Mexican President Felipe Calderón issued a long overdue warning to drug cartel leaders last week that their murderous rampage has crossed a threshold and deserves to be labeled what it really is: terrorism. His acknowledgement will help change the mindset about the true nature of this menace and could open broad new avenues for U.S.-Mexican cooperation.
Since 2009, The Dallas Morning News has urged both countries to designate the cartels as terrorist groups, given their appetite for headline-grabbing atrocities. It's also a question of accuracy. The term "drug traffickers" doesn't come close to describing gangsters who torture and behead people, systematically execute youths at parties, murder busloads of civilians or kidnap and hang victims from overpasses. Official policy should change to reflect the reality.
Until last week, the policy expressed by Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan was that these were just guys pursuing illicit business interests and trying to "maximize their profits." Calderón's change of heart followed an attack on last Thursday a Monterey casino, where Zeta gangsters doused the building with gasoline and set it afire, burning 52 people to death.
"It is evident that we are not facing common criminals. We are facing true terrorists who have surpassed not only the limits of the law but basic common sense and respect for life," Calderón said in a speech.
He also lashed out at the "insatiable consumption of drugs" in the United States, telling Americans, "You also are responsible." While it's undeniable that American drug dollars feed the cartel turf wars that have caused more than 40,000 deaths since 2006, Calderón's timing was off.
Just recently, the United States broke new ground in bilateral relations, according to The New York Times, by authorizing Mexican counter-narcotics squads to launch raids from the U.S. side of the border. This move gives Mexican authorities a strategic new vantage point to attack the problem and brings bilateral cooperation to an unprecedented level.
The goal of both countries should be to eliminate decades of distrust and recognize that they must join forces if they hope to beat back the cartel threat. Until now, both have placed a higher priority on protecting sovereignty than fighting murderous thugs who recognize no boundaries.
Calderón was no doubt playing to his Mexican audience and perhaps even looking for a scapegoat to mask the shortcomings of his own policies. He can be more effective by promoting cooperation, minimizing the finger-pointing and emphasizing to his own people how the two countries need to attack the problem together.
The U.S. can and should lend a hand, and Mexicans will be more receptive to American assistance if, for a while at least, we hit the pause button on the blame game.
-- The Dallas Morning News, Aug. 30