Texas Republican: Put Mexican Drug Cartels on State Dept’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations

By Penny Starr | April 1, 2011 | 4:33 AM EDT

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) held a hearing on March 31, 2011 about winning what he described as a war between Mexico, the United States and Mexican drug cartels. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would direct Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) – a designation that would put them on the same list as al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hezbollah.

The designation by the State Department also would make the named cartels subject to the same sanctions as other terrorist organizations, including the freezing of the cartels’ monetary assets and the criminal prosecution of those that provide “material support or resources” to an FTO.

“Cartels kidnap, kill, and mutilate innocent civilians, elected officials and law enforcement, using gruesome tactics to intimidate government officials and citizens to abide by their rules,” said McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee, which held a hearing on the cartels on Thursday.

McCaul called the violence and killings caused by the cartels “acts of terrorism.”

His bill, H.R. 1270, says the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism reported that “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.”

The bill also cites the recent deaths of Americans at the hands of Mexican drug cartels, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata, who was gunned down by cartel members in Mexico as he was driving back to the United States. Cartel members also shot American David Hartley while he was jet skiing on Falcon Lake, which lies between Mexico and Texas.

At the March 31, 2011 hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) showed a photo of the truck that was attacked by Mexican drug cartels on Feb. 15 that killed Special Agent Jaime Zapata. Special agent Victor Avila survived the incident but was badly injured. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“When Americans at home and abroad, including agents assigned to protect the United States borders and national security, are targeted, threatened, and attacked by such foreign entities, it serves as a continual threat to the safety and security of the United States and its people,” the bill states.

The cartels named in the bill are the Arellano Feliz Organization, the Los Zetas Cartel, the Beltran Leyva Organization, La Familiia Michoacana, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel/New Federation.

McCaul called the struggle against the drug cartels a “war on our doorstep,” and said that the United States should “explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico” to stop the cartels. He said this strategy was successful when the United States and Columbia partnered to stop Columbian drug cartels.

Democrats at the hearing downplayed the “spill-over” drug cartel violence in the United States and credited Mexico for its efforts to stop the drug gangs.

“Our focus must remain on common sense strategies that will aid Mexico in responding to this very serious problem while respecting their status as a sovereign country, fostering the commerce that exists between two nations, and acknowledging that Mexican authorities have been successful, with and without U.S. assistance, in arresting and eliminating the heads of some of the most dangerous Mexican Drug Trafficking Operations,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) said at the hearing.

None of the witnesses at the hearing expressed support for McCaul’s legislation. However, Brian Nichols, deputy assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs at the State Department, said,  “Cartel activities have expanded into extortion, kidnapping, immigrant smuggling, protection rackets, and domestic drug retailing, making these illicit enterprises more profitable and violent than ever.”

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