HomeNewsAnalysis7 Mexico Presidents, Few Results in Battle Against Cartels

7 Mexico Presidents, Few Results in Battle Against Cartels


Organized crime in Mexico has enjoyed 40 years of growth. From the administrations of Jose Lopez Portillo to Enrique Peña Nieto, the map of organized crime has evolved and shifted while the government’s security strategies have failed to slow the growth of cartels or protect the public from the repercussions of their criminal activity.

The murder of a US Drug Enforcement Adminisgtration agent in February 1985 altered forever the history of drug trafficking in Mexico.

That year, agent Enrique Camarena was killed by the Guadalajara Cartel because they blamed him for the seizure of 4,000 tons of marijuana at the El Bufalo ranch three months earlier. At the time, it was the biggest drug seizure in history.

This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. It is the first installment in a journalism project called NarcoData, developed by Animal Politico and Poderopedia, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. See the original article here

Video explaining the NarcoData project

Before the Camarena murder, the Mexican government had not carried out any big operations to stem the advance of criminal organizations that had begun to penetrate state and local governments, as well as police forces across the nation. But the murder obligated the government of former President Miguel de la Madrid -- thanks to significant pressure applied by the US government -- to launch a manhunt for the Guadalajara Cartel leaders, previously known as the Sinaloa Syndicate.

That year, 1985, Mexico captured Rafael Caro Quintero and Enrique Fonseca, alias “Don Neto.” In 1989, the Carlos Salinas de Gortari administration apprehended Guadalajara Cartel founder Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.

But those arrests failed to slow down the growth of criminal organizations, which continued to flourish.  The detentions barely changed the organized crime map in Mexico.

Without it principal leaders, the Guadalajara Cartel split into three groups --  the Sinaloa Cartel, the Juarez Cartel and the Tijuana Cartel -- and they would dominate criminal activities in Mexico for two decades.

At that time, the cartels operated only in about 10 states, but today organized criminal groups operate in virtually every single state and have broadened their activities to include crimes that directly impact the public, such as kidnapping, extortion, robbery.

Failed Strategies

Miguel de la Madrid was not the only president to apply strategies that failed miserably. Over the past 40 years and seven "sexenios" (six-year presidential terms), organized criminal groups have only multiplied.

To understand today’s organized crime map, it's necessary to look back to the 1970s, when Jose Lopez Portillo was president. Official reports indicate that the illicit drug trade back then was divided between the Guadalajara Cartel and the Gulf Cartel, who together operated in 10 states.

Four decades later, the Peña Nieto administration faces nine cartels that are all basically spin-offs from the original two cartels. These nine cartels operate in 25 states, according to documentation acquired from the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) as the result of a public information request.

The decades of failed strategies explain, in part, the survival and growth of organized crime, although their sustainability can’t be fully understood without recognizing the importance of Mexico’s proximity to the United States, far and away the world’s number one consumer of illicit drugs and the world’s top supplier of weapons.

“The drug trade in Mexico has been propped up and bolstered by the market just across the border,” said Guillermo Valdes in an interview. “Consumption in the US has not declined; on the contrary, it has grown.” Valdes, author of the book “Historia del Narcotráfico en México” and the former director of the National Investigations and Security Center (Cisen), is one of the main analysts consulted during the creation of NarcoData.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has identified the United States as the world’s leading consumer of illicit drugs. It says that between 2007 and 2012, the number of drug users in the US grew 64 percent to 23 million people.

It is not simply a question of consumption, however. Criminal organizations have also gained strength because of easy access to high-powered weapons. A decade ago, US President George W. Bush allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire, and sales have since skyrocketed. In 2014, nearly 72 percent of weapons seized in Mexico came from the United States, according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The easy access to high-powered arms along with massive flows of money allow criminal organizations to confront and resist government forces. In May 2015, for example, the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) shot down a government attack helicopter with a rocket launcher and in November 2010 the Gulf Cartel held off an attack by the Marines for eight hours with assault weapons and grenades.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Jalisco Cartel - New Generation 

Valdes also emphasized the fact that security strategies have solely focused on confiscating drugs and weapons, arresting cartel leaders and carrying out full-scale armed operations instead of focusing on strengthening security and justice institutions.

In the past 10 years, the PGR’s anti-crime unit has arrested 393,332 people linked to organized crime and has confiscated over 27 million kilos of marijuana.

But these “successes” mean little when top security officials who have been accused of links to cartels rarely face prosecution or sanction.

Alejandro Hope, the security editor with El Daily Post and a former professional security analyst, says that administration after administration has failed to address “the failed strategies” and repeatedly overlook the need to address the nation’s institutional weaknesses.

“Where are these weaknesses most commonly exploited?” Hope asks rhetorically. “In local police forces that are easily infiltrated and officers are commonly recruited by organized crime, within detective and prosecutorial offices that are incapable of arming solid cases against criminals of all ranks who end up released or acquitted, in courts and across the judicial system where judges are vulnerable to bribery or threats and in the federal penitentiary system.”

While the security and justice institutions have remained weak and ineffective, we have witnessed broad diversification, Hope says. Criminal organizations now engage in a wider variety of impact crimes beyond simple drug trafficking. Cartels now operate extortion rings, cultivate a broader variety of narcotics, moving from marijuana to cocaine and now dominating the methamphetamine and heroin markets.

Mexico is now the world’s number one heroin producer and is the global leader in trafficking the chemical substances needed to produce meth, according to a 2014 report by the International Narcotics Control Board.

“Up [until] now, we have only seen schisms within the big crime gangs, there has been no real weakening,” says Luis Astorga, an investigator at the National Autnomous University. “There have been reconfigurations and new alliances forged and the government is incapable of stopping it. Cartels have not remained static.”

Today, the government of Enrique Peña Nieto has seen the emergence of the CJNG while the Sinaloa, Juarez and Tijuana Cartels continue to operate. In addition, the Beltran Leyva cartel remains active. All of these groups are outgrowths of the Guadalajara Cartel.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles

Meanwhile, the Gulf Cartel is still in operations as well as three groups that spun off from them: the Zetas, the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar.

As evidenced in the first NarcoData map, the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has held its own as the pre-eminent cartel since its birth in 1990. The size of the bars (see interactive graphic) depicts its presence across the nation.

We can also see that during the Calderon administration the Zetas enjoyed considerable growth. They started out as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel before evolving into one of the most capable criminal organizations in the country during the Calderon sexenio.

With regard to the current government, information can be viewed in the graph titled “Drug trafficking since the return of the PRI,” and the growth of the CJNG is evident.

Through the visual representations, NarcoData demonstrates the evolution of organized crime over the past 40 decades.

*This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. It is the first installment in a journalism project called NarcoData, developed by Animal Politico and Poderopedia, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. See the original article here

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