United States President Donald Trump said on Friday he would “temporarily hold off” on the designation of Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations at the request of President López Obrador.
“All necessary work has been completed to declare Mexican cartels terrorist organizations. Statutorily we are ready to do so,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“However, at the request of a man who I like and respect, and has worked so well with us, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, we will temporarily hold off this designation and step up our joint efforts to deal decisively with these vicious and ever-growing organizations!”
How long the U.S. president is prepared to delay the designation and what form the increased security cooperation between the two countries will take is unclear.
Trump said in an interview last week that he had been working on the terrorism designation for 90 days and that he would “absolutely” go ahead with it. Justifying his intention, the U.S. president said that 100,000 people a year die from the consumption of drugs smuggled into the country from Mexico.
His assertion that cartels would be classified as terrorists came after a spate of cartel attacks including the massacre of nine Mexican-U.S. citizens in Sonora on November 4.
Responding to Trump, López Obrador said last week that Mexico was prepared to cooperate with the United States to combat organized crime but stressed that it would not accept a U.S. intervention.
Speaking late on Friday in Tabasco, the president applauded Trump’s decision to postpone the designation, stating that it showed that he had taken Mexico’s opinion into account.
“I also very much respect President Donald Trump because he’s showing with actions that he is respectful of Mexico, respectful of our people and respectful of our national sovereignty,” López Obrador told reporters at the site of the Dos Bocas refinery.
“Mexico is a free, independent and sovereign country, our constitution is very clear that we don’t accept intervention . . .” he said.
“That’s why we thank President Trump for respecting our decisions and for choosing to maintain a policy of good neighborliness, a policy of cooperation with us. He will always have, on our side, an open, frank, extended hand to continue moving forward together for the sake of our peoples and the good of our two nations.”
All necessary work has been completed to declare Mexican Cartels terrorist organizations. Statutorily we are ready to do so. However, at the request of a man who I like and respect, and has worked so well with us, President Andres Manuel @LopezObrador_ we….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2019
The president reiterated his commitment to reducing violence by creating jobs and well-being and eliminating corruption and impunity rather than through the use of force against criminal groups.
Trump’s postponement of the terrorism designation came a day after U.S. Attorney General William Barr met with Mexican officials, including López Obrador and Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.
The president described the meeting with Barr as “good,” writing on Twitter that “as a lawyer, he understands our constitution requires us to adhere to the principles of cooperation for development and nonintervention in foreign affairs.”
The Foreign Secretariat said in a statement that “security priorities” for both Mexico and the United States were discussed as were issues including “cooperation in arms trafficking, money laundering, international drug flows and how to deal with transnational crime.”
Also on Thursday, Ebrard said in a television interview that if the United States went ahead with the designation of cartels as terrorist groups, people living in the areas where they operate could seek asylum in the U.S. on the grounds that they have a credible fear of persecution.
“They could come to the United States and say, ‘I come from a place where there’s terrorism,’ and [the U.S.] would have to grant them credible fear,” he said. “It would be a very bad deal.”