Mexican Drug War
File:Mexican War on Drugs.png
Upper Left: Mexican President Felipe Calderon
Upper Right: Mexican Security Forces arrest cartel members.
Center: Mexican soldiers during a gun battle in Apatzingan.
Lower Left: Packs of drugs seized from cartels.
Lower Right: Drug lord Joaquin Guzman.
DateDecember 11, 2006[1] – present
(17 years, 157 days)
Status Ongoing
Commanders and leaders

Felipe Calderón
Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza
Guillermo Galván Galván

Sergio Aponte Polito[2]

Joaquín Guzmán Loera,[3] Ismael Zambada García,
Ignacio Coronel Villarreal,
Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén,
Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez,
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes,
Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano,
Heriberto Lazcano,
Edgar Valdez Villarreal,
Héctor Beltrán Leyva,
Mario Alberto Beltrán Leyva,

Sergio Villarreal Barragán,
50,000 soldiers[4]
20,000 Federal Police[4]
5,000 to 10,000+
Casualties and losses
1,000+ Federal forces, police, and prosecutors killed[5]
58 reporters killed.[6]
121,199 cartel members killed or detained[7]

Total killed: 22,801 (December 2006–July 2010)
62 killed in December 2006[7]
2,477 killed during 2007[8]
6,290 killed during 2008[9]
7,724 killed during 2009[10]

6,248 killed during 2010[11]



The Mexican Drug War is an armed conflict taking place between rival drug cartels and government forces in Mexico. Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed for a few decades, they have become more powerful since the demise of Colombia's Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States.[12] Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, have led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.[13][14][15]

Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier of cannabis and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States.[12] Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production, it supplies a large share of the heroin distributed in the United States.[12][16] Drug cartels in Mexico control approximately 70% of the foreign narcotics that flow into the United States.[17]

The US State Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico—Colombia being the main cocaine producer[18]—and that wholesale of illicit drug sale earnings estimates range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually.[12][19] Mexican drug traffickers increasingly smuggle money back into Mexico in cars and trucks, likely due to the effectiveness of U.S. efforts at monitoring electronic money transfers.[20]


Given its geographic location, Mexico has long been used as a staging and transshipment point for narcotics, illegal immigrants and contraband destined for U.S. markets from Mexico, South America and elsewhere. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was the main exporter of cocaine and dealt with organized criminal networks all over the world. When enforcement efforts intensified in South Florida and the Caribbean, the Colombian organizations formed partnerships with the Mexico-based traffickers to transport cocaine through Mexico into the United States.[21]

This was easily accomplished because Mexico had long been a major source of heroin and cannabis, and drug traffickers from Mexico had already established an infrastructure that stood ready to serve the Colombia-based traffickers. By the mid-1980s, the organizations from Mexico were well established and reliable transporters of Colombian cocaine. At first, the Mexican gangs were paid in cash for their transportation services, but in the late 1980s, the Mexican transport organizations and the Colombian drug traffickers settled on a payment-in-product arrangement. Transporters from Mexico usually were given 35 to 50 % of each cocaine shipment. This arrangement meant that organizations from Mexico became involved in the distribution, as well as the transportation of cocaine, and became formidable traffickers in their own right. Currently, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf cartel have taken over trafficking cocaine from Colombia to the worldwide markets.[22]

Over time, the balance of power between the various Mexican cartels shifts as new ones emerge and older ones weaken and collapse. A disruption in the system, such as the arrests or deaths of cartel leaders, generates bloodshed as rivals move in to exploit the power vacuum.[23] Leadership vacuums sometimes are created by law enforcement successes against a particular cartel, thus cartels often will attempt to use law enforcement against one another, either by bribing Mexican officials to take action against a rival or by leaking intelligence about a rival's operations to the Mexican government or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).[23] While many factors have contributed to the escalating violence, security analysts in Mexico City trace the origins of the rising scourge to the unraveling of a longtime implicit arrangement between narcotics traffickers and governments controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which lost its grip on political power starting in the late 1980s.[24]

The fighting between rival drug cartels began in earnest after the 1989 arrest of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo who ran the cocaine business in Mexico.[25] There was a lull in the fighting during the late 1990s but the violence has steadily worsened since 2000.

