Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday he’s not open to intervention but only “cooperation” with the U.S. on fighting drug cartels, a day after President Trump said he was prepared to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
Trump’s remarks from an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly sent shockwaves through the political establishment in Mexico, where the prospect of American forces operating on Mexican territory is a political third rail.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard issued a statement shortly after the interview, saying “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that it has contacted U.S. authorities to understand the meaning and scope of the remarks.”
Mexico’s top diplomat immediately requested a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the issue, according to the statement.
López Obrador, speaking at his daily morning press conference Wednesday, refused to go into detail on the potential terrorist designation, saying he would rather “send a hug to Americans” on Thanksgiving eve.
“Just to say cooperation yes, interventionism no,” said López Obrador.
López Obrador stayed on message fielding questions about the LeBaron family, a group of dual-national Mormons that appealed to Trump directly after a gang attack in northern Mexico earlier this month killed three women and six children from the group.
Some members of the LeBaron family directly appealed to Trump to label cartels as terrorist organizations, in a bid for expanded U.S. action to pacify Mexico.
Trump told O’Reilly that he has “actually offered [López Obrador] to let us go in and clean it out and he so far has rejected the offer.”
That echoes the appeals to direct action levied by hard-line Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), who earlier this month called for direct U.S. intervention in Mexico.
“In the real world, when the bad guys and cartels have .50-caliber machine guns, the only answer is more bullets and bigger bullets. And if Mexico can’t protect American citizens in Mexico, then we may have to take matters into our own hands,” Cotton said.
But some Democrats representing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border who depend on trade with Mexico are also starting to lose patience as the security situation in the country worsens. Official figures show 2019 is on track to have the highest murder rate since the current record-keeping model was adopted in 1997.
“I’m curious what the red line is going to be what needs to happen for us to either do it uninvited or for them to just allow us in. I understand all the sovereignty arguments, but they need to get over it,” Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) told The Hill last week.
Gonzalez, who represents McAllen, Texas, on the border with Reynosa, Mexico, has been lobbying Mexico for the better part of a year to shore up security on a major road between Reynosa and Monterrey, the industrial capital of the country.
“I think we should embed our people with the Mexicans, to make sure you keep everybody honest and have a plan and when the plan is finished, then we leave. And it could be in the form of military or it could just be in the form of American law enforcement going in there,” said Gonzalez.