The massacre of nine Americans by a Mexican drug cartel this week creates yet another excellent opportunity for the U.S. government to finally designate the sophisticated criminal operations as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Judicial Watch has long advocated for this and earlier this year published a White Paper providing comprehensive documentation that Mexican drug cartels undoubtedly meet the U.S. government’s requirements to be designated as FTOs.
To meet the criteria for FTO designation requires that organizations be foreign, engage in terrorism or terrorist activity or possess the capability and intent to do so and pose a threat to U.S. nationals or U.S. national security. Mexican drug cartels are inherently foreign, routinely commit criminal acts within the statutory definition of terrorism and arguably represent a more immediate and ongoing threat to U.S. national security than any of the currently-designated FTOs on the State Department list. On Monday one of the illicit Mexican enterprises ambushed and murdered six children—including 8-month-old twins—and three women on a highway in the Mexican border state of Sonora. Other children, including an infant and toddler, survived with some seriously wounded.
Mexico has not identified the cartel responsible for the horrific attack, but reports indicate it was a calculated and well-planned operation typical of an organized criminal enterprise. The victims received no help from Mexican authorities, according to one of the family members quoted in the country’s largest newspaper. Julian LeBaron said that fellow family members responded to the crime scene because officials in Chihuahua and Sonora refused to help. He said he wasn’t sure if it was out of fear, or because they were cowards or in cahoots with the delinquents. In a smaller, Sonoran newspaper article, LeBaron revealed that a young girl, a cousin of his, who survived the ambush walked 14 kilometers with a gunshot wound. The outrageous anecdotes indicate Mexico can’t be relied upon to combat the cartels and the U.S. must act.
Properly designating the major Mexican Transitional Criminal Organizations (TCOs)—including Los Zetas, Juárez and Sinaloa cartels—as FTOs would enhance the federal government’s ability to combat them. An official FTO designation would enable the prosecution of those who provide material support to them, facilitate the denial of entry and deportation of TCO members and affiliates and eliminate the organizations’ access to the U.S. financial system. “FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business,” according to the State Department. For years Mexican cartels have hijacked and sabotaged buses, commercial trucks and trains, activity constituting terrorist activity under U.S. law. Judicial Watch’s White Paper lists specific cases, including gasoline tankers and more than a dozen robberies daily of Ferromex trains, one of the three largest rail transport operators in the country.
Mexican TCOs have also committed hundreds of political assassinations in recent years and members of Los Zetas launched a grenade and shot small arms fire at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. Los Zetas members also murdered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata a few years ago. Judicial Watch’s White Paper also documents Mexican cartels’ use of explosive devices and high-caliber firearms, including rocket-propelled grenades and other military weapons. In 2018 Mexican officials seized nearly 2,000 high-caliber weapons from suspected cartel associates in Mexico City and there have been approximately 150,000 organized-crime related murders in Mexico since 2006. Last year alone, there were nearly 1,200 kidnappings in Mexico, according to official figures provided in the White Paper.
Most of the crimes are financially motivated, but a significant number are executed to intimidate political, judicial, military and law enforcement officials from going after cartel members. Examples include two Mexican federal agents kidnapped and murdered by the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, the kidnapping of Veracruz congresswoman-elect Norma Rodriguez and the kidnapping of Hidalgo Mayor Genero Urbano. Under U.S. law the seizing or detaining and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain, another individual in order to compel a third person (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the seized individual constitutes terrorist activity. The danger created by these criminal organizations is nothing new. Years ago the DEA determined that Mexican TCOs are the greatest criminal threat to the United States. After this week’s massacre President Donald Trump said the U.S. is willing to help Mexico “wage war on the drug cartels.” His administration can start by officially designating them as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.