See also: Timeline of the Mexican Drug War

Presidency of Vicente Fox

Violence increased from 2000. Former president Vicente Fox sent small numbers of troops to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, on the US-Mexico border to fight the cartels with little success. It is estimated that about 110 people died in Nuevo Laredo alone during the January-August 2005 period as a result of the fighting between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.[26] In 2005 there was a surge in violence as a drug cartel tried to establish itself in Michoacán.

Presidency of Felipe Calderón

Although violence between drug cartels had been occurring long before the war began, the government held a generally passive stance regarding cartel violence in the 1990s and early 2000s. That changed on December 11, 2006, when newly elected President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán to end drug violence there. This action is regarded as the first major operation against organized crime, and is generally viewed as the starting point of the war between the government and the drug cartels.[1] As time progressed, Calderón continued to escalate his anti-drug campaign, in which there are now about 45,000 troops involved in addition of state and federal police forces.


Mexican troops operating in a random checkpoint.

In April 2008, General Sergio Aponte, the man in charge of the anti-drug campaign in the state of Baja California, made a number of allegations of corruption against the police forces in the region. Among his allegations, Aponte stated that he believed Baja California's anti-kidnapping squad was actually a kidnapping team working in conjunction with organized crime, and that bribed police units were being used as bodyguards for drug traffickers.[27] These accusations of corruption suggested that the progress against drug cartels in Mexico has been hindered by bribery, intimidation, and corruption.

On April 26, 2008, a major battle took place between members of the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, that left 17 people dead.[28] The battle also causes concern about the violence spilling into the United States, as Tijuana and a number of other border cities become hotspots for violence in the war. In September 2008, grenade attacks in Morelia by suspected cartel members killed eight civilians and injured more than 100.

File:Mexican Federal Police UH-60.JPG
Federal Police UH-60 Blackhawk conducting an air patrol.

In March 2009, President Calderón called in an additional 5000 Mexican Army troops to Ciudad Juárez. The United States Department of Homeland Security has also said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spilling over the border into the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.[29]

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican cartels are the predominant smugglers and wholesale distributors of South American cocaine and Mexico-produced cannabis, methamphetamine and heroin. Mexico's cartels have existed for some time, but have become increasingly powerful in recent years with the demise of the Medellín and Cali cartels in Colombia. Closure of the cocaine trafficking route through Florida also pushed cocaine traffic to Mexico, increasing the role of Mexican cartels in cocaine trafficking. The Mexican cartels are expanding their control over the distribution of these drugs in areas controlled by Colombian and Dominican criminal groups, and now believed to include most of the U.S.A.[30]

The East Coast of the United States (mainly New York and New Jersey) have seen little dominance of the Mexican drug cartels. No longer just intermediaries for Colombian producers, they are now powerful organized-crime syndicates that dominate the drug trade in the Americas. According to the FBI, Mexican cartels focus only on wholesale distribution, leaving retail sales of illicit drugs to street gangs. The Mexican cartels reportedly work with multiple gangs and claim not to take sides in U.S. gang conflicts.

Mexican cartels control large swaths of Mexican territory and dozens of municipalities, and they exercise increasing influence in Mexican electoral politics.[31] The cartels are waging violent turf battle over control of key smuggling corridors from Nuevo Laredo, to San Diego. Mexican cartels employ hitmen and groups of enforcers, known as sicarios. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the Mexican drug cartels operating today along the border are far more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal group in U.S. law enforcement history.[30] The cartels use grenade launchers, automatic weapons, body armor, and sometimes Kevlar helmets.[32][33][34]


Alliances or agreements between drug cartels have been shown to be fragile, tense and temporary. Since February 2010, the major cartels have again aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel‎‎; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel.[35]

Mexican drug cartels have increased their co-operation with U.S. street and prison gangs to expand their distribution networks within the U.S.[19]

Beltrán Leyva Cartel

Main article: Beltrán Leyva Cartel

The Beltrán Leyva brothers, who were formerly aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, became allies of Los Zetas in 2008.[36][37] Since February 2010 they fight along Los Zetas against all other Mexican cartels.[38]

La Familia Michoacana

Main article: La Familia Michoacana

La Familia Michoacana is based in Michoacán. It was formerly allied to the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, but La Familia has now split off and became an independent organization.[39] In February 2010, La Familia forged an alliance with the Gulf Cartel against Los Zetas and Beltrán Leyva Cartel.[38]

