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Let’s call Mexico’s drug cartels what they are

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, 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.

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.

(The Dallas Morning News, April 8)
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