Are The Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorists? You Decide

Posted: April 12, 2011 in Current Events

A Cartel Victim

Everytime I hear about terrorism I think of 9/11 and the world trade centers crashing to the ground in ruins. And thats probably what most people think of, so I’m probably not alone with this image in my mind.But lately with all the news about the violence in Mexico between the drug cartels, and how now its bleeding into states like Texas, I’ve got something new to ponder. Could the cartel be considered terrorists given their disposition for violence against people and government? And then I read a story in the Dallas Morning News about this very thing, and I realized I’m not the only one to think it. Are they terrorists? And if they are, should the United States intervene as a measure of national security by making surgical airstrikes on cartel compounds…against an enemy that is now bringing its war to American soil? I don’t need to say much more than that because the Dallas Morning News says it all. Read on…

Published 7 April 2011 – Dallas Morning News

“Let’s call Mexico’s cartels what they are: terrorists”

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, gets it. When drug cartel thugs order mass kidnappings, explode bombs, murder scores of public officials, behead victims or hang them from overpasses, and post signs in border-area cities warning of more violence if they don’t get their way, that’s not mere drug trafficking. That’s terrorism.

Finally, someone in Washington is taking action in response to the unprecedented threat on America’s southern border. McCaul, chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, has introduced a bill to add Mexico’s six dominant cartels to the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

Cartel Beheadings

It’s time to take the gloves off and stop treating these cartels as Mexican versions of the neighborhood pusher. These gangs have murdered 35,000 people since 2006 — more than 10 times the number killed in the 9/11 attacks. That’s terrorism.

“The violence and its raw, often sadistic, brutality form an ever-present backdrop to daily life in Mexico. … I think many of us here have failed to grasp the profound impact of this narco-terrorism on the lives of Mexican citizens,” Ricardo Ainslie, a University of Texas professor and Mexico native, told McCaul’s subcommittee last week.

By labeling cartel members as the terrorists they are, American law enforcers gain significant extra powers, and penalties are boosted for anyone who directly aids and abets the criminals. Money launderers and gun smugglers, for example, could face life terms in prison and fines of up to $50,000 per violation.

There is good reason to exercise caution going forward. Congress must avoid “terrorism creep,” the temptation to label anyone who fights against American interests as a terrorist. Federal law identifies terrorism as deliberate efforts “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”

This is exactly what Mexico’s cartels are doing. But McCaul’s bill must not be used to label casual drug users as financiers of Mexican cartels, subject to terrorism prosecution simply for lighting up a joint.

The law would, however, serve notice to people on this side of the border who assist by transporting enormous sums of cash across the border or who purchase large quantities of assault weapons to fuel the cartels’ killing sprees that their actions are, under the law, equivalent to helping Osama bin Laden.

The world needs to see these killers for exactly who they are and prosecute them with no less vigor than we do Islamist fanatics who torture, dismember or behead their victims. McCaul’s bill marks a dramatic new step toward empowering law enforcers to make a real impact in Mexico. It deserves Congress’ careful consideration.

Opinion blog: Mexico ambassador says cartel leaders are businessmen, not terrorists
By Carl P. Leubsdorf –

Published 12 April 2011 – Dallas Morning News

Editor’s note: This item originally appeared on’s Opinion blog.

I wanted so badly to include some other photos with this blog item. Our files are full of the most gruesome photos imaginable. There are dismembered corpses dumped on the sidewalk. There’s one of a mother and her child dead on the floor, their bodies bloodied and pockmarked by bullets. This one is the least offensive I could find while still making the point that Mexico’s drug cartels are terrorist organizations.

In a letter to the editor today, Mexico’s ambassador, Arturo Sarukhan , comes to the defense of these mass murdering, torturing, dismembering, bombing, beheading, kidnapping and drug-trafficking organizations, arguing that they are businessmen, not terrorists. Folks, we have a first here. You will not, until now, have seen any top Mexican official actually defending the cartels to this extent. But Sarukhan, taking issue with our editorial last week in defense of a bill before Congress to put Mexico’s six biggest cartels on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, strongly disagrees.

Yes, they are very violent criminal organizations, he says. But “they pursue a single goal. They want to maximize their profits and do what most business do: hostile takeovers and pursue mergers and acquisitions.”

Again, in their defense, he says they have “no political motivation or agenda whatsoever beyond their attempt to defend their illegal business.”

So, when they kill dozens of mayors, police chiefs, soldiers, journalists, newspaper editors, businessmen, mothers, children, American visitors, immigrants, farmers, truck drivers, musicians, dancers, teachers, etc., etc., etc., we are to believe this is just business? Part of a new mergers-and-acquisitions strategy? And when they hang signs from overpasses, along with a body to punctuate their point, warning that this is their territory, not the government’s, there’s no political message there?

Perhaps the ambassador should read up a bit on these entrepreneurial business groups to see what they’re really up to. There’s any number of articles, in English or Spanish, describing their political motives. Here’s something I found from a 2009 piece by John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, two guys who know the difference between terrorists and businessmen:

Unlike Pablo Escobar’s Colombian reign of terror in the 1990s, the Mexican cartels are engaged in serious insurgent campaigns. Armed with military infantry weapons, their gunmen use complex small-unit tactics that differ from the usual “pray and spray” methods beloved by criminals. Cartels run training camps for assassins on the border. They attempt to agitate the populace against the Mexican military through political subversion. And they control towns and neighborhoods that the military tries to retake through force.
Mexico’s cartels are evolving distinct political aims. La Familia is exemplary in this regard. Using social services and infrastructure protection as levers in rural areas and small towns, they are building a social base. In urban areas, they are funding political patron-client relationships to extend their reach. Reinforced by corruption, propaganda, political marches and demonstrations, as well as social media such as “narcocorridos,” such activity helps to shape the future conflict.
This is no longer about drug policy. This is about fighting terrorists. And they are present right across the border in Mexico, and we need to call them what they are.

  1. Thanks for the post. I’ve got no problem calling them terrorists, cartels, gangs, drug dealers, or businessmen.

    No matter what we call them, It’s supply and demand and nothing will happen until the demand is no longer there.

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