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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Are Drug Cartels 'Terrorist Organizations'? US, Mexican Leaders Have Strong Opinions

“Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

A truck burns on a street in Culiacán, Sinaloa state on Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzman, an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation that set off gunfights and roadblocks across the westerns state’s capital.

Skyrocketing fentanyl overdoses in the United States and the latest high-impact attacks against Americans on Mexican soil have again led to demands that the U.S. designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

Several congressional Republicans are behind the push. They say designating Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations would give U.S. authorities the tools they need to take them down.

It may seem to be a simple designation. But it is anything but that.

Here’s what representatives from each side, and the experts who study the issue, are saying:

‘Cartels in our crosshairs’

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, joined by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., on March 8, 2023, tells reporters he wants to introduce legislation to combat Mexican cartels and gangs after four Americans on a trip to Matamoros were caught in a shootout, leaving two dead and two held captive for days.

Six Republican U.S. senators introduced a bill on March 29 called the NARCOS Act. It would add the “foreign terrorist organization” label to nine notorious Mexican cartels, including the powerhouse Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. A similar bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives.

“Despite what the president of Mexico says, drug cartels are in control of large parts of Mexico,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a prepared statement.

“They are making billions of dollars sending fentanyl and illicit drugs into the United States, where it is killing our citizens by the thousands. Designating these cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations will be a game-changer. We will put the cartels in our crosshairs and go after those who provide material support to them, including the Chinese entities who send them chemicals to produce these poisons.”

China, and more recently, India, are sources of “precursor” chemicals used by drug cartels to produce fentanyl and methamphetamine for shipment north of the border.

On Friday, U.S. authorities charged dozens of Sinaloa cartel members and sanctioned Chinese entities in a major fentanyl-trafficking crackdown.

In a press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland noted the Sinaloa cartel has already been designated a transnational criminal organization. He said the designation of a foreign terrorist organization is up to the State Department. “As this case shows, we have an enormous number of tools already,” he said.  

The terrorist designation would give law enforcement and prosecutors more power to freeze cartel assets and deny their members' entry to the United States, Graham’s office said. It would also open the door to charging those who support a terrorist organization.

Mexican leaders have said it would violate Mexico’s sovereignty and lead to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the nations.

Associate Professor Nathan Jones at the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University concurs.

“It’s a bad idea, in part because of the impact it will have on U.S.-Mexico relations,” said Jones, who studies organized crime in Mexico.

Any benefit that might be gained “would be wiped out by a lack of cooperation that would likely result,” he said.

‘Politicking here and there’

President Joe Biden walks with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador after his arrival in Zumpango, Mexico  

In early March, four Americans were kidnapped, and two of them killed after they crossed into Matamoros, Mexico, for a medical procedure.

The Gulf Cartel later took responsibility and turned over its members who had committed the acts.

The crimes ramped up calls for the terrorist designation, which was debated during the Trump administration, and opened the door to additional criticism of President Joe Biden’s border policies.

“The Mexican government is being held hostage by tens of thousands of paramilitary members of terrorist organizations that effectively control Mexico,” former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr told Fox News. “They can use violence and oceans of cash to corrupt the government...”

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the criticism around the situation was purely political.

“There was politicking here and there, but we have to work together respecting our sovereignties,” said López Obrador, who has blamed the fentanyl crisis in the U.S. on the “lack of hugs, of embraces” given out in American families.

Another professor who studies security and intelligence, Javed Ali at the University of Michigan, wonders what it's going to take for the American government to take the terrorist-designation step.

“After what happened to the four Americans, at what point is the U.S. going to start to explore some of these other tools and options that we have available to put more pressure on the cartels?” Ali asked.

People comfort each other after a vigil for a group of Americans recently kidnapped in Mexico, at Word of  God Ministries in Scranton, S.C.. on March 8, 2023. Two of the four Americans, all from South Carolina, were killed after being caught in a deadly shootout while traveling the week before to Matamoros for one of them to get cosmetic surgery  

“Would it be controversial? Absolutely. But look how bad things are right now. I'd be willing to at least take a little bit of risk to try to put pressure on the groups that are threatening both countries the most and see if that leads to better results.”

Ali said it shouldn’t fall to the U.S. to act unilaterally, though.

“There is way more violence on the Mexican side of the border than there is on the U.S. side of the border, so I think it's in Mexico's interest to take sort of a new approach on this, as well, and in partnership with the U.S.,” he said. 

Garland said Friday that Mexican law enforcement and security personnel met with U.S. officials at the Department of Justice on Thursday.

"Together, we renewed our commitment to working closely in the fight against fentanyl and firearms trafficking," Garland said.

Sovereignty at stake

Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, presents his book "El Camino de México" or Mexico´s Path in English, at the Palacio de Mineria in Mexico City, Monday, March 20, 2023.