Gulf Cartel

Main article: Gulf Cartel

The Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, has been one of Mexico's two dominant cartels in recent years. In the late 1990s, it hired a private mercenary army (enforcer group called Los Zetas), which in 2006 stepped up as a partner but, in February 2010, their partnership was dissolved and both groups engaged in wide spread violence across several border cities of Tamaulipas state,[38][40] turning several border towns into "ghost towns".[41]

Juárez Cartel

Main article: Juárez Cartel

The Juárez Cartel controls one of the primary transportation routes for billions of dollars worth of illegal drug shipments annually entering the United States from Mexico. Since 2007, the Juárez Cartel has been locked in a vicious battle with its former partner, the Sinaloa Cartel, for control of Ciudad Juárez. Vicente Carrillo Fuentes heads the Juárez Cartel.

Los Negros

Main article: Los Negros

Los Negros is the former armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel; it was formed to counter Los Zetas and government security forces. Los Negros now work with Edgar Valdez Villarreal's organization.

Oaxaca Cartel

Main article: Oaxaca Cartel

The Oaxaca cartel is one of the smaller drug cartels currently operating in Mexico; it focuses on marijuana and cocaine trafficking and operates in southern Mexico, particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.[42] It was led by Pedro Díaz Parada, who was first arrested by the Mexican Army in 1985 and then by Federal Police agents in January 2007.[43] Pedro Díaz Parada was sentenced to 33 years' imprisonment in 1985, but subsequently escaped prison twice – once in 1987 and again in 1992. The Oaxaca cartel reportedly joined forces with the Tijuana Cartel in 2003 and press reports indicate that Díaz Parada was the most important representative of the Tijuana cartel in southeastern Mexico at the time of his arrest. Pedro Diaz Parada began his days in the drug trafficking world by sowing marijuana in San Pedro Totolapa, Oaxaca, during the 1970s. He extended his activity to cocaine trafficking by using speed boats and light aircraft. He was arrested and sentenced in 1985 to 33 years in prison and held in the Santa María Ixcotel prison, from where he escaped a few days later. In September 1987, Judge Villafuerte Gallegos was murdered near his home in Cuernavaca, Morelos, where he had been moved in order to protect him from the threats of Diaz Parada.[43] He was arrested a second time in 1990 and again escaped prision in 1992 from the 'Reclusorio Oriente' prison in Mexico City. He was arrested a third time in January 2007. His possible substitutes may have been his brothers Eugenio Jesús Díaz Parada and Domingo Aniceto Díaz Parada.[44]

Sinaloa Cartel

Main article: Sinaloa Cartel

The Sinaloa Cartel began to contest the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the coveted southwest Texas corridor following the arrest of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas in March 2003. The "Federation" was the result of a 2006 accord between several groups located in the Pacific state of Sinaloa. The cartel is led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Mexico's most-wanted drug trafficker and whose estimated net worth of US$1 billion makes him the 701st richest man in the world, according to Forbes Magazine.[45] In February 2010, new alliances were formed against Los Zetas and Beltran Leyva Cartel.[38] As of May 2010, numerous reports by Mexican and US media claimed that Sinaloa had infiltrated the Mexican federal government and military, and colluded with it to destroy the other cartels. [46][47]

Tijuana Cartel

Main article: Tijuana Cartel

The cartel of the Arellano-Félix family, the Tijuana Cartel was once among Mexico's most powerful but has fallen on hard times, thanks to the arrests of several top capos. The cartel entered into a brief partnership with the Gulf Cartel. It has been the frequent target of Mexican military confrontations and might be breaking into smaller groups.

Los Zetas

Main article: Los Zetas

The Gulf Cartel hired a group of corrupt former elite military soldiers now known as Los Zetas, who began operations as a private army for the cartel. The Zetas have been instrumental in the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the drug trade in much of Mexico and have fought to maintain the cartel’s influence in northern cities following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas. Los Zetas made a deal with ex-Sinaloa cartel commanders, the Beltrán-Leyva brothers and since February 2010 Los Zetas became rivals of their former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel.[38]

Smuggling of firearms

Colt AR-15
AK-47 style rifle (locally called Cuerno de chivo)
M4 Carbine with grenade launcher.

