GP Insights

GP Insights # 204, 15 December 2019

The US plan against Mexican Cartels
Unnikrishnan MJ

What happened?
On 27 November, Donald Trump declared that he would soon designate Mexican drug cartels as 'terrorist groups'. However, after a week, he announced the US would temporarily hold off the designation considering the request of Mexican President Obrador.

What is the background?
Listing of the Mexican cartels in the same category with the ISIS and Al-Qaeda would disrupt all financial inflows to the cartels.
The US's hopes of finishing the Sinaloa cartel with the arrest of infamous drug kingpin Joaquin' El-Chapo' Guzman proved to be in vain. The cartel's strength has not declined. Guzman's son Ivan Archivaldo Guzman inherited the leadership of the heavily armed cartel. The cartel was able to push the Mexican government to release Guzman's younger son Ovidio Guzman Lopez from the Mexican forces through heavy attacks with machine guns, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles on military and people. Trucks and buses were burnt on the roads resulting in the death of about 13 people. Later in the first week of November, nine people including women and children of Mormon family, who had dual citizenship of the US and Mexico was killed by the cartel.

What does it mean?
First, the US was fed up with the drug trafficking and functioning of the cartels. With the designation of the cartels as terrorist groups, the US intended to launch drone attacks and military actions against the cartels.
Second, Mexico seems to be not very happy, as it is directly challenging its sovereignty. Even though the US decision is in Mexico's interest, it seems the US also has a second opinion on the strategy.
Third, Mexico is a home for numerous cartels; designating them as terror groups will label Mexico as the breeding ground of terrorism. This will backfire the US's immigration policies as it will no longer be able to send back migrants back to Mexico.
Fourth, opting for a military operation will conflict with Trump's economic policies. The designation plan was against the interests of the American arms lobby who possess an influential role in US policymaking.

Unnikrishnan MJ is a postgraduate student at the Centre for South Asian Studies, Pondicherry University. He can be contacted at

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