President Donald Trump’s promise to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations may do little to stem the flow of narcotics to addicted Americans, experts told The Courier Journal.
In a radio interview Tuesday, Trump said he will “absolutely” seek to add cartels such as CJNG and Sinaloa to the official list of terror groups, escalating U.S. efforts to target the criminal organizations that are smuggling in tons of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine every month.
“Look, we’re losing 100,000 people a year to what’s happening and what’s coming through (in) Mexico,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly on his radio program. “They have unlimited money, the people, the cartels, because they have a lot of money because it’s drug money and human trafficking money.”
But some experts dismissed Trump’s comments as a symbolic gesture to “talk tough” on cartels and said his words could fray already strained relations between the two countries.
The U.S. Treasury Department already has a “wide range” of sanction programs and “no shortage of authority” to target people associated with cartels, according to Peter Romaniuk, director of the Center for Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“This is just sort of a bluster. It doesn’t really have any consequence in terms of the matters that will be pursued.”
Our investigation: Mexican drug lord’s empire is devastating families
Trump’s radio comments come on the heels of cartel violence last month that killed nine people — including six children — with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, as well as The Courier Journal’s recent investigation into Mexico’s Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, better known as CJNG, and its billion-dollar empire headed by the elusive kingpin Rubén Oseguera Cervantes — aka, “El Mencho.”
The Courier Journal’s investigation found CJNG operations in at least 35 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, flooding cities and small towns with thousands of kilos of drugs each year and helping to fuel the country’s deadly addiction crisis.
“CJNG is certainly one of the most powerful drug cartels in Mexico,” James Carroll, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The Courier Journal this week in London, Kentucky, where he met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and state and federal law enforcement officials about Kentucky’s efforts to curb drug addiction.
“Their capacity for violence is almost unmeasured,” Carroll said of CJNG. “And it’s remarkable what they’re willing to do to make sure that they are one of the significant traffickers.”
Trump said his administration has spent the last 90 days working through the designation process spelled out in U.S. law to add the cartels to the terror list.
“You know, designation is not that easy,” he told O’Reilly. “You have to go through a process, and we’re well into that process.