Mexican officials have continued to push back over the strong language coming out of Washington, D.C.

Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard traveled to Washington to meet with Mexican diplomatic staff and to start a campaign “to defend Mexico in the U.S. after the unacceptable attacks by legislators and former officials of the Republican Party.”

Graham has called for using the terrorist designation to allow for military action against the cartels.

“It's time now to get serious and use all the tools in our toolbox, not just in the prosecution way, not just in the law enforcement lane, but in the military lane, as well,” he said during a press conference following the Matamoros kidnappings.

Ebrard opposed any U.S. military intervention in Mexico to defeat the cartels, saying, “over my dead body,” and “we are not going to allow Mexico to be pushed around.”

While experts on both sides of the border were quick to agree it would be a violation of Mexican sovereignty, they acknowledged more cooperation is needed to confront drug trafficking.

“It is indeed a violation of sovereignty, but in the fight against global problems such as climate change, the pandemic, and in this case, drug trafficking, all countries have to concede some sovereignty in order to face global challenges,” David Saucedo, a Mexico-based security analyst, said.

“I agree with binational cooperation to be able to confront drug trafficking. I don't even rule out the possibility of more DEA agents in Mexico collaborating and dismantling criminal cells, investigating drug leaders in Mexico.”

Sam Houston University’s Jones also said sovereignty would be at stake, “and because of that intangible sovereignty, (the Mexican government is) going to have to react on some level diplomatically.

“And what will likely happen is there would be even reduced law enforcement cooperation. And that's the real shame because that gets people on both sides of the border killed and reduces the likelihood that we can solve important crimes to prevent violence on both sides of the border.”

Is the Mexican government in control?

A pickup truck sits burned on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after cartel-related violence erupted at a local prison and spilled into the city's streets. September 2022

Graham pushed his contention about the Mexican government’s lack of control during a March 22 congressional hearing appearance by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

When Graham asked if there are places in Mexico where the government doesn’t have control, Blinken said, “I think that’s fair to say, yes.”

President López Obrador responded that Blinken was coerced to say those words.

“There is no place in the national territory where there is no presence of authority. I can tell Mr. Blinken that he knows we are constantly destroying clandestine laboratories everywhere,” the president said.

More:Outbreak of Mexican cartel violence targeting innocents raises worries of what’s to come

But there are places in Mexico where the government has no presence, a bishop from Michoacán state told the Mexican newspaper Proceso.

A security report made by a group of bishops in Mexico, which will be delivered to Pope Francis at the Vatican, states organized crime has advanced so far it has control of specific parts of Mexico and that collusion with authorities of all levels of government exists.

“If you leave your town, your land where you are living to attend to a commitment, you don't know what might happen during the day when you go across the border,” Bishop Carlos Garfias told Proceso, referring to both national and some state borders within Mexico.

The definition of terrorism

Police arrive on the scene after a store was looted in Culiacán, Sinaloa state, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation Thursday that set off gunfights and roadblocks across the western state’s capital.

Do the activities of Mexico’s drug cartels fit the criteria for terrorism?

“A terrorist group carries out violent acts with religious motives, with political motives to reinforce governments to adopt measures or not to apply certain policies,” Saucedo said.  

“Drug trafficking groups have political and economic-criminal motivations. Their goal is not to destroy a government, but rather to force them to take positions of respect for their interests. Indeed, they also have committed acts of narcoterrorism on the civilian population,” Saucedo explained.

According to the U.S. State Department, the legal criteria are that it must be a foreign organization, must engage in terrorist activities and must threaten the security of individual U.S. citizens or national security.

“You can make a compelling argument that (cartel) activity fits these three criteria,” said the University of Michigan’s Ali, who has a background that includes the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center.

Mexican government and military leaders’ maintain cartel activity is criminal activity, not terrorism, and the designation would have a negative impact on Mexico as a whole. 

Boots on the ground?

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, center, speaks during a press conference announcing a three-year long investigation targeting the Sinaloa Cartel at the Tempe Police Department Apache Boulevard Substation in Tempe on February 23, 2023.

According to the daily narrative in Mexico, the designation would mean American boots on the ground in Mexico.

However, the security experts that spoke with The Louisville Courier-Journal, a member of the USA TODAY Network, don’t anticipate that.

“There are conservatives making those calls about direct military intervention in Mexico. I find that unlikely, in part because of what it would do to relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and overall,” Jones told The Courier Journal.

“Absent some exigent circumstance, I don't think any U.S. president is going to launch a military operation into Mexico against a cartel in the aftermath of something terrible happening ― not without the partnership of the Mexican government,” Ali said.