Firearms are not legally available for sale in Mexico, so drug cartels must smuggle them through the U.S. or Guatemalan borders, or by sea. Many firearms are acquired in foreign countries by cartel members through illegal trade and theft and then smuggled to Mexico a few at a time.[48] The most common smuggled firearms include AR-15 and AK-47 type rifles, FN 5.7 caliber semi-automatic pistols and a variety of .50 caliber rifles and machine guns.[49] 30% of AK-47 assault rifles seized have been modified to select fire weapons, effectively creating assault rifles for use by the cartels.[50] Also, there are multiple reports of grenade launchers being used against security forces,[51] and at least twelve M4 Carbines with M203 grenade launchers have been confiscated.[52] It was believed that some of these high power weapons and related accessories were stolen from U.S. military bases.[53][54] However, most military grade weapons such as grenades and light anti-tank rockets are acquired by the cartels through the huge supply of arms left over from the wars in Central America and Asia. (See table below.)


Reportedly, 90% of confiscated guns that could be traced, originated in the United States.[49][55][56][57][58] The ATF has reportedly traced 22,848 guns smuggled into Mexico from the United States since 2005,[59][60] and it showed that between 2005 and 2008, Texas,[59][61] Arizona and California are the three most prolific source states, respectively, for firearms illegally trafficked to Mexico.[49][62][63][64][65] About 55% of guns smuggled from U.S. are assault rifles.[66][67] Mexican officials only submitted 32% of the guns they seized to the ATF for tracing, and less than half of those weapons had serial numbers. Overall, 83% of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced.[68][69]

Mexican cartels often pay U.S. citizens to purchase assault rifles or other guns at gun shops or gun shows, then sell them to a cartel representative.[70][71][72][73][74][75] This exchange is known as a straw purchase.[76] Because there is no computerized national gun registry, tracking guns relies on a paper trail. Police agents must contact the manufacturer or importer with a make and a serial number and work their way down the supply chain by telephone or on foot.[71] There are about 78,000 gun dealers in the U.S., and ATF agents found that one in five of the guns could not be traced because the dealers had no record of the sale or had gone out of business and the records had been lost.[71]

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has approved a bill (H.R. 6028) that would authorize $73.5 million to be appropriated over three years to increase ATF resources committed to disrupting the flow of illegal guns into Mexico.[58] Lawmakers included $10 million USD in the economic stimulus package for Project Gunrunner, a federal crackdown on U.S. gun-trafficking networks.

In March 2009 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for Congress to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The proposed reinstatement of the assault weapons ban is opposed by 2nd Amendment advocacy groups in the U.S.[77][78][79] In June 2009 Rep. Connie Mack called for increasing the number of federal agents on the Mexican border.[80] U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to ratify an inter-American treaty known as CIFTA[81] to curb international small arms trafficking throughout the Americas. The treaty makes the unauthorized manufacture and exporting of firearms illegal and calls for nations in this hemisphere to establish a process for information-sharing among different countries' law enforcement divisions to stop the smuggling of arms, to adopt strict licensing requirements, and to make firearms easier to trace.[82]

In June 2010, police in Laredo, Texas seized a shipment of weapons that they believed were being smuggled to gangs in Mexico. The weapons included 147 assault rifles, 53 bayonets, and over 10,000 rounds of ammunition.[83]

Sources of weapons

Weapon Primary Source
AK rifle variants (semi-automatic) United States[84][85]
AK rifle variants (select-fire) Central America, South America, Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia[86][87]
AR-15 rifle (semi-automatic) United States[88]
M4 rifles (select-fire) purportedly Vietnam[89]
Fragmentation grenades M61/M67/MK 2/K400 United States, Central America, South Korea,[90] Israel, Spain, Soviet bloc, Guatemala,[91] Vietnam,[89] Unknown [91][92]
RPG-7 /M72 LAW // M203 Grenade launchers Asia, Central America/Guatemala,[91] North Korea[92][93][94][95]
.50 caliber Barrett M82 United States.[95][91][92][96][97][98][99]
M2 Browning machine gun Vietnam[89]

There have been some speculation by the U.S. public media that Islamic terror groups may be supporting drug cartels in Mexico,[100][101][102] however, the former Mexican national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zínser, as well as Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, the director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security (CISEN) and now Attorney-General, noted that there are no indications that foreign terrorist organizations may have established contact with Mexican organizations and had no reason to believe that there was Islamic terror groups presence in Mexico.[103]

Effects in Mexico


The attorney general's office says that 9 of 10 victims are members of organized-crime groups,[104] and deaths among military and police personnel are an estimated 7% of the total.[105] The states that suffer the conflict mostly are Baja California, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Sinaloa (highlighted red on image right). President Calderón's government is currently fighting the drug-dealers, especially in his home state of Michoacán, but there are more operations going on in the states of Jalisco and Guerrero, and in 2009 drug-related violence increased considerably in Sonora.

