Here is an excerpt from Stewart Powell's article in The Houston Chronicle:
"In a potentially sweeping and politically charged escalation of the U.S. offensive against Mexican drug cartels, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, introduced legislation in Congress Wednesday to designate six murderous Mexican drug cartels 'foreign terrorist organizations.' Such a designation by the State Department could expose Mexican drug traffickers and U.S. gunrunners to charges of supporting terrorism... McCaul, the former federal prosecutor and ex-deputy attorney general of Texas, unveiled the legislation as he raises his profile in Washington for a possible bid for statewide office... The proposal would enable prosecutors to levy up to 15 additional years of prison time on each conviction of providing "material support or resources" to the six cartels — and a federal death sentence if deaths resulted from the cartels' actions. Mexican drug cartels may not be 'driven by religious ideology' that propels other foreign terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida or Hezbollah, McCaul said. But the Mexican gangs are 'using similar tactics to gain political and economic influence,' relying on 'kidnappings, political assassinations, attacks on civilian and military targets, taking over cities and even putting up checkpoints in order to control territory and institutions.'... To qualify for the designation, the State Department says an organization must have carried out terrorist attacks or 'engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism.'... Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also counseled caution about designating Mexican cartels terrorist organizations. 'Cartels are in it for one thing - money,' Cornyn said. 'To me, we need to be clear about what is happening in Mexico. We have got to be careful about the label because sometime those labels can create misleading impressions.'" Link to Full Article
Analysis: This isn't the first time an American politician has called the DTOs terrorists, but it's the first time legislation has been introduced to formally label them as such. One of the solutions to the drug war that I propose in Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars, is that both the US and Mexican governments need to stop treating the DTOs like simple criminals. However, I suggest that a NEW label be created for them that would encompass activities of terrorists, insurgencies, and organized crime groups. DTOs have exhibited characteristics of all three, yet they can't be put into a box that purely defines them as any of the three alone.
For some perspective, Rep McCaul has a history of making loud and sometimes controversial pronouncements regarding events in the drug war...and they're not always the smartest ones. For example, back in February when ICE Agent Jaime Zapata was killed near San Luis Potosí, McCaul called for the immediate extradition of anyone and everyone involved in his murder. I'm sure that made for a great sound byte, but the extradition agreement between the US and Mexico is pretty clear. A Mexican national can only be extradited to the US if they've committed a crime on US soil, or under the most extraordinary of circumstances; I'm not sure if Zapata's murder would qualify. Anyway, it demonstrates McCaul's unfortunate ignorance of extradition law, which makes me wonder how tuned in he is to US policy regarding the designation of terrorist groups.
That being said, the US government has made some unusual FTO designations in the past. For example, in 2001, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) - an umbrella group of paramilitaries who defended drug lords - were formally designated as an FTO. They were responsible for 75% of drug war-related murders in Colombia, and most of them were innocent civilians. They also displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombians from their homes so they wouldn't be able to provide refuge or materiel support to leftist rebels. Yet, they had no religious ideology to speak of, and any political aspirations the AUC might have had disappeared very quickly in the mid-1980s. They made plenty of profit, between dealing in cocaine and protecting Colombia's drug lords from attacks by groups like the FARC and ELN. Yet, their lack of ideology and terrorist intentions towards the US didn't prevent them from being labeled as an FTO.
While some rebranding of Mexico's DTOs is very necessary, calling them foreign terrorist organizations is going to far, and oversimplifies the problem. It would also pose way too many political and diplomatic challenges for both the US and Mexican governments, who are just not ready to go there. I'm a really big fan of the work John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus have done regarding the rebranding of the DTOs as a criminal insurgency. I highly recommend you take a look at their writings, because they've done their homework and I really like their perspective.
Bottom line, I think McCaul's intentions may be more political than anything else regarding his legislation, but maybe it'll get Washington thinking outside the box when it comes to how we perceive DTOs as organizations.