By Stewart M. Powell
In a potential escalation of the U.S. attack on Mexican drug cartels, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, introduced legislation Wednesday to designate four Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations” — a designation that could expose Mexican drug traffickers and U.S. gun runners to charges of supporting terrorism.
McCaul unveiled his legislation targeting the Arellano Feliz Organization, Los Zetas, the Beltran Leyva Organization and LaFamilia Michoacana as his House Homeland Security subcommittee prepares for hearings designed to elicit support for the proposal from four Obama administration officials.
Cartels have used violence to seize political and economic control over parts of northern Mexico, with spill-over crime resulting “in the abandonment of property and loss of security on the U.S. side of the border,” declared McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s panel on oversight and investigations.
McCaul spokesman Mike Rosen said it was the first time a member of Congress had proposed the designation for the powerful Mexican drug gangs.
If adopted, McCaul’s proposal would enable prosecutors to seek up to 15 additional years in prison and up to $50,000 in additional fines for each conviction of providing “material support or resources” to the four designated cartels.
Mexican drug cartels may not be “driven by religious ideology” that propels al-Qaida, the Taliban or Hezbollah, McCaul said. But the Mexican gangs are “using similar tactics to gain political and economic influence,” relying on “kidnappings, political assassinations, attacks on civilian and military targets, taking over cities and even putting up checkpoints in order to control territory and institutions.”
A total of 47 so-called “foreign terrorist organizations” have been listed by the State Department — most of them with ties to al-Qaida, Iran or Islamic fundamentalist terror organizations.
Others include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Peru’s Shining Path and the Irish Republican Army.
To qualify for the designation, the State Department says an organization must have carried out terror attacks or “engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism.”
The designation has served as “an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business,” the State Department says.
The designation enables the State Department, the Treasury Department and the Justice Department to coordinate punitive actions against the organizations and individuals associated with them.
The designation isn’t without controversy.
The State Department, sensitive to the pressures besetting Mexican President Felipe Calderón, downplayed terrorist activities in Mexico in its latest public evaluation of terrorism country-by-country a- cross the globe.
“No known international terrorist organizations had an operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist incidents targeting U.S. interests and personnel occurred on or originated from Mexican territory,” the State Department said in a report made public last August.
“Cartels increasingly used military-style terrorist tactics to attack security forces. There was no evidence of ties between Mexican organized crime syndicates and ..... terrorist groups.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, counseled caution about designating Mexican cartels terrorist organizations.
“Cartels are in it for one thing — money,” Cornyn said. “To me, we need to be clear about what is happening in Mexico. We have got to be careful about the label because sometime those labels can create misleading impressions.”