Mexican Drug War: Drug Trafficking and its Effects on Mexico

Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
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According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and annual survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, estimated that were 19. 1 million people in the United States 12 years or older who were currently users of illicit drugs. There are about 14. 6 million marijuana users, 2. 0 million cocaine users, and about 166,000 heroin users in the United States. These statistics show that there is obviously a very high demand for illicit drugs in the United States despite its illegal status. The question that most people do not tend to ask is how is this demand being met?

Who is supplying it and how? American users are supplied most of their drugs from Mexico, which is very conveniently directly south of the border of the United States. Mexico is a major supplier in heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine. It is estimated that roughly 40 to 67 percent of all marijuana and about 95 percent of cocaine in the United States comes from Mexico. In order for all these drugs to be produced, organized, and transported to the United States there has been a creation of cartels and gangs in Mexico, which in turn has created what is referred to as the Mexican Drug War.

Throughout the paper I will discuss the development of the organized drug game in Mexico, different drug cartels, government action and the effects that all of this has caused in Mexico. For a very long time, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the Colombians were the ones that controlled cocaine trafficking. Starting in 1975, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria began developing his cocaine operation. Soon he became known as the king of cocaine and at his height of power he was fifteen tons of cocaine a day, worth more than half a billion dollars, in the United States.

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After enforcement increased in both South Florida and the Caribbean, the Colombian organized crime began to form partnerships with Mexico-based to transport cocaine through Mexico and into the United States. Mexican transporters were able to meet this need of reliable cocaine transporters because they already had infrastructure set up from their sourcing out of marijuana and heroin. Mexican transporters were given anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of each cocaine shipment. This allowed Mexican transporter to become involved in distribution as well, moving them up to become full on traffickers.

They soon became quite adept to trafficking globally, which allowed their organizations to flourish, most notably the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf cartel. Soon enough, Mexican traffickers took almost full control of trade, leaving Colombian organizations behind. The popular Mexican phrase, "Mas vale vivir cinco anos como rey, que 50 como buey,” which translates to “It’s better to live five years as a king than 50 years as an ox,” encapsulates the way many young marginalized people think in regards to drug trafficking in Mexico.

Many believe that while they’re in poverty in marginalized neighborhoods they would have more opportunities becoming a drug trafficker than their long-term outcome if they didn’t join. According to the short 8-minute video, The Roots of Mexico’s Drug Violence, drug cartels look to these marginalized or in poverty to recruit for this very reason. One of the major drug cartels in Mexico is the Sinaloa Cartel, based in the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa with operations in Baja California, Durango, Sonora, and Chihuahua.

According to United States Intelligence, the Sinaloa Cartel is “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world. ” The Sinaloa Cartel is estimated to smuggle several tons of cocaine shipments from Colombia through Mexico and into the United States. They also produce, smuggle, and distribute marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin. The cartel is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guuzman and is estimated to have a net worth of about one billion dollars and is considered as the biggest drug lord of all time even surpassing Pablo Escobar.

In 1993, Joaquin Guzman was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico after being caught in Guatemala but was able to escape in 2001 by bribing prison guards. After escaping, Guzman had his eyes set on the city of Juarez, which was under the Juarez Cartel. Despite having an alliance with the Juarez Cartel, Guzman decided that he wanted to take out the leader, Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes in order to gain control of routes around and throughout the city of Juarez. He succeeded in this by hiring Los Negros, assassins for the Sinaloa Cartel, whom killed both Rodolfo and his wife.

By this, the area was no longer under the Fuentes family’s control. Unfortunately, this led to a countrywide drug war, which resulted in 5,000-12,000 deaths in drug related violence. At this point, Guzman had angered the other cartels since he had broken the nonaggression “pact” between all the major cartels, bringing upon the fighting between cartels for drug routes. By 2006, it was estimated that about 50,000 people lost their lives in drug related violence. Another prominent drug cartel in Mexico is Los Zetas, which partnered with the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

In the late 1990s, The Gulf Cartel hired a group of 31 corrupt former elite military soldiers to work with them. It is believed that many of them had received training in commando and urban warfare from Israeli’s Special Forces and American Special forces units. With this training they learned skills such as ambushes, fast deployment, marksmanship, intimidation, and counter surveillance. Throughout the early 2000s, the Zetas were incredibly important in the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the drug trade. It is uncertain whether the Gulf Cartel or Los Zetas began the disagreement that eventually led to their end of partnership.

