard troops and local police officers have died in recent years trying to arrest drug cartel members or shut down their drug labs. He said his country has increased the number of controlled substances from 14 to 76, placed soldiers and marines in charge of land and seaports to cut down on corruption and seized 6 tons of fentanyl since 2019.
“There is an erroneous narrative going around regarding who’s to blame for the fentanyl consumption crisis in the U.S.,” Ibarra told Border Report. “When you hear people saying we are not doing anything, that is completely wrong.”
But even Blinken admits there are places in Mexico where the drug cartels – not the government of Mexico – are the law.
“Are the drug cartels in control of parts of Mexico not the government of Mexico?” Graham asked Blinken at the Senate hearing.
“I think that’s fair to say yes,” Blinken said.
The secretary of state qualified his answer by saying Mexicans bear the brunt of drug cartel violence. Mexico has been averaging more than 30,000 murders a year in the past few years and thousands of rural residents have been displaced from their communities as the cartels fight for territory.
Though regional cartels such as La Familia Michoacana, the Gulf Cartel and the remnants of the Zetas are blamed for much violence, two cartels — Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel — are said by authorities on both sides of the border to be the main exporters of fentanyl to the U.S.
But for all the blood they spill and the communities they enslave, Mexican officials refuse to label the cartels as terrorists.
“To us, drug trafficking organizations are criminal organizations,” Ibarra said. “This discussion (of terrorism) in the United States is local politics. Some people address it differently for political gain. […] Each country needs to do whatever they need to do in their own territory to address the issue.”
The consul added his country could tame the drug cartels faster if the U.S. stems the flow of guns and drug cash south into Mexico. Mexican citizens are not allowed to purchase assault rifles such as the ones used by cartels to gun down rivals and engage police officers and army troops. Those are coming from the United States, the consul said.
More than 100,000 Americans died last year from drug overdoses, with fentanyl figuring in about 71,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.