HomeNewsAnalysisStreet Gangs to Replace Cartels as Drivers of Mexico's Violence

Street Gangs to Replace Cartels as Drivers of Mexico's Violence


Major trafficking groups like the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, which are responsible for most of Mexico's drug violence, will be replaced by super-powered street gangs in coming years, according to a report from Southern Pulse.

Southern Pulse’s new report, "Beyond 2012," addresses a range of hemispheric security issues, and predicts that today’s big fish will no longer be the major drivers of violence in Mexico three years from now.

According to authors Sam Logan and James Bosworth:

By the end of 2014, the men organized by El Chapo and his principal rival Heriberto Lazcano will no longer be the principal drivers of violence across Mexico. At the hyper-local level, super-powered street gangs, armed with Twitter, You Tube, the weapon of fear, and an enviable armory will man-handle local politicians and municipal police. The likelihood of journalist cowling or murder, local kidnapping, and state displacement will rise...

This would represent a momentous change, as the pair are together responsible for some of the deadliest feuds in the country. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, is widely blamed for initiating the battle with Vicente Carrillo Fuentes for control of Juarez in 2008, a fight that led to thousands of murders and for a time vaulted Juarez into the dubious status of the hemisphere’s most dangerous city. Guzman’s split with his erstwhile allies, the Beltran Leyvas, shook the underworld across the nation, and contributed to increased violence in Morelos, Guerrero, and their native Sinaloa.

As for Lazcano, known by the alias "Z-3," he is the top leader of the Zetas gang, which has grown famous for its pattern of moving into new regions and upsetting the status quo. Originally an enforcer group operating primarily in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, the group has split with its founding patrons in the Gulf Cartel, and has established itself in far-flung states like Quintana Roo and Jalisco. It has also been perhaps the most aggressive gang in expanding its operations beyond drug trafficking and into extortion, kidnapping, and pirate merchandising, among other illicit activities. All of this has helped earn Lazcano's gang the reputation of causing more violence in Mexico than any other group.

There is much evidence to suggest that the decentralization of violence predicted in "Beyond 2012" is already underway. While Guzman and Lazcano remain big names, the relative power of the capos of their stature has been reduced during the Calderon years, ebbing away thanks in large part to the rise of smaller, more regionally isolated gangs.

Some of these form from the ashes of larger groups, like the Mano con Ojos (an offshoot of the Beltran Leyvas) and the Caballeros Templarios (a splinter from the Familia Michoacana). Others, like the Zetas, start as simple enforcer groups but evolve into something very different: perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is La Linea, a Chihuahua gang that has essentially subsumed the Juarez Cartel, its initial sponsor.

There are also innumerable local street gangs, which, though they have existed in some form for decades, are now more violent and more connected to the transnational groups than ever before. While the principal driver of violence in Juarez appears to be fighting between the forces of Guzman and Carrillo, local gangs are a significant factor in sustaining the bloodshed: Mexican authorities have estimated that there are up to 1,500 street gangs operating in Juarez alone.

There are even questions of the degree of control that Lazcano and Guzman exercise over the organizations they lead. "Beyond 2012" mentions rumors of a divide between Lazcano and his number two, Miguel Treviño, and as InSight Crime has pointed out, it appears that many of the most spectacular acts of violence perpetrated by the Zetas were not orchestrated by Lazcano and Treviño, but rather by lower-level members. Guzman’s control over the Sinaloa Cartel appears less frayed, but a wave of violence last year in Durango -- a state long controlled by Guzman where hundreds of bodies were discovered in mass graves last spring -- was attributed to infighting among Sinaloa cliques.

Bosworth and Logan mention another factor that dovetails with the decline in power of the hegemonic groups: the continued growth of a violent consumer drug industry within Mexico, called "narcomenudeo."

Finally, there is at least one more consideration within our space allowed: drug consumption. As several mid- and small-sized groups surface in Mexico, they will all reach for the most lucrative black market product possible. Drugs will continue to play a strong role in black market forces, though local consumption will surely rise across Mexico...

While the number of consumers in Mexico is relatively small compared to developed nations, it is on the rise. For instance, according to Mexico’s most recent National Survey of Addiction, published in 2008, the number of Mexicans who had tried cocaine doubled to 2.4 percent of the population in six years. Consumption of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana also increased.

Street drug sales have also fueled a great deal of violence throughout the nation. In recent years, "narcomenudistas," the drug pushers who must be available for their clientele and are therefore quite exposed to risk, have increasingly emerged as targets, as the larger gangs kill dealers associated with their rivals in order to make a play for a city or simply harass an adversary.

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.


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.


Related Content

FENTANYL / 28 SEP 2022

Migrant encounters and seizures of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl are often erroneously conflated and linked together.


Violence between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Zacatecas has now seen judged and police chiefs being targeted.

COCAINE / 22 FEB 2023

The conviction of Genaro García Luna is a big victory for US law enforcement institutions. But problems remain in the…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela Coverage Continues to be Highlighted

3 MAR 2023

This week, InSight Crime co-director Jeremy McDermott was the featured guest on the Americas Quarterly podcast, where he provided an expert overview of the changing dynamics…


Venezuela's Organized Crime Top 10 Attracts Attention

24 FEB 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published its ranking of Venezuela’s ten organized crime groups to accompany the launch of the Venezuela Organized Crime Observatory. Read…


InSight Crime on El País Podcast

10 FEB 2023

This week, InSight Crime co-founder, Jeremy McDermott, was among experts featured in an El País podcast on the progress of Colombia’s nascent peace process.


InSight Crime Interviewed by Associated Press

3 FEB 2023

This week, InSight Crime’s Co-director Jeremy McDermott was interviewed by the Associated Press on developments in Haiti as the country continues its prolonged collapse. McDermott’s words were republished around the world,…


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…