Mexican drug cartels not 'insurgents' says State official

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A State Department official resisted pressure from congressmen to call Mexican drug cartels "terrorist" or "insurgent" organizations during a Oct. 4 joint hearing of subcommittees from House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security.

"I agree with virtually all of the suggestions that the facts are consistent with the label [terrorist group]," said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for the bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

But so labeling Mexican drug cartels could have unknown implications, Brownfield said. "What does it give us that is more than we already have?" he asked.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland subcommittee on oversight, investigations and management, contended that the designation would "provide additional authorities to help Mr. Calderón win this war," referring to Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Mexican ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan suggested in a April 11 Dallas Morning News letter to the editor that a consequence of calling the cartels terrorist would be "to start calling drug consumers in the U.S. 'financiers of terrorist organizations.'"

"Otherwise, you really sound as if you want to have your cake and eat it to," Sarukhan added.

During the hearing, Brownfield noted that Sarukhan doesn't speak for the federal government, but said "his reasoning is pretty sound."

Brownfield agreed less with the suitability of the word "insurgency" to describe cartel organization, the preferred word of Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the western hemisphere. "If on the other hand you're asking me do I see exactly the same thing [in Mexico] as I see in other parts of the world that we have described as an insurgency, obviously they're different," Brownfield told Mack.

Other federal officials present at the hearing described the cartels as organized criminals.

"Our interest is less in the semantics, less in the label but what the label implies operationally for us. And for us we find that the law enforcement tools that we have are best-suited for the job," said Mariko Silver, acting assistant secretary within the Homeland Security Department office of international affairs.

"I believe our authorities, our federal narcotic laws are sufficient to address the trafficking problem that exists now," said Rodney Benson, Drug Enforcement Administration chief of intelligence.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)

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