The states where most of the conflict takes place, marked in red.

On December 24, 2006, the governor of Baja California Eugenio Elorduy announced a similar operation in his state with cooperation of state and federal governments. This operation started in late December 2006 in the border city of Tijuana.

By January 2007, these various operations had extended to the states of Guerrero as well as the so called "Golden Triangle States" of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa. In the following February the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were included as well. Organized crime responded to the increased pressure with a failed attempt to assassinate the federal deputy representing Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.

As of early October 2007, the U.S. drug czar announced figures showing that the war had significantly affected the drugs trade in the United States. In 37 cities across the country, the price of cocaine had risen by as much as 50%, while the average purity has dropped by 11%, evidence that cocaine supply had been sharply curtailed by the effort.[106][107]

Seizures and arrests have jumped since Calderón took office in December 2006 and Mexico has extradited more than 100 people wanted in the U.S. A new rule that forces all private airplanes to stop for inspection at either the Cozumel airport on the Caribbean coast or Tapachula on the Guatemala border is credited, in part, for leading to confiscations of more than 270 planes in the past 1½ years.

On July 10, 2008, the Mexican government announced plans to nearly double the size of its Federal Police force to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking.[108] The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military.

File:Mexican submarine 2008.jpg
A narco submarine being seized by a Mexican Navy helicopter unit. July 16, 2008

On July 16, 2008, the Mexican Navy intercepted a 10-meter long narco submarine travelling about 200 kilometers off the southwest of Oaxaca; in a raid, Special Forces rappelled from a helicopter on to the deck of the narco submarine and arrested four smugglers before they could scuttle their vessel. The vessel was found to be loaded with 5.8 tons of cocaine and was towed to Huatulco, Oaxaca, by a Mexican Navy patrol boat.[109][110][111][112][113]

One apparent paradox for the Calderón administration has been that even while the government has clearly succeeded in damaging the cartels, the country’s security situation continues to deteriorate at what appears to be an unstoppable rate.[114] The most obvious sign of this deteriorating security situation is that the total number of drug-related homicides continues to climb dramatically. Violence has also escalated with intimidation and fear. The discovery of hit lists with the names of police officers has become increasingly common in many Mexican cities along the U.S. border. It also is common for the officers named on those lists to be gunned down one by one. In addition, drug trafficking organizations have now begun displaying large banners over highways in cities around the country. Many of the banners make threats against rivals, or accuse a particular criminal group of being supported by local and federal government officials. In several cases, purported recruiting banners appeared in northern Mexico offering higher pay and better equipment to soldiers and police officers who defect to Los Zetas.[114]

One escalation in this conflict is the traffickers' use of new means to claim their territory and spread fear. Cartel members have broadcast executions on YouTube,[115] tossed body parts into crowded nightclubs and hung banners on public streets.[116] The 2008 Morelia grenade attacks took place on September 15, 2008, when two hand grenades were thrown onto a crowded plaza, killing ten people and injuring more than 100.[117] Some see these efforts as intended to sap the morale of government agents assigned to crack down on the cartels; others see them as an effort to let citizens know who is winning the war. At least one dozen Mexican norteño musicians have been murdered. Most of the victims performed what are known as narcocorrido, popular folk songs that tell the stories of the Mexican drug trade—and celebrate its leaders as folk heroes.[118]

The extreme violence is jeopardizing foreign investment in Mexico, and the Finance Minister, Agustín Carstens, said that the deteriorating security alone is reducing gross domestic product annually by 1% in Mexico, Latin America's second-largest economy.[119]

