Republicans Propose Bill to Treat Mexican Drug Cartels as 'Terrorist Insurgency'

By Elizabeth Harrington | December 15, 2011 | 6:35pm EST

This Oct. 30, 2011 file photo shows the border fence stretching west of Nogales, Ariz. into the Coronado National Forest. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Chow)

( – Calling the situation along the U.S. border a “threat to national security,” a House committee Thursday took up a bill sponsored by Republican congressmen that would treat Mexican drug cartels like terrorists and apply a counterinsurgency strategy to the growing violence along the Southern border.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 3401 the “Enhanced Border Security Act” on Nov. 9 to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, stop criminal access to U.S. financial institutions, and work with Mexico to implement counterinsurgency tactics to undermine the control of the drug cartels in the country.

The bill would also double the number of Border Patrol agents, and provide additional infrastructure to secure the border, including “tactical double layered fencing.”

“A terrorist insurgency is being waged along our Southern border,” said Mack, during the mark up of the bill in the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he serves as chairman.

“The term terrorist insurgency may be strong,” said Mack, who said the cartels operate across Mexico, Central America and in over 1,000 American cities.  “But it is based upon unchallenged facts.”

“Drug traffickers and criminal organizations have combined efforts to work across borders, unravel government structures, and make large profits from diverse, illegal activity,” he said.  “The near-term result:  schools, media and candidates all controlled by criminal organizations. In other words, total anarchy.”

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), a supporter of the bill, said the situation is “an issue of national security.

“The drug trafficking organization is out of control,” Schmidt said.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the Enhanced Border Security Act “really tells the situation like it is.”

“I believe that the drug cartels are acting within the federal definition of terrorism, which basically says to intimidate a civilian population or government by extortion, kidnapping or assassination.  That is precisely, precisely what the drug cartels do.  They extort,” he said.

But Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, disagreed.  While he offered his support for the aims of Mack’s bill, Engel argued the Mexican drug cartels are not operating within the legal definition of terrorism as to advance political aims.

Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.)

“I agree with you that Mexicans are terrorized,” said Engel.  “If I were living in a place where gun battles were leaving scores of people dead and previously safe streets were now hideouts for thugs and criminals, I would feel a sense of terror, too.”

However, Engel said, “There is a difference between acts which can cause terror and terrorist acts.”

He said what’s happening in Mexico is “narco-crime” and not terrorism.

“If we get the cause of the disease wrong, our treatment will be wrong as well,” he said.  “The narco-criminals in Mexico have no political aims, they are brutal outlaws who want money, but they don’t want to throw out the government and take over.”

H.R. 3401 defines terrorist insurgency as, “the protracted use of irregular warfare, including extreme displays of public violence utilized by transnational criminal organizations to influence public opinion and to undermine government control and rule of law in order to increase the control and influence of the organizations.”

The National Counterterrorism Center of the United States defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

(AP Image)

“They decapitate people on a daily basis.  They burn people alive.  Throw people in acid baths,” said McCaul.  “If that’s not intimidation, if that’s not terrorizing a civilian population, I don’t know what is.”

Engel also objected to the bill because he said it would supplant funding for a counterinsurgency strategy from the State Department’s Merida Initiative, a partnership with Mexico designed to to “fight organized crime and associated violence while furthering respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

Since 2008, Congress has allocated $1.6 billion to fund Merida to support Mexico’s implementation of comprehensive justice sector reforms, provide eight Bell helicopters to the Mexican Army/Air Force, three UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to the Federal Police, and three UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to the Mexican and provide scanners, X-ray machines, and inspection equipment for Mexican checkpoints and airports, according to the State Department.

Despite Merida’s efforts, Rep. Schmidt said -- “I don’t think it is working.”

Since 2006, 34,600 people have died as a result of Mexican drug cartel violence, the U.S. government reported in January though the number is now believed to be much higher.

Bags of cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics seized by the U.S. Coast Guard. (AP Photo.)

“50,000 Mexican people have been killed, brutally, at the hands of these drug cartels, more than the American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined,” McCaul said, “And yet we’re going to sit back and say that this is, these are just businessmen operating with mergers and acquisitions, they’re just driven by profit. They are driven by profit, but they are also driven by evil.”

“I don’t think we can stand back blindly and not call it what it is,” he added.

Engel argued Merida is now moving into its second phase to “focus more on training and support for the judiciary and accountability.”  He said, “The distrust and prickliness that once pervaded the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has been replaced by trust and cooperation,” through the program.

“I feel this bill returns to the era where Congress dictates policy and expects Mexico to toe the line,” Engel said.

But Schmidt, who said the current policy is woefully lacking, believes it is missing the counterinsurgency strategy.

“The problem with the administration’s new proposal, the Beyond Merida, is that it fails to recognize that today’s drug cartels (are) transnational drug organizations,” she said.

The act’s counterinsurgency strategy would outline the transnational criminal organizations in Mexico, provide an assessment of the terrain, population, ports, financial centers, and income-generating activities of the cartels, assess the capabilities of Mexico’s federal law enforcement and coordinate with relevant federal agencies to address the operations of the cartels within the United States.

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