What did solidify the Zetas’ ability to strike out on their own was being able to arrest and extradition the Gulf Cartel leader, Osiel Cardenas Guillen. It had become clear that the Zetas beat out the Gulf Cartel in revenue, membership, and influence. The Zetas began to work in other areas of organized crime on top of drug trafficking, including, extortion, kidnapping, homicide, and theft. By early 2010, it was made known to the public that the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel were no longer working together and instigated a bloody drug war amongst each other for the Northeast Mexican drug trade routes.

Eventually, because of cartel alliance, the Sinaloa Cartel was forced to fight the Zetas in 2010 and 2011. One of the cartel’s most notorious acts was the 2010 San Fernando massacre. Most Spanish speakers in the United States had heard about this act since it was widely reported on by Spanish media. The Zetas had a mass murder of 72 undocumented immigrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. 58 men and 14 women, from South and Central America were shot in the back of the head and then piled on top of each other.

There were only three survivors- one of which was shot in the neck and face, faked his death and then eventually made it out and tried to seek military help. Once they were informed, the Mexican Military confronted members of the drug cartel and found them inside of a ranch. According to the article, “Migrants Killed for Refusing to be Assassins, Teen Says,” the Zetas gunmen “intercepted the migrants as they moved towards the border, then took them blindfolded to the ranch where they were told to hand over cash. ” The immigrants were unable to pay the amount demanded by the Zetas and also refused the deal to work with the Zetas.

Once they refused to do either, the Zetas opened fired killing everyone but three lucky survivors. Inter cartel violence had always occurred before the Mexican drug war but the government had a very passive approach to dealing with it through most of the 1990s and 2000s. It wasn’t until December of 2006, as the new President Felipe Calderon undertook Operation Michoacan and sent about 6,500 military troops into the state. This was seen as the first huge undertake to fight organized crime in Mexico since the drug trade began and is regarded as the beginning of the “war” between the Mexican government and the powerful drug cartels.

President Felipe Calderon is quoted saying that the cartels are seeking ‘to replace the government’ and ‘are trying to impose a monopoly by force of arms, and are even trying to impose their own laws’. The war against organized crime continued as another 45,000 troops were sent in the following months. According to the Secretary of National Defense, the Mexican military captured 11,544 people in 2011 who were thought to be involved with drug related crime. Despite Calderon’s intentions to decrease violence throughout Mexico, the opposite has seemed to happen. Violent warfare between rival cartel leaders has actually worsened.

Calderon’s methods of confronting the drug cartels directly, has resulted in a lot of public killings and torture from the cartels and also government forces. Also, as a drug cartel leader is removed from power, there is more intense, violent competition for that leadership role. It is also believed that cartels have corrupted and subverted military at high levels. All of this has created more anxiety and fear within the Mexican population due to this increased violence and the possibility that their own lives may be in danger. Other areas such as journalism and media were also being threatened.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Mexico was considered the most dangerous country in the world for journalism. Many journalists have been murdered and tortured for giving out information or reporting on certain things. So the question is, how can these issues be fixed? Many believe that the violence will not end entirely but instead seek for the country to regain normalcy and not be entrenched in this idea of violence as something normal. Another idea is demand- the reason there is such a need for supply and transport of these drugs is due to the high demand in drugs.

Research And Development also known as RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank, found that using drug user treatment to reduce drug consumption in the United States could be up to seven times more cost effective than law enforcement. This could also potentially cute the drug demand by a third. I, myself as a Mexican have known people that have gotten kidnapped and never returned and it’s believed to be because of drug cartel violence. It is an urgent matter for those that live in marginalized or poverty for the fear and violence to be taken control of in Mexico.

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Mexican Drug War: Drug Trafficking and its Effects on Mexico. (2016, Jul 16). Retrieved from

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