Corruption of officials

Mexican cartels advance their operations, in part, by corrupting or intimidating law enforcement officials.[27][107][120] The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reports that although Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in recent years, it remains a serious problem.[121][122] Some agents of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers for the Sinaloa cartel, and the Attorney General (PGR) reported in December 2005 nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges.[107]

In recent years, the federal government conducted purges and prosecution of police forces in Nuevo Laredo, Michoacán, Baja California and Mexico City.[107] The anti-cartel operations begun by President Calderón in December 2006 includes ballistic checks of police weapons in places where there is concern that police are also working for the cartels. In June 2007, President Calderón purged 284 federal police commanders from all 31 states and the Federal District.[107]

Under the 'Cleanup Operation' performed in 2008, several agents and high ranking officials have been arrested and charged with selling information or protection to drug cartels;[123][124] some high profile arrests were: Victor Gerardo Garay Cadena,[125] (chief of the Federal Police), Noé Ramírez Mandujano (ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO)), José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos (ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO)), and Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas who is the ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office. In January 2009, Rodolfo de la Guardia García, ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office, was arrested.[126] Julio César Godoy Toscano, who was just elected July 5, 2009 to the lower house of Congress, was discovered to be a top-ranking member of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel and is accused of being in charge of protection for the cartel.[127] He is now a fugitive.

Impact on human rights

The US drug control policies in Mexico that have been adopted to prevent drug trafficking via Mexico and to eliminate the power of the drug cartels that bring about corruption, terror and violence have adversely affected the human rights situation in Mexico. These policies have given the responsibilities for civilian drug control to the military, which has the power to not only carry out counter drug and public security operations but also enact policy. According to the United States Department of State, the police and the military in Mexico were accused of committing serious human rights violations as they carried out the Government’s efforts to combat drug cartels.[128] Immense power in the executive branch and corruption in legislative and judiciary branches also contribute to the worsening of Mexico’s human rights situation; the roles played by police force in violating basic human rights through torture and threats, the autonomy of the military and its consequences, and the ineffectiveness of the judiciary in upholding and preserving basic human rights. Some of the forms of human rights violations in recent years presented by human rights organizations include illegal arrests, secret and prolonged detention, torture, rape, extrajudicial execution, and fabrication of evidence.[129][130][131] The US Drug Policy fails to target high-level traffickers. In the 1970s, as part of Operation Condor, the Mexican government sent 10,000 soldiers and police to a poverty-stricken region in northern Mexico plagued by drug production and leftist insurgency. Hundreds of peasants were arrested, tortured, and jailed, but not a single big drug trafficker was captured.[132]

The emergence of internal federal agencies that are often unregulated and unaccountable also contribute to the occurrence of human rights violations. It has been found that Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación-AFI) of Mexico had been involved with numerous human rights violation cases involving torture and corruption. One well-known case is the death of a detainee, Guillermo Velez Mendoza while in the custody of AFI agents. The AFI agent implicated in his death was arrested but he escaped after being released on bail.[133] Similarly nearly all AFI agents evaded punishment and arrests due to the corrupt executive and judiciary system and the supremacy of these agencies. The Attorney General's Office reported in December 2005 that one-fifth of its officers were under investigation for criminal activity, and that nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges.[107][134] The AFI was finally declared a failure and was disbanded in 2009.[135]

Ethnic prejudices have also emerged in the drug war and poor and helpless indigenous communities have been targeted by the police, military, drug traffickers and the justice system. According to the National Human Rights Commission (Mexico) (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos-CNDH), nearly one-third of the indigenous prisoners in Mexico in 2001 were in prison for federal crimes, which are mostly drug related.[136]

Another major concern is the lack of implementation of the Leahy Law in U.S. and the consequences of that in worsening the human rights situation in Mexico. Under this U.S. law, no member or unit of a foreign security force that is credibly alleged to have committed a human rights violation may receive U.S. security training. It is alleged that the U.S., by training the military and police force in Mexico, is in violation of the Leahy Amendment. In this case, the U.S. embassy officials in Mexico in charge of human rights and drug control programs are blamed to be aiding and abetting these violations. In December 1997, a group of heavily armed Mexican special forces soldiers kidnapped twenty young men in Ocotlan, Jalisco, brutally torturing them and killing one. Six of the implicated officers had received U.S. training as part of the Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE) training program.[137]

