On the heels of President Donald Trump’s attempts to designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), an attack uncomfortably close to U.S. soil has the Mexican government scrambling and the president fuming. At least 22 died over the weekend as rival cartels struggling for Northern Mexico turf dominance clashed with local law enforcement in Villa Union, Coahuila, an hour’s drive from Eagle’s Pass, TX. The brazen attack seemingly was directed at the Mexican government to send a warning as to who is in charge.
The town of Villa Union was, in effect, shredded, riddled with bullets, as a heavily armed group of alleged cartel members stormed the community in a convoy of trucks. When they attacked local government offices, the federales attempted to intervene. Fleeing, the cartel kidnapped locals and their vehicles, including a hearse on the way to a funeral.
To Designate or Not
Mexican officials fear that an FTO designation will allow unilateral interventions across the southern border. But Trump is undeterred, saying as much in a recent interview with Bill O’Reilly:
“They will be designated. I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days. Designation is not that easy. You have to go through a process, and we are well into that process.”
At first, there was a lukewarm reception to Trump’s FTO declaration, but now more U.S. government officials support the idea. Former Acting ICE Director Tom Homan believes it’s time for an intervention on Mexican soil. Although he credited the Mexican law enforcement response, he pointed out a failing that allows cartel violence to creep closer to the United States:
“They’re not well-trained, they’re not well-equipped, and they certainly don’t have the expertise at dismantling large criminal organizations like the U.S. law enforcement does. We’ve proven that in Panama with [ruler Manuel] Noriega, we proved that in Colombia with [Pablo Escobar]. The United States can go down to Mexico and help them address this crisis once and for all.”
That is, if the cartels are FTO designated. But securing a commitment from Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — who has been clear in denouncing the terrorist label as none of Trump’s business – is simply a pipe dream so far. Lopez emphatically stands his ground, telling the United States to rethink any offensive action in Mexico: “Our problems will be solved by Mexicans. We don’t want any interference from any foreign country.”
And then we have a dissenting opinion from Ambassador David Johnson, vice president of the International Narcotics Control Board and former assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He is lobbying to stay the course:
“Terrorists use violence to expand a political goal. These criminals are interested in money, not politics. They don’t want the responsibility and headaches that come with political control since it could interfere with their profit-maximizing goals. The key reason for not labeling them terrorists is because that is not what they are. They are in it for the money. Period.”
Derek Maltz, former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Operations Division in New York, is all for doing whatever it takes to stem the flow of violence. He declared, “Designating the cartels as terrorists and implementing a focused operational plan will save a tremendous amount of lives.”
Trump Is Stubbornly Dug In
Trump has made it his mission to stop illegal immigration, illicit drug trade, human trafficking, and violence on the north side of the shared border. A safer Mexico creates a safer America. With the recent uptick in violence in Mexico, it would seem the country should embrace the help it so desperately needs. Perhaps putting away control issues and focusing on the greater good would make Lopez Obrador and Trump shake hands and get the job done.
Else we may see the violence enacted in Villa Union cross our border.
Read more from Sarah Cowgill.