HomeNewsAnalysisBeyond the Border: Measuring Mexican Cartels' Influence in the US
ANALYSIS

Beyond the Border: Measuring Mexican Cartels' Influence in the US

MEXICO / 3 NOV 2011 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

While little is known about the activity of Mexican drug cartels in the U.S., a Department of Justice report released last month suggests that they are dominated by one group: “El Chapo’s” Sinaloa Cartel.

Although an emphasis on supply reduction has been a cornerstone of U.S. drug policy ever since the inception of the “war on drugs,” numerous studies over the past three decades have indicated that interdiction efforts have failed to significantly decrease the flow of narcotics into the country.

Now, a report released in August by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) has joined their ranks, claiming that overall drug availability is increasing. According to the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment, “heroin, marijuana, MDMA [otherwise known as ecstasy] and methamphetamine are readily available throughout the United States, and their availability is increasing in some markets.” The only exception to the trend is cocaine, which remains less available than it was prior to 2007, a year which drug officials claim to have caused a supply reduction. As InSight Crime has reported, however, the evidence for this drop is not decisive.

Not surprisingly, the report shows that the southern border continues to act as a gateway for the vast majority of these drugs. As it turns out, however, the quantity and type of drug smuggled across the border varies by location. Whereas remote areas along the southern Arizona border are the site of large-scale shipments of marijuana, the NDIC claims this does not apply to all drugs.

Instead, smugglers of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine prefer to bring in their product in multiple, smaller shipments through border checkpoints in Texas and California. This means that a certain percentage will always be caught, but drug trafficking organizations rely on secret compartments, the law of averages and pay-offs to ensure that enough of the drugs get through to meet the level of wholesale demand in the U.S.

Some of the most interesting findings of the report, however, have to do with the division of these distribution networks. According to the NDIC, Mexican groups solidified their hegemony over the drug market over the past year, continuing to edge out their competitors from places like Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

But not all Mexican groups have equal control over the market. Indeed, their influence on U.S. drug supply has much to do with to their relative power in Mexico. Just as the Sinaloa Cartel is the most powerful drug trafficking organization in that country, the group -- led by Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo" -- has the most distribution connections in the U.S.

The report’s authors found that of the seven major main drug trafficking organizations operating in the U.S., (the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, the Beltran Leyva Organization, the La Familia Michoacana and the·Tijuana Cartel), the Sinaloa Cartel is the only one which traffics drugs to every single region of the country. As the diagram produced by Mexican daily El Universal below illustrates, the Zetas -- who are perceived as the Sinaloans’ nearest competitors in Mexico -- have distribution networks in only the Southwest, Southeast and the Great Lakes regions. ·They also lag behind the Sinaloa Cartel in the drugs they traffic. While the Zetas are limited to distributing mostly cocaine and marijuana, the Sinaloans move all the major types of major drug northward.

Still, it should be noted that the report does not represent a complete assessment of Mexican cartels’ relative power. For instance, the NDIC also claims that both the Juarez and Gulf Cartels, which are each considered to be past their prime, surpass the Zetas in their geographic spread. This is likely a product of the Zetas’ modus operandi. The group generally does not possess a firm organizational structure, and owes its influence more to muscling its way into the networks of other groups than to its own connections.

Ultimately, the NDIC report should be taken as a reminder that Mexico’s “drug war” is not as insulated from the U.S. as many suppose. If Mexican cartels have criminal connections in the country, then it is not hard to imagine that these organizations could extend their activities beyond the mere wholesale distribution of illicit drugs. InSight Crime has previously documented a deepening of connections with local street gangs, a development that that has local law enforcement worried.

mexmapdrugz

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EXTRADITION / 8 AUG 2022

A US request has led Guatemala to dismantle a prolific human smuggling ring that smuggled migrants to the United States.

COVID AND CRIME / 3 NOV 2021

One of the most sought-after destinations in all of Latin America, the Caribbean resort town of Tulum is now the…

CHINA AND CRIME / 27 FEB 2021

A new investigation has identified Mexico as a major contributor to a global seahorse trafficking network centered around China but…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…