Effects internationally


Improved cooperation of Mexico with the U.S. led to the recent arrests of 755 Sinaloa cartel suspects in U.S. cities and towns, but the U.S. market is being eclipsed by booming demand for cocaine in Europe, where users now pay twice the going U.S. rate, and Colombian gangs don't need Mexican middlemen when shipping across the Atlantic.[13] U.S. Attorney General announced September 17, 2008 that an international drug interdiction operation, Project Reckoning, involving law enforcement in the United States, Italy, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala had netted more than 500 organized crime members involved in the cocaine trade. The announcement highlighted the Italian-Mexican cocaine connection.[22]


The Mexican Army crackdown has driven some cartels to seek a safer location for their operations across the border in Guatemala, attracted by corruption, weak policing and its position on the overland smuggling route.[138][139] The smugglers pick up drugs from small planes that land at private airstrips hidden in the Guatemalan jungle. The cargo is then moved up through Mexico to the U.S. border. Guatemala has also arrested dozens of drug suspects and torched huge cannabis and poppy fields, but is struggling. The U.S. government has sent speedboats and night-vision goggles under a regional drug aid package, but much more is needed. In February 2009, the powerful Los Zetas gang threatened to kill the President of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom.[140] On March 1, 2010, Guatemala's chief of national police and the country's top anti-drugs official have been arrested over alleged links to drug trafficking.[139] A report from the Brookings Institution[141] warns that, without proactive, timely efforts, the violence will spread throughout the Central American region.[142]

West Africa

At least nine Mexican and Colombian drug cartels have established bases in 11 West African nations.[143] They are reportedly working closely with local criminal gangs to carve out a staging area for access to the lucrative European market. The Colombian and Mexican cartels have discovered that it is much easier to smuggle large loads into West Africa and then break that up into smaller shipments to Europe - mostly Spain, the United Kingdom and France.[143]

North America

The Mexican Army has severely curtailed the ability of the Mexican drug cartels to move cocaine inside U.S.A. and Canada, prompting an upsurge in gang violence in Vancouver, where the cocaine price has increased from $23,300 to almost $39,000 per kilo as both the U.S. and Canadian drug markets are experiencing prolonged shortages of cocaine.[13] As evidence of this pressure, the U.S. government says the amount of cocaine seized on U.S. soil dropped by 41 percent between early 2007 and mid-2008.[13]

United States

See also: Mérida Initiative

The U.S. Justice Department considers the Mexican drug cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.[144] During the first 18 months of Calderón's presidency, the Mexican government has spent about $7 billion USD in the war against drugs.[145] In seeking partnership from the United States, Mexican officials point out that the illicit drug trade is a shared problem in need of a shared solution, and remark that most of the financing for the Mexican traffickers comes from American drug consumers.[146] On March 25, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stated that "Our [America's] insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade", and that "the United States bears shared responsibility for the drug-fueled violence sweeping Mexico." [147] U.S. State Department officials are aware that Mexican president Felipe Calderón’s willingness to work with the United States is unprecedented on issues of security, crime and drugs, so the U.S. Congress passed legislation in late June 2008 to provide Mexico and Central American countries with $1.6 billion USD for the Mérida Initiative, a three-year international assistance plan. The Mérida Initiative provides Mexico and Central American countries with law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice to strengthen the national justice systems. The Mérida Initiative does not include cash or weapons. In January 2009, a U.S. military assessment expressed some concern that if the war is extended 25 years, it could cause a collapse of the Mexican government due to the military strength of organized crime, and that the conflict could possibly spread to border states.[148][149] Currently, the Mexican drug cartels already have a presence in most major U.S. cities.[60] In 2009, the Justice Department identified more than 200 U.S. cities in which Mexican drug cartels "maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors" - up from 100 three years earlier.[150]

Multiple researchers propose focusing on prevention, treatment and education programs to curb demand rather than the continued support of combating the supply of drugs. Studies show that military interdiction efforts fail because they ignore the root cause of the problem: U.S. demand. During the early to mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center; the study concluded that $3 billion USD should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest and most effective way to cut drug use. President Clinton's drug czar's office rejected slashing law enforcement spending.[151] The Bush administration proposed cutting spending on drug treatment and prevention programs by $73 million, or 1.5%, in the 2009 budget, which hasn't been approved yet.[119]

U.S. death toll and national security

See also: Border War (2006-present)

