Mexico and the U.S. hold prolific meeting on cartel threat

The two sides discussed their security priorities and among other topics, they talked about arms trafficking, money laundering, and international drug trafficking

Mexico and the U.S. hold prolific meeting on cartel threat
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he would designate the drug gangs as terrorist organizations - Taken from López Obrador's Twitter account
English 05/12/2019 18:18 Newsroom & Agencies Mexico City Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham, Steve Orlofsky, Grant McCool, Humeyra Pamuk, Matt Spetalnick & Jonathan Oatis/REUTERS & Ariadna García/EL UNIVERSAL Actualizada 18:44
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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he and senior government officials had a “good meeting” with U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday about the threat of Mexican drug cartels.

Barr met various senior officials after U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he would designate the drug gangs as terrorist organizations in response to a series of bloody security breaches triggered by cartel gunmen.

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“As a lawyer, he understands our constitution obligates us to adhere to the principles of cooperation for development and non-intervention in foreign affairs,” López Obrador said of Barr on Twitter. “In this way, we will always be able to work together.”

He did not provide more details.

Tensions over the cartels intensified last month when suspected cartel hitmen massacred three women and six children of U.S.-Mexican origin in northern Mexico.

López Obrador told a regular news conference ahead of the talks that they would focus on bilateral cooperation, and that officials would review a document that would serve as a point of reference.

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The two sides discussed their security priorities and among other topics, they “talked about cooperation in arms trafficking, money laundering, international drug trafficking and how to deal with transnational crime and international drug trafficking,” Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Mexican officials who met Barr and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau included Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo and the head of the Navy Jose Rafael Ojeda.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said it was working with the Mexican government to identify the “appropriate tools” to help it tackle the threat posed by cartels.

Designating groups as terrorist organizations aims to disrupt the finances of suspected members and their supporters via U.S. sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans.

While it would not directly give the United States authority for military operations in Mexico, many Mexicans are nervous Trump could use it as a pretext for intervention.

López Obrador has attempted to pursue a less confrontational approach to the gangs and has rejected any intervention. He has held out the prospect of cooperation with the United States but says his government has the wherewithal to tackle the problem.

Trump’s announcement alarmed Mexico, which rejected it as “interventionism” and said it would respond in kind to such a move. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, for instance, that Mexico would not permit another operation like the U.S. government’s ill-fated “Fast and Furious” gun-running sting.

Speaking at a briefing with reporters, Hugo Rodríguez, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America, did not offer specifics on the next steps but said the U.S. agencies have been looking at this issue for months.

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“What we are looking to do is put at the service of the government of Mexico any and all tools we have at our disposal to cooperate on the shared security challenge that the drug trafficking organizations pose,” he said.

“We have to work with them (Mexico) to find the tools that are going to be appropriate in the context,” he said. “If we have tools at our disposal that we can use that help contribute to addressing the DTO challenge, we’re looking at it.”

López Obrador, who has attempted to chart a less confrontational security policy during his first year in office, reiterated he would not permit an armed foreign intervention a century after the country was last invaded, arguing that his government was already doing its part to battle criminal gangs.

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Trump has repeatedly offered military assistance in the fight against drug gangs, which López Obrador has always declined, even after the gangland massacre of the LeBarón family earlier this month.

The U.S. State Department includes dozens of organizations on its list of terrorist groups. In Latin America, left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, both involved in drug trafficking, have in the past appeared on the list.

After a meeting of an hour and 45 minutes with President López Obrador at the National Palace, Barr had a reunion with Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard at the Foreign Ministry, where they would discuss arms trafficking.

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