The Mexican Drug War is an ongoing armed conflict taking place among rival drug cartels, who fight each other for regional control, and Mexican government forces who seek to combat drug trafficking. 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 90s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States. Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the ‘Cartel de Tijuana’ and ‘Cartel del Golfo’ , have led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the wholesale of illicit drug sale earnings range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually. 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.
Biggest Drug cartels in Mexico
Despite the title, these are also among the largest drug cartels in the world:
Cártel del Golfo
The Gulf Cartel is a Mexican drug cartel based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The cartel is present in 13 states with important areas of operation in the cities of Nuevo Laredo, Miguel Alemán, Reynosa and Matamoros in the northern state of Tamaulipas, it also has important operations in the states of Nuevo León and in Michoacán. Cities like Tampico and Nuevo Laredo are still disputed plazas between the Gulf Cartel and The Zetas. The Gulf Cartel traffics cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border to major cities in the United States. The group is known for its violent methods and intimidation.
Aside from earning money from the sales of narcotics, the cartel also imposes “taxes” on anyone passing narcotics or aliens through Gulf Cartel territory. The cartel is also known to operate protection rackets, extorting money from local businesses and to kidnap for ransom money.
Cártel de Tijuana
The Tijuana Cartel, also known as Arellano-Félix Organization or Cartel Arellano Felix – CAF, is a mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana, Baja California. The cartel has been described as “one of the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico”. The Tijuana Cartel was featured battling the rival Juárez Cartel in the 2000 motion picture Traffic.
Cártel de Sinaloa
The Sinaloa Cartel, also known as Pacific Cartel or Guzmán-Loera Cartel, is a mexican drug cartel primarily operating out of the states of Baja California, Sinaloa, Durango, Sonora and Chihuahua. The cartel is also known as the Guzmán-Loera Organization and the Pacific Cartel, the latter due to the coast of Mexico from which it originated, another name is the Federation. The ‘Federation’ was partially splintered when the Beltrán-Leyva brothers broke apart from the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Sinaloa Cartel is associated with the label “Golden Triangle” as the regions of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua in which they operate the most form a ‘triangle’ when their capital cities are looked at on a map. The region is a major producer of Mexican poppy and marijuana. This area is similar in the United States to the Emerald Triangle consisting of the three largest marijuana-producing counties in the US: Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity in Northern California, United States.
According to the U.S. Attorney General, the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for importing into the United States and distributing nearly 200 tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin between 1990 and 2008.
Cártel de Juarez
The Juárez Cartel, also known as the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization, is a mexican drug cartel based in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas. 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. During the 90’s and early 2000’s, drug lords from contiguous Mexican states forged an alliance that became known as ‘The Golden Triangle Alliance’ or ‘La Alianza Triángulo de Oro’ because of its three-state area of influence: Chihuahua, south of the U.S. state of Texas, Durango and Sinaloa. However, this alliance was broken after Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the Boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, refused to pay “derecho de piso,” a tax for the right to use the routes into the U.S., to the Juarez Cartel.
The Juarez Cartel is a ruthless, dangerous drug trafficking organization that has been known to decapitate their rivals and mutilate their corpses and dump them in public to instill fear not only to the general public but to local law enforcement and their rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Knights Templar cartel is a mexican criminal organization and an offshoot of the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel based in the Mexican state of Michoacán.
After the death of Nazario Moreno González, leader of the La Familia Michoacana cartel, the other cartel co-founders, Enrique Plancarte Solís and Servando Gómez Martínez, formed an offshoot of La Familia calling itself Caballeros Templarios (or Knights Templar). The cartel’s armed wing is called La Resistencia. The Knights Templar cartel indoctrinate its operatives to “fight and die” for what they call “social justice”.
Los Zetas Cartel is a criminal organization in Mexico dedicated mostly to international illegal drug trade, assassinations, extortion, kidnapping and other organized crime activities. This drug cartel was founded by a group of former Mexican Army Special Forces deserters and now it includes corrupt former federal, state, and local police officers, as well as ex-Kaibiles from Guatemala.
This group of highly trained gunmen was first hired as a private mercenary army and bodyguard troupe for Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. After the arrest of the Gulf Cartel’s leader, Osiel Cárdenas Guillen, as well as other events, the two entities became a combined trafficking force, with the Zetas taking a more active leadership role in drug trafficking. Since February 2010 Los Zetas have gone independent and became enemies of its former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel.
Los Zetas are led by Heriberto “El Lazca” Lazcano and are considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the most violent paramilitary enforcement group in Mexico.
La Familia Michoacana
The Michoacan Family or La Familia, was a mexican drug cartel and an organized crime syndicate based in the mexican state of Michoacán. Formerly allied to the Gulf Cartel — as part of Los Zetas — it split off since 2006.
The cartel’s first leader, Nazario Moreno González, known as El Más Loco, preached his organization’s divine right to eliminate enemies. He carried a “bible” of his own sayings and insisted that his army of traffickers and hitmen avoid using the narcotics they sell. Nazario Moreno’s partners were José de Jesús Méndez Vargas, Servando Gómez Martínez and Dionicio Loya Plancarte, each of whom has a bounty of $2 million for his capture, and were contesting the control of the organization.
In July 2009 and November 2010, La Familia Michoacana offered to retreat and even disband their cartel, “with the condition that both the Federal Government, and State and Federal Police commit to safeguarding the security of the state of Michoacán. However, President Felipe Calderón’s government refused to strike a deal with the cartel and rejected their calls for dialogue. La Familia Cartel was “exterminated” in 2011.
Cártel de olos Beltrán Levya
The Beltrán-Leyva Cartel was a Mexican drug cartel and organized crime syndicate founded by the four Beltrán Leyva brothers: Marcos Arturo, Carlos, Alfredo and Héctor. The cartel was responsible for cocaine transportation and wholesaling, marijuana production and wholesaling, and heroin production and wholesaling. It controlled numerous drug trafficking corridors, and engaged in human smuggling, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, murder and gun-running.
The April 11th in 2011 bring the arrest of Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya, a.k.a El Compayito, a cartel liuetenant. To this latter event was given the name of “the last Beltran-Leyva link of any importance”. This was the end of one of the largest drug cartel in Mexico.