U.S. authorities are reporting a spike in killings, kidnappings and home invasions connected to Mexico's cartels, and at least 19 Americans were killed in 2008.[152][153] Also, more than 200 Americans have been killed in Mexico since 2004.[154]

For the U.S. Joint Forces Command, in terms of worst-case scenarios, Mexico bears some consideration for sudden collapse in the next two decades as the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels.[148] The Joint Forces Command are concerned that this internal conflict over the next several years, will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state, and therefore would demand an American response based on the implications for homeland security alone.[148] In March 2009, the United States Department of Homeland Security said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spilling over the border into the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.[29] The call for National Guard on the border greatly increased after the 2010 murder of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, possibly at the hands of Mexican drug smugglers.[155][156]

In March 2009, the Obama administration outlined plans to redeploy more than 500 federal agents to border posts and redirect $200 million to combat smuggling of illegal drugs, money and weapons.[157] On May 25, 2010 President Obama authorized deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico to assist with border protection and enforcement activities, as well as help train additional Customs and Border Protection agents.[158] The deployment has drawn criticism primarily from the border state governments which argue than an additional 1,800 men to contol over 2,000 miles of border is not nearly enough and is more a political show than a serious attempt to stop incursions at the border.


Policy failure

According to former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, the United States-led drug war is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral; Mr. Cardoso said in a conference that "the available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war".[159] The panel of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy commission, headed by Cardoso, stated that the countries involved in this war should remove the "taboos" and re-examine the anti-drug programs. Latin American governments have followed the advice of the U.S. to combat the drug war, but the policies had little effect. The commission made some recommendations to President Barack Obama to consider new policies, such as decriminalization of cannabis (marijuana) and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.[160] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs states it is time to seriously consider drug decriminalization and legalization.[161]

Allegations of corruption

In May of 2010 an NPR report collected allegations from dozens of sources, including US and Mexican media, Mexican police officials, politicians, academics, and others, that Sinaloa Cartel had infiltrated and corrupted the Mexican federal government and the Mexican military by bribery and other means. The reports also alleged that Sinaloa was colluding with the government to destroy other cartels and protect itself and its leader, 'Chapo'. Mexican officials denied any favoritism in the government's treatment of drug cartels. [46][47]


RAND studies released in the mid-1990s found that using drug user treatment to reduce drug consumption in the United States is seven times more cost effective than law enforcement efforts alone, and it could potentially cut consumption by a third.[162]

In FY2011, the Obama Administration requests approximately $5.6 billion to support demand reduction. This includes a 13% increase for prevention and a nearly 4% increase for treatment. The overall FY 2011 counter-drug request, including for supply reduction and domestic law enforcement is $15.5 billion with $521.1 million in new funding.[163]

See also



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  138. ^ Mexican drug gang menace spreads in Guatemala
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  140. ^ Mexican cartel threatens Guatemala President
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  145. ^ Merida Initiative Will Help Battle Drug Trafficking
  146. ^ Americans finance Mexican traffickers
  147. ^ Drugs, Guns and a Reality Check The Washington Post.. Retrieved July 21, 2009.
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  149. ^ Mexico in danger of collapse
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  152. ^ American Death toll
  153. ^ Mexican Drug Violence Spills Over Into US
  154. ^ More Americans Killed in Mexico Since 2004 Than in Any Other Country (Outside Military Combat Zones)
  155. ^ "Lawmakers Demand Administration Deploy National Guard, Border Patrol After Killing". Fox News. March 30, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  156. ^ Derek Jordan (May 4, 2010). "Dever says nothing new in investigation". Sierra Vista Herald. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  157. ^ Reuters: Obama Mexico border plan not enough-US senator
  158. ^ Obama Authorizes Deployment of More National Guard Troops Along Border. ABC News. May 25, 2010.
  159. ^ Latin American Panel Calls U.S. Drug War a Failure - WSJ.com
  160. ^ Cardoso, Gaviria, Zedillo Urge Obama to Decriminalize Marijuana - Bloomberg.com
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  162. ^ Miller, Stephanie (April 7, 2009). "A Regional Strategy for Drug Wars in the Americas". Center for American Progress. Retrieved 2009-04-13. ((cite news)): Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  163. ^ "US Demand Reduction Efforts". Consulate General of the United States. March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-29.