Saucedo said the U.S. and Mexican militaries do not have the information and investigative capabilities needed in the battle against drug cartels.

“Only civil institutions can do it, such as the DEA, the FBI, the Attorney General's office and the Mexican federal police. From a practical operational standpoint, boots on the ground can’t be done,” Saucedo said.

USA Today


  1. Hey Borderlandbeat can we get a story on the Garcia Corrales brothers. They seem to be high level bosses in CDS .

    1. Let me guess, you heard it in one of their "super real" corridos

  2. "There's a lack of hugs in the U.S." ELMO says. Well ELMO, come up here and give these drug addicts and gang members some of your love therapy and make it all better.

    1. Elmo is much lies.

    2. That's a big list US Congress has 9 Cartels shown in a photo. The odds of naming Cartels Terrorists, he high on their agenda, HEARST was and a time skeptical that it won't reach Congress, news flash it has.🤔

    3. 9:25 Bills for cartels to be labeled as terrorist groups has been in the Senate for a while now but never brought to a vote.

      The biggest difference between most of the sanctions/charges, etc now and if they were to be listed with terrorist groups is that as part of the the 2001 war on terror authorization, it allows the President to use the military without prior Congressional approval when targeting terrorists. So imagine a US drone strike to take out "El Mayo" or Los Chapitos.

    4. This is bigger than drugs, the US looking to ro kill and steal from Mexico AGAIN..
      Just a matter of time that the US send its troops down south..
      Just watch

  3. Won't matter still won't stop drugs amd crime in any way. Now us Americans can shoot endless h with no worry s. Thanks congress 🫡🫡🫡😏😏🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳


  5. Mexico is so lame, after we conqured mexico city we gave it back, the place sits next to hell on places id never want to go.

  6. They are cartels but the US wants a reason to take over Mexico like Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Specialy now that Mexico is thinking of joining China and Russia

    1. Will never happen, it would backfire real fast if it came to that

    2. Mexico is leaning towards Russia lately. There's even videos here onBB of doing joint military exercises in Mexico with Russia

    3. 6:46
      I haven't seen Sol post nothing like that, don't go scaring the heard.
      What I do know is that, Mexico but 1980s era helicopter from Russia, and still use them.

    4. 6:50 I'm a regular here and I saw it. Look for it, it's on here boso

    5. 6:46 lol 🤣 "joint military exercises".

    6. 10:07
      Laura Boso is here? Where.

  7. If drugs were really the issue, which I don't fully believe, then it would make more sense to put pressure on the source, not the middle man. Why not cut the supply chain? Why not focus on South American countries where the coke is being grown and produced? Why not pass bills to invade them? If we know the precursors are coming from Asia, why not put the pressure to invade them? 941 is right, the endless drug war is just that. Endless. Drugs won't ever stop as long as there is a market. If you walk down Venice Beach California, Hollywood Blvd, downtown Portland or Philadelphia you'll find all of the piece of shit Americans these phonie politicians want to send American soldiers to die for. It's stupid.

    1. China has been put on notice, to stop shipping precursor chemicals, don't jump the gun, it has to be done in a respectable, diligent matter at first.

    2. @8:36 You're obviously naive.The people who consumes the most drugs have jobs.Those people in the streets don't have the money to enable the cartel to make hundreds of millions of dollars.
      The main question is why do Americans love putting things in their noses,mouth and veins get some kind of headache and hallucinate.This should be confronted head on.

    3. 08:36 have you been living in a cave? The USA don't have cocaine anymore everything is fetty meth and fake pills.

      Now, the EU gets ecstacy tabs, pure H, amphetamine, methamphetamine, 3-MMC, 2C-B, AL-LAD 1P-LSD, LSD, hash ,shroomz, DMT, codeine, tramadol, and cocaine... But not the USA

  8. Carteles Unidos / Los Viagras are not on US law enforcements radar because they are more into extortion and land grabs for farming.

    1. That means theyre not even cartels theyre just some broke ass criminals fighting far away from the border

  9. It does make for a great mental exercise if the States were given carte blanche and just went ham down in Mexico.Drones and cyber attacks special forces,CIA getting their dirty little hands in the mix.The possiblilties are endless.In real life this would end badly for all.I think we all know it will never end because we suck as a society.People will always be weak and other people will take advantage of that weakness.

