Opinion: Trump moves to designate 'bad hombres' in Mexico as terrorists

Jack Murphy
November 27, 2019 - 9:51 am

DVIDs, Photo by Staff Sgt. Iman Broady-Chin

In a recent interview, President Trump announced that he is working on having Mexican drug cartels designated as terrorist organizations, his words come as a surprise to Mexican government officials. During his election campaign in 2016, then candidate Trump referred to criminal elements illegally entering the US as "bad hombres" and that "we're gonna get 'em out." 

“I will be designating the cartels. I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process,” Trump said in a interview with Bill O'Reilly. This process would add the cartels to the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) which includes the likes of Al Qaeda and the Iranian Republican Guard. When O'Reilly asked President Trump if he was going to conduct drone strikes in Mexico against the cartels he replied, "I don’t want to say what I am going to do, but they will be designated."

The Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a statement, apparently caught off guard by these recent developements, announcing that they “entered into communication with the various corresponding authorities” of the United States “to know the content and the reach,” reported the New York Times. “Mexico will not allow any action that signifies violation of its national sovereignty,” Mexico Foreign Secretary posted on Twitter.


Adding Mexican drug cartels to the FTO would make it illegal for any American to knowingly provide material aid to the cartels. It may also open the door for the cartels to be targeted by the US military under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which was passed after 9/11 and essentially allows the military to fight the Global War on Terror. The AUMF was originally used to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but is now used to authorize military operations in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Niger, Cameroon, the Philippines, and wherever else America wants to deploy forces to in the last 18 years. Additionally, the past presidents have signed executive orders authorizing covert action, orders which remain secret.

On Nov. 5 President Trump tweeted after the brutal murders of the LaBaron family at the hands of a drug cartel in Mexico that it was time to go to war against the cartels. No one was sure what that meant from a policy standpoint at the time but he wrote that "you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!"

Listing Mexican drug cartels on the FTO brings the United States one step closer to realizing this claim. Some legal chicanery may be necessary to use the AUMF to prosecute drug cartels with military force, but thus far the military has been granted wide-ranging authorities to fight terrorism worldwide since 9/11. Others with experience in Latin America point to Colombia as the model for bringing peace to Mexico, which included a very light footprint in the country itself and which focused on good governance rather than military force which is likely to destabilize the Mexican government.

Connecting Vets previously reported on what it might look like if the United States ever did go to war with Mexican drug cartels and how complicated and unrealistic a scenario this likely is.

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.