Most Americans would immediately recognize Osama bin Laden if shown his photograph, but they wouldn’t recognize Ismael Zambasa Garcia or Nemesio Osquera Cervantes. Yet, the latter two and others among the Mexican drug cartels have been responsible for more American deaths than bin Laden ever was.
More than 106,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2021 and the majority of these overdoses came from opioids. A particularly deadly opioid is fentanyl which is increasingly being smuggled from Mexico. The cartels push fentanyl across a porous U.S. border with near impunity, fueled by an insatiable American desire for drugs.
There is a growing call from conservative lawmakers to take action against the cartels, even proposing to use American ground troops to take down cartel leaders and fighters.
Congressmen Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), and Mike Waltz (R-FL) submitted a bill that would authorize the government to use the military against Mexican cartels that are “trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere.”
Further, Senator Lyndsey Graham said earlier this month that it is time to “put Mexico on notice” and wants to introduce legislation to classify some Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist groups.”
The dangers of using military force in Mexico against the cartels
Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, when the U.S. was invited to countries in South America, Mexico doesn’t want any U.S. military forces on its soil. The Mexicans are very leery of the American military because the U.S. has invaded Mexico on several occasions.
“We are not going to permit any foreign government to intervene in our territory, much less that sic a government’s armed forces intervene,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in response to the submitted bill.
“In addition to being irresponsible, it is an offense to the people of Mexico,” Lopez Obrador said, adding that Mexico “does not take orders from anyone.”
“We are not a protectorate of the United States, nor a colony of the United States,” he added. “Mexico is a free, independent, sovereign state,” Lopez Obrador stated.
In 2019, the Mexican president declared the end of the war against the cartels after his “hugs, not bullets” policy failed.
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Sandboxx News spoke with a retired U.S. government law enforcement official who spent many years in Mexico. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that if cartels are classified as foreign terrorist groups, the laws governing how the DEA investigates drug operations would change.
Speaking about the possibility of operations against the cartels, the former official warned of the danger of mission creep. Even if these operations only involve “cyber, drones, intelligence assets, naval assets,” as Congressman Waltz suggested, “how long would it take for U.S. troops to begin to take an active role in the fight against the cartels?” the former official told Sandboxx News.
The proximity of operations against Mexican cartels to the U.S. would affect trade. “Do you want [special operations] guys conducting drone strikes in Mexican territory without the blessing of the government of the U.S.’s second leading trading partner in the world,” the former official told Sandboxx News referring to Mexico.
While putting armed operators and CIA paramilitary groups on the ground in Mexico is the least preferable solution, there are other avenues open to Washington.
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Taking action to stop the drug epidemic
The cartels partner with criminal gangs in the U.S., including the Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and Latin Kings, to distribute and smuggle the drugs. The U.S. should act against those criminal enterprises and shut them down.
Any connection the cartels have as well as their cash flows must be placed under sanctions. Further, American law enforcement agencies need to establish contact with their Mexican counterparts, while placing more pressure on corrupt Mexican officials.
The U.S. should invest heavily in intelligence and law enforcement to defeat the cartels while endeavoring that any arrests of cartel members happen in Mexico.
Most importantly, the porous American border needs to be better protected. Currently, the flow of drugs, criminals, and terrorists is far too easily infiltrating the US. This has been a political hot potato but Congress has to overcome partisan divides and address this part of the problem.
To properly address the issue, cartels have to be considered not just as criminal enterprises but as narco-terrorists who are a threat to our national security.
Feature Image: Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Pascagoula, Miss., offload nearly two tons of cocaine at Sector St. Petersburg, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. The seizure is estimated to have a combined wholesale value of more than $45 million, and was a result of a two separate multi-agency law enforcement efforts in support of Operation Unified Resolve. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse/U.S. Coast Guard)
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