In a fact-based world, there is little difference between Mexican drug cartels and terrorist organizations, and it’s time for America to treat them both indiscriminately.
Law enforcement officials touted the arrest and prosecution of drug lord El Chapo as a pivotal moment in the war on cartels. But just like taking down Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden or the recent killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, both types of murderous criminal enterprises have a leadership hierarchy and a more violent offender waiting in the wings. In Mexico, government efforts to quell cartel violence, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and execution-style murder has delivered zero results.
Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto promised to finish the fight against cartels that began under President Felipe Calderon in 2006. From 2012 to 2018, Nieto touted his arrest of crime boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman as an indicator the cartels were being toppled in 2014. But hard data and recent cartel crimes indicate otherwise.
According to a Congressional Research Service report in 2018, approximately 150,000 cartel-related murders have occurred since 2006. The cartels earn between $19 and $29 billion annually in U.S. drug trafficking alone. Recent incidents show their grip over the country may be more secure than ISIS’ caliphate. That’s why President Donald Trump is strongly considering designating cartels as terrorist organizations and dealing with them as such.
“Mexico, unfortunately, has lost control of the cartels. They’ve totally lost control of the cartels,” Trump said. “We are. We are. We’re thinking about doing it very seriously. In fact, we’ve been thinking about it for a long time. As terrorists, as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are.”
The recent slaughter of a family of American Mormons has brought the issue of how to target cartels to the forefront of national and international discussion. The attack and murder of the American family in Mexico included parents and infant children. The murders have been deemed premeditated by authorities on both sides of the border. After what stands as one of the most heinous killings in recent years, President Trump was willing to deploy U.S. armed forces to dispatch the cartel once and for all.
“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing. If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” Trump tweeted. “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! This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage war on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”
Despite current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) stating that he is unwilling to engage cartels in a military fashion, regional governors have labeled them “narco-terrorists.” That designation appears to be the first step and changing the dialogue from high-level criminal organizations to the existential threat terrorist organizations present. The parallels are increasingly similar when leaders compare cartels and terror organizations.
One of the problematic issues U.S.-led coalition forces faced was how deeply embedded Al-Qaeda and ISIS members were in communities at all levels. Former Mexican President Calderon was forced to fire hundreds of police officers and high-ranking law enforcement officials with ties to cartels in 2006. By December of that year, he had deployed 6,500 soldiers to the Michoacan region to wrest control from cartels. By 2007, he had deployed upwards of 20,000 troops throughout the country in an attempt to regain control. By the end of 2007, more than 2,800 people were killed in the war with drug cartels. After more than a decade of arrests and gun battles with cartels, they maintain control over entire cities and towns. That is eerily similar to the ISIS caliphate.