November 29, 2019 / 3:41 PM / 7 days ago

Mexico bristles at U.S. cartel plan, insists it's doing its part

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that his government was committed to fighting organized crime, seeking to dispel fears that the United States could take matters in its own hands in the fight against drug cartels.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol at a road after fellow police officers were killed during an ambush by suspected cartel hitmen in El Aguaje, in Michoacan state, Mexico October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Alan Ortega/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this week that he plans to designate the Mexican cartels as terrorist groups, a move aimed at disrupting their finances by imposing sanctions.

While this does not directly give the United States authority for military operations in Mexico, many Mexicans are nervous their northern neighbor could use it as a pretext for a unilateral invention.

Lopez Obrador reiterated he would not permit an armed foreign intervention a century after the country was last invaded, arguing that his government was already doing its part to battle criminal gangs.

“Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory,” he said, instead offering more cooperation with the United States after a series of recent clashes involving drug cartels, security forces and civilians highlighted the power of the gangs.

Lopez Obrador’s government says its priorities are disrupting the cartels’ cash flows and money-laundering opportunities, and halting illegal arms trafficking into Mexico from the United States.

The Mexican Finance Ministry’s financial intelligence unit has frozen the accounts of 771 people and 1,057 companies, with more than 5.3 billion pesos ($274 million) in total, a statement said.

Mexican officials have had several meetings with U.S. counterparts to discuss how to stop the arms flow, it said, adding that “satisfactory” progress has already been made.

Trump has repeatedly offered military assistance in the fight against drug gangs, which Lopez Obrador has always declined, even after the gangland massacre of a U.S.-Mexican family earlier this month.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr will visit Mexico next week to discuss security cooperation, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said. The U.S. embassy in Mexico did not respond to a request for comment.

Some U.S. security officials have said they find it harder to work with Lopez Obrador’s government than with previous administrations.

Gladys McCormick, a security analyst at Syracuse University in New York, said she expected Lopez Obrador and Ebrard to “put up more of a fight on this issue.”

“Ebrard is waiting to hear from Barr on what precisely such a designation will entail for Mexico given the lack of details and precedent such designation carries,” she said.

($1 = 19.3710 Mexican pesos)

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Additional reporting by Abraham Gonzalez and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Rosalba O'Brien

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