Andres Oppenheimer

Trump wants to label Mexican cartels as ‘terrorist’ groups. That’s a bad idea | Opinion

Mexican cartels send drugs north into the United States and beyond.
Mexican cartels send drugs north into the United States and beyond. AP

President Trump’s campaign to demonize Mexicans is hitting a new low: Now he wants to officially brand Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. It looks like an innocuous idea, at first, but it could have dire consequences on many fronts.

On March 12, Trump told the right-wing website Breitbart News that he is thinking “very seriously” about designating Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, or FTOs. “In fact, we’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” he added.

Last month, U.S. Reps. Mark Green, R-Tennessee, and Chip Roy, R-Texas, proposed in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeling Mexican drug cartels as FTOs, which theoretically would allow the U.S. Treasury and law-enforcement agencies to pursue them more aggressively.

There are more than 60 foreign groups that have been labeled as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government, and Trump could impose this designation on the Mexican cartels by executive order, without congressional approval.

In reality, it’s political candy to please Trump’s anti-immigration base and would be a psychological tool to convince a skeptical U.S. public that we need to spend billions on a border wall. But it would seriously affect U.S. national security.

While we all can agree that Mexican drug cartels do terrible things, let me give you a few reasons why including them in the group of terrorist organizations would be a bad idea.

First, it would strain U.S. law enforcement and military resources badly needed to combat ISIS, Al Qaida, and other real terrorist groups.

The FBI, the CIA and other agencies already are thinly stretched to monitor terrorist groups in the Mideast that admittedly seek to kill Americans. Asking U.S. intelligence agencies to start monitoring thousands of Mexican drug traffickers and their families would divert their attention from more serious threats.

Second, by the State Department’s own admission, the idea that Mexican drug cartels are working with foreign terrorist groups is a myth. In fact, none of the 9/11 terrorists came through the U.S. southern border, and there is no evidence that terrorist groups want to sneak into the United States through Mexico, as opposed to through U.S. airports, or the Canadian border.

A State Department report issued in September concluded that there is “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”

Third, Mexican drug cartels are not terrorist groups because they don’t have a political agenda. Contrary to Colombia’s FARC narco-guerrillas, Mexican cartels are in it for the money, not to topple any government.

According to the most widely accepted U.S. government definition of terrorism, the term is used to describe organizations that engage in “premeditated, politically motivated violence.” That’s not what Mexican drug cartels do. On the contrary, what they most want is to be left alone.

Fourth, designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups would devalue the meaning of the word “terrorism.” Most of us use that term to describe groups that, in addition to having a political agenda, kill innocent civilians.

The drug cartels certainly kill innocent people, but in the vast majority of cases they kill rival drug traffickers. The U.S. government would be opening a Pandora’s box by extending the definition of terrorism to groups that kill other people, whether by design or not. Would alcohol, drug or tobacco manufacturers be accused of terrorism next?

Fifth, it would further stigmatize the millions of hard-working Mexicans in the United States, many of whom have served in the military — something Trump has never done — and should be thanked for their contributions to this country.

Trump has tried to demonize them for political gain from the first day of his presidential campaign in June, 2015, when he said that most Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Instead of trying to brand Mexico’s cartels as terrorists, Trump should use more of U.S. intelligence resources to go after real terrorists, including the American-born who carried out the mass shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Charlotte, North Carolina church and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

But Trump is not talking about those who died there. He’s only talking about Mexico, in his quest to escalate his anti-immigration political agenda for the 2020 elections.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on CNN en Espanol. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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