(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is pushing Mexico to do more to confront drug cartels over concerns about narcotics and violence coming from the U.S. southern border -- topics that will lead the agenda when his top law enforcement official visits on Thursday.
Mexican officials on Thursday will host Attorney General William Barr in Mexico City for the second time in as many months, the latest instance of an ongoing conversation between the two countries. A Department of Justice official said the purpose of Barr’s trip is to have high-level meetings on joint counter-narcotics efforts.
On his visit in early December, Barr pressed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration to extradite suspects to face charges in the U.S., according to three people familiar with the conversations who asked not to be named speaking publicly.
Following Barr’s last visit, Trump said he was holding off “temporarily” on a proposal to classify Mexican narcotics cartels as terrorist organizations at the request of AMLO, as the Mexican president is known. Trump also said then that the two nations were stepping up their cooperation. Two weeks later, Mexico extradited the son of Sinaloa Cartel founder Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges.
On Monday, Mexico announced the extradition of eight more suspects.
Jesus Ramirez, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador, said the extraditions weren’t a result of pressure from the U.S., and that conversations regarding cooperation have also included shared efforts to stop American guns from entering Mexico, and shutting down the U.S. financial system to criminal groups. He also said that Barr would meet with Mexico’s security cabinet and the attorney general -- but not with the president himself on this trip.
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The drug cartels pose a shared threat to the U.S. and Mexico. Murders in the Latin American nation, often carried out with weapons smuggled in from the U.S., were on track to reach a record in 2019, with 32,000 people killed from January through November. Likewise, American overdose deaths, from drugs that frequently originate in or travel through Mexico, surged to about 70,000 annually in recent years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
War on Cartels
Two high-profile episodes late last year focused attention on Mexico. In October, Lopez Obrador’s security cabinet decided to release the captured son of kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to avoid a firefight and bloodshed between authorities and criminals that the government worried would affect civilians. In November, nine members of a Mormon family with dual American-Mexican citizenship were killed in an attack by cartel gunmen.
Following that attack, Trump said in a tweet that it was time “for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels.” Trump also said in a speech in November that he had offered Lopez Obrador “the ultimate hand” to take on the cartels.
So far, Mexico has resisted a heavy-handed approach, wishing to avoid the level of militarization that took place when Felipe Calderon was president from 2006 to 2012, according to the people. Mexico’s efforts have been focused on deploying tens of thousands of members from its new National Guard, a force that officially began work in July and still isn’t at full strength.
Lopez Obrador’s strategy also includes education and subsidies for young people. But the phrase he has used at times to summarize his philosophy, “hugs, not shots,” has been criticized by many security analysts as naive and Pollyannish.
Should the U.S. State Department eventually designate cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, it would put them in the same category as Islamic State and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which would prevent their members from entering the U.S. or allow people in the U.S. to knowingly provide them support. Banks would also be banned from doing business with them.
--With assistance from Chris Strohm and Jennifer Jacobs.
To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at email@example.com;Michael Smith in Miami at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at email@example.com, John Harney
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