U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says he is not opposed to classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, claiming the violence they inflict on Mexican citizens is no worse than violence in the Middle East.

Gonzalez, D-McAllen, spoke about insecurity in Mexico during a news conference with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in Mission on Monday. For his part, Cuellar, D-Laredo, acknowledged that the violence perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels is horrific but did not believe it warranted their reclassification.

Asked by a reporter if classifying Mexican drug cartels as terror groups would provide more federal dollars to fight them, Gonzalez said:

“I do not know if there would be more funding. There is a huge pushback from the federal government that could impact trade and business. Now me, personally, I am not completely opposed to the idea because I see some of the murders and massacres that are happening in Mexico. They do not look that different to some of the things that are happening in the Middle East.”

Gonzalez acknowledged that Mexico is a friend and neighbor to the United States.

“We need to look at them differently but some of the acts that you see in Mexico are not short of terrorist acts, in my opinion. The violence that you see, what we saw yesterday, 17 deaths. When is this going to stop and what do we need to do to pressure Mexico to increase their security efforts? And, ourselves, on our ports of entry, to stop the guns and cash going back south?”

In his response to the question, Cuellar said Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama had both looked at classifying Mexican drug organizations as terrorist groups.

“They looked at the pros and the cons and they decided that it was not worth going into it. Law enforcement has a lot of tools right now. Look at the high target assets that law enforcement has, such as extraditing them and keeping them imprisoned for the rest of their lives. There is also an executive order that can add some counter terrorism mechanisms right now,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said terrorist groups are usually ideology-driven type of organizations.

“What tools does classifying them (as terror groups) bring to the table? Is there something right now that is not available that you need to classify? What are the new tools,“

Cuellar noted that a person who aids and abets a terrorist can also be charged.

“What if you sell a weapon that goes across? What if you are a banking institution? Unintended consequences. This is what President Bush and President Obama looked at very carefully.”

Nonetheless, Cuellar said he agreed with Gonzalez that “hugs and kisses” were of no value when dealing with insecurity in Mexico.

“I am with Vicente, I don’t think hugs and kissers, to be honest with you, with the Mexican president, is going to do the work. I would be happy to show you some videos off record right now of some real bad stuff happening in Mexico. They (Mexico) need to do more.”

Cuellar said he had just returned from a visit to Mexico where he met with federal lawmakers and talked about how the U.S. can help Mexico battle against organized crime.

“I said, we can help you as far as you want us to help you. We used the same analogy (as Gonzalez has used). If there is a fire, does it really matter who that firemen is? I feel bad for the people that live over there.”

Cuellar pointed to video surveillance of a horrendous act perpetrated in Mexico recently.

“They went to a hospital looking for somebody. They took the patient, a few hours later they found him cut up in pieces. There is a lot of bad stuff. Hugs and kisses is not going to work. I am telling you right now, hugs and kisses in Mexico are not going to work. But again, I understand sovereignty. I understand history. I understand the sensitivity. I understand that the U.S. took over 55 percent of Mexican territories so there is a lot of sensitivity. Does it matter, if there is a fire, who the fireman is?”

Asked by a reporter if he supported U.S. military interventions in Mexico, Cuellar said:

“No, of course not. There is law enforcement. Right now, we have a lot of law enforcement over there. Can we do more, yes; can we do intelligence, yes. Are we talking about sending our Marines, of course not. I do not believe in that. I respect the history, I respect the sovereignty. I put it to the legislators, does it matter who the fireman is? Again, hugs and kisses are not going to work, with all due respect.”

Gonzalez said he had a different opinion to Cuellar when it came to sending the U.S. military into Mexico.

“Me, personally, my position is a little different to Henry’s. I am not opposed to putting American military embedded with Mexican military to fix a problem,” Gonzalez said.

“If they have a plan and we have an exit strategy. We are going to go in, we are going to help you clean up, resolve the issue, take it neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, state by state, in the areas that are most impacted and then leave the country and leave it in a better place than it is today, I do not consider it to be a horrible idea.”

Gonzalez said he realized that taking such a position might not be too popular in Mexico.

“I know it is unpopular with our friends to the south but we have got to talk about how bad it impacts trade. This would be a missed opportunity if we do not talk about it (insecurity in Mexico) in the same conversation as trade. You wonder how trade has been impacted on those trade routes from Monterrey and other hubs that drive trade to our border, that bring product to our border, what is the extra security cost? How is that not a tax or a tariff?”

The news conference was held at the Center for Education & Economic Development in Mission. It was hosted by UT-Rio Grande Valley to discuss federal funding the two members of Congress had brought to the university for agricultural research.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian has produced a podcast featuring the comments of Congressmen Cuellar and Gonzalez at the Mission news conference. It includes their views on U.S. immigration policy and the new trade agreement, USMCA. Click here to listen to the podcast.