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Donald Trump indicated on Saturday that he would “temporarily hold off” declaring Mexican drug cartels a terrorist organization.
The president suggested he made his decision to delay the announcement at the request of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
As for dealing “decisively” with the cartels, Trump better find another partner. Lopez-Obrador’s new anti-cartel policy — “hugs, not bullets” — isn’t slowing down the murder rate or making anyone anywhere in Mexico safer.
But Mexico has deployed the army to fight the cartels since 2007 with dismal results. His country needs help — only help that the U.S. military can give.
Trump first announced last month that he would designate the cartels as terrorists, prompting Mexican officials to seek further talks with the U.S.
“I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days,” Trump said at the time. “You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we’re well into that process.”
“The foreign minister will establish contact with his counterpart, Michael R. Pompeo, in order to discuss this very important issue for the bilateral agenda,” Mexico’s foreign ministry responded.
Trump’s November remarks followed an attack in northern Mexico that killed several U.S. citizens. Mexican organized crime groups are believed to be behind the killings.
Republicans have voiced support for designating cartels as terrorist groups in the past.
Lopez-Obrador is a far-left politician whose ideas on what to do about cartel violence are not working.
“This is no longer a war. It is no longer about force, confrontation, annihilation, extermination, or killing in the heat of the moment,” the president said in one of the four news conferences he dedicated to the events in Culiacán last week alone. “This is about thinking how to save lives and achieve peace and tranquility in the country using other methods.”
By “other methods,” the president – who is often referred to as Amlo – means social programmes to alleviate extreme poverty, exhortations towards good behaviour, and the insistence that he has now banned corruption. He has pledged to offer “abrazos no balazos” – hugs not bullets. He has also created a new militarized national police force, though this had yet to take a significant role in operations against organized crime.
The problem, security experts say, is that nothing in Amlo’s strategy directly addresses the terrifying power of the country’s criminal underworld – which was brazenly displayed in Culiacán on 17 October.
On October 17 in Culiacán, police captured the son of notorious cartel leader El Chapo, only to meekly let him go when cartel soldiers surrounded the town. This is the kind of thing that ISIS would do, and designating the cartels as terrorists would seem to be both logical and reasonable given the facts.
But Lopez-Obrador has political problems at the moment and Trump’s action would have automatically led to some legal steps taken by the U.S. government against Mexico that might have affected the economy.
Trump shouldn’t wait long to go through with his plan. While the violence sometimes spills over onto the U.S. side of the border, the situation could get worse in American border communities. And if the cartels keep murdering American citizens, they will have to face the best-trained military in the world.