  10. This is all an excuse for a bunch of old washed up racist politicians to kill Mexicans and try to have some sort of legacy cause they suck at there job. The cartels have every resource, endless money, weapons, and the technology to put up a fight and win. Every one talks of China and Russia where you think the cartels gonna get help from if the US invadeds there country for a problem that is in the US not Mexico. I'm sure Russia and China praying for this to happen and will come to aide. Russia and china's technology and capabilities can do anything the US can do and prolly better cause they truly don't care. Mexican cartels and kgb and Chinese cartels do things that America has never seen in crime. The American mafia is like PBS compared to them. WASTE OF TIME just like when Nancy declared a war on drugs it's just a joke. The fbi and Dea will go to the cartels and make a deal get paid off, get a few fakes busts for the fake news, make it seem like they really got the bad guys this time, amd our streets are so much safer. Lol lol 😆 🤣 😂 😅 😄 then as all those drugs are being displayed the next load just hit the us while there doing the press conference 🤣.

    1. No mames, 99% of the cartel guys are drug addicts that have no real war experience, shit when they clash with the mexican federales, (not army) they get smashed the fuck up, they dont stand a chace against the USA army, that i guaranteed you, with that been said the USA would never invade mexico cause of the cartels, this is just a bunch of propaganda just like trumps wall that mexico was suppost to pay 🤣🤣

    2. 6:39 funny keyboard warrior, from the comfort of momma's basement 😂.


    Apparently the Chinese government had a police station in Chinatown Manhattan. The U.S said, imagine if the U.S set up a police station in Beijing... With that being said, how do you think Mexico feels about the DEA setting up shop in Mexico.

    1. DEA would not need to set up shop in Mexico, if no illegal drugs were coming to USA, also if the government of the Republic of Mexico, would do it's job of combating crime, DEA would not be needed on their land.

    2. DEA has no jurisdiction in a foreign country without that countries permission. Point blank period. Why do you think I provided this link? To expose the U.S's hypocrisy. When China sets up shop its a violation of U.S sovereignty. When U.S sets up shop, it's for your own good. Nah, get outta here with that.

    3. Yet DEA are scared to go to China even though the Chinese flooding the streets with help from Mexicans who are the middle man in the spectrum of drug smuggling.

    4. 1013 exactly, so as long as we have a direct supplier that's not being targeted as 836 mentioned, then we will continue to have drug problem in the U.S. As 859 mentioned, you can invade Mexico, but as soon as you do, the Colombians, Italians, Russians, and Chinese will jump on that opportunity and fill the middleman void. Anyway, the U.S will not send troops to México. It's wishful thinking. If they do, and it's done without Mexican consent and collaboration, then the U.S and Mexico will have a Political fallout. If that happens, expect your food, cars, cement and whatever else the U.S exploits Mexico for, to dramatically increase...

  12. This is part of what Insight crime experts have to say about the labeling of cartels terrorists and the difference between these and real terrorists groups.
    "Because terrorist groups are motivated by ideology, taking out the group’s leadership can often debilitate or even dismantle the entire network. But taking out a criminal leader doesn’t destroy the demand for the illicit goods and services their group provides. And as long as that demand remains, a new leader or a rival group will step in to fill it."
    This terrorist label is starting to sound like the fake war on drugs that has not even made a dent in the US drug supply much less demand.

    1. Not really Mijo, once Terrorist is labeled, it's a new ball game, it has not been enacted yet, and here you behaving like it's been around for eternity.🤔

    2. 6:44 no mijo. You just don't read.
      As long as there is demand there will be suppliers.
      Get rid of Mexican cartels and Italians, Columbians, Chinese etc.. will soon follow to meet the demands of the void left by these.
      So in reality there is not stopping the flow of drugs! Ever!

    3. 8:59 exactly 💯
      This is deeper than just drugs.

    4. 6:44 if mexico didnt pay the "wall" Super Trump wanted them to, what makes you think they can invade mexico? Shit USA is not as stupid as you are wanting a war next door, its not the same wagging a real war in the other side of the world than having a war next door, i fond it funny how some of you actually believe all this republican propaganda, shit they are the ones profeting the most by selling all those guns and ammos to the cartels 🤣🤣🤣

  13. How are they not a terrorist organization?? I mean isn't hanging corpses from bridges, tossing dismembered bodies everywhere, and posting narcomantras, all about terrorizing civilians and enemies???

    1. With that logic American street gangs are terrorists as well.. serial killers Def terrorists, rapist Def terrorists. Lol your funny.

    2. 717 ideology. What's the driving force behind those acts? religion or politics? If we're talking about money, which is the case with these drug trafficking organizations then U.S oil companies chasing after middle eastern oil would fall under the same criteria.

    3. 11:42 you too with the same ideology.
      US went to Iraq and Afghanistan for a good reason, and after many years, they retreated. During that time it was never about taking the oil.
      Some of you guys have your heads in the sand.

    4. 1217. Cool story bro. Tell me about them weapons of mass destruction again. Or how the 911 terrorists were all Saudi's.

    5. 11:02 what street gangs hang decapitated bodies from bridges and write messages in blood to the DoD, every week or two??!

    6. 7:59 you would be surprised if you do a little research


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