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Will Trump Label Mexican Cartels Terrorist Groups?

The U.S. attorney general visits Mexico City today to discuss the country’s rising violence.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Soldiers stand guard outside the in Villa Union, Coahuila state, Mexico, on Dec. 2.
Soldiers stand guard outside the in Villa Union, Coahuila state, Mexico, on Dec. 2. JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. attorney general is in Mexico as the Trump administration pushes for a cartel crackdown, a public sector strike begins in France, and Canada’s Parliament reconvenes.

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In Mexico, U.S. Pushes for Cartel Crackdown

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is in Mexico City today to discuss the security situation in the country, as President Donald Trump considers officially designating Mexican drug cartels terrorist groups. Barr has meetings scheduled with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, and other top law enforcement officials.

Barr’s visit comes after an increase in cartel violence in Mexico, where nine dual U.S. citizens were killed last month. The Trump administration has continued to put pressure on López Obrador to rein in the cartels and curb the country’s rising homicide rate—which has set a record this year, even as the president’s approval ratings remain strong.

What would naming the cartels as terrorists mean? The Trump administration will make a decision about the terrorist group designation on Friday, Bloomberg reports. If it goes forward, the cartels would fall under the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) category, along with the Islamic State and al Qaeda. The designation is usually intended to disrupt groups’ financing. The suggestion has alarmed Mexico, which called it “interventionism.”

Living with violence. In Mexico—particularly in the north—citizens fear that cartel violence will return to levels not seen since 2013, when the Zetas cartel threatened the area. Over the weekend, 23 people were killed in a gunfight in Coahuila state, where the Cartel del Noreste, a Zetas offshoot, is seeking to stake a claim. Meanwhile, U.S. immigration authorities continue to send asylum seekers to Mexico, including to some areas grappling with violence.

What We’re Following Today

France’s public sector goes on strike. France faces a mass strike beginning today, with public sector employees—including transport workers, teachers, hospital staff, and garbage collectors—all walking out to protest changes to the pension system. The strike action could bring France to a standstill for days, presenting the biggest challenge to President Emmanuel Macron since the yellow vest protests last year. The government is concerned that the pension changes could prompt similar unrest, with the yellow vest movement already planning to join the union protests. The coalition is broad because France’s current pension system is so generous: The retirement age is 62, with many retiring earlier.

Canadian Parliament back in session. Canada’s Parliament reconvenes today, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeking support for his new minority government with a so-called Throne Speech, laying out his legislative agenda. The speech is followed by a debate, with that agenda put to a vote—likely early next year. The new Parliamentary session comes after a mishap by Trudeau on the global stage, with the Canadian leader caught on video seemingly mocking the U.S. president in front of other world leaders. Trump called Trudeau “two-faced” on Wednesday, while Trudeau has downplayed the incident.

[Canada’s relations with the United States are also facing a legal test. A federal court in Toronto could stop the Canadian government from treating the United States as a so-called safe third country for asylum-seekers due to the Trump administration’s harsh policies. As Jillian Kestler D’Amours explains in FP, sending them south could violate Canada’s own constitution.]

U.S. envoy to meet the Taliban. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad heads to Qatar to meet with Taliban negotiators as the United States seeks a cease-fire and an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Khalilzad was in Kabul, where he discussed how to chart a path toward direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government—something the Taliban has so far refused. The insurgent group responded positively to Trump’s public declaration last week that the Taliban was ready to agree to a cease-fire—despite being caught by surprise.

Keep an Eye On

What’s next for U.S. foreign policy. The role of the United States in the world is not a favorite topic for either party, and the 2020 Democratic candidates have tended to avoid talking about it. That’s not an accident, FP’s Colum Lynch writes: If a Democrat is elected next year, they’re unlikely to seek to make the United States an enforcer of world peace.

Medical care for Australia’s asylum seekers. For nearly a year, asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention centers have been able to receive urgent medical care in Australia, with a doctor’s approval. On Wednesday, lawmakers voted to reverse that policy. Medical experts say the decision will worsen a mental and physical health crisis. In a 2018 FP article, Mark Isaacs described the devastating impact of Australia’s draconian offshore detention policies on the physical and mental health of detained refugee children.

Why Macao isn’t protesting. As unrest continues in Hong Kong, China’s government cites Macao, the former Portuguese colony, as proof that the “one country, two systems” model works. But one reason that Macao looks like a successful model is because of its history: Its residents kept their Chinese identity because Portugal didn’t offer an alternative, Ricardo Barrios argues in FP.

Odds and Ends

Seeking to modernize Egypt’s transportation, the government plans to replace Cairo’s popular three-wheeled tuk-tuks with safer, cleaner, and more expensive minivans. The proposal has prompted anger among riders and drivers alike: “I’d rather work as a thief than pay for this minivan,” one driver told the Associated Press.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson