Article By: Jason Ensinger
Once upon a time in Mexico, the war on drugs was nothing more than a mythical ideology with no serious actions taken to fight on the Mexican front. Drug cartels had little to worry about but each other. The $400 billion narcotic production and trafficking business was more than enough to cover paying off or intimidating local authorities and custom agents to either look the other way or assist them with their operations. Since the election of Mexican President Felipe Calderón in 2006, all that has changed.
With the employment of Mexican military deserters and the smuggling of huge arsenals of weapons from the United States by warring cartels, the few honest state and local law enforcement agents left were severely outgunned and outclassed. Fighting between warring cartels over smuggling routes near the Mexico-United States border was hurting tourism and threatening to spill over the border. Violence turned gruesome in Calderón’s home state of Michoacán where beheadings and threats intimidated much of the police force into quitting and going into hiding. This left many wondering how Calderón could possibly fulfill his campaign promises of cracking down on the drug cartels.
On December 11th 2006 in an unprecedented move President Calderón deployed 7,000 troops to Michoacán and launched the first major offensive in Mexico’s war on drugs just ten days after assuming office. Most citizens welcomed the troops and applauded Calderón’s efforts to bring security to the region. Calderón’s approval rating has gone from 48% ( there were even riots contesting an election 1% election win) to stabilizing around 65%. But with the war came death. From the start of the military action through the end of 2008 over 8,000 gang members, police and military had been killed.
2/3 Government Officials Are CorruptedSince the United States’ intervention against the Columbian drug cartels in the early 1990’s, the Mexican cartels, which mostly produced and trafficked marijuana, methamphetamines and heroin, have taken over most trafficking and almost half the distribution of Columbian cocaine. After Mexico’s drug business had nearly doubled, former Mexican President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000 and vowed to crack down on the cartels.
In 2003 the arrests of several high profile gang leaders including head of the Tijuana Cartel, Benjamín Arellano Félix, and the Gulf Cartel’s Osiel Cardenas turned the war on drugs into a trilateral war. The allied Sinaloa and Juárez Cartels began contesting the smuggling routes and territories of the Gulf and Tijuana Cartels after the arrests. Felix and Cardenas formed an alliance while in prison to defend them. By 2005 each cartel alliance had formed heavily armed and highly trained military units: Los Zetas for the Gulf-Tijuana alliance and Los Negros, for the Sinaloa-Juarez alliance.
In mid-2005, President Fox deployed small groups of the military in a non-offensive support role to the contested border states with little success. Drug cartels increasingly began recruiting teenagers to perform their killings for as cheap as $300 or less a kill since they cannot be held for long prison sentences. If the $50 billion a year drug exporting business wasn’t enough, gangs expanded their business ventures into kidnapping and extorting businessmen. By the time President Felipe Calderón assumed office it was estimated that over half of all local and state authorities were on the drug cartel’s payroll with corruption spreading into federal agents and across the border into the United States’ police departments.
The Gulf CartelFounded by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, the Gulf Cartel began developing its political connections and its narcotic smuggling operations in the 1970’s. Guerra was also a bootlegger smuggling whiskey into the United States during the prohibition era of the 1930’s. The Gulf Cartels base their operations in the Mexican border states of Matamoros and Tamaulipas where their smuggling operations tax local dealers, businessmen and illegal border-crossers in their territories.
By the 1990’s the cartel had been taken over by Guerra’s nephew Juan García Abrego who had expanded it into the cocaine business. Abrego was captured and extradited to the United States in 1996 and Salvador “El Chava” Gómez stepped up to assume control of operations. Later that same year Gómez was assassinated by Osiel Cárdenas who took over until his arrest in 2003. Cárdenas continues to play an active role in heading the Gulf Cartel from his prison cell even after his extradition to the United States in 2007. With the limited capacities of the symbolic Gulf Cartel leader the business has been split between Los Zetas leader Hector Heriberto Lazcano, top lieutenant of Cárdenas Jorge Eduardo Sánchez and Hector Manuel Sauceda Gamboa.
The Tijuana Cartel
Also known as the Arellano Félix Organization, the Tijuana Cartel was originally started by Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo as the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980’s. He handed the business over to the Arellano Félix family upon his arrest in 1989. The Arellano Félix family consists of seven brothers and four sisters. Based in Baja California and Sonora, the Tijuana cartel has been in competition with the Sinaloa Cartel for the rest of the northwest Mexican border states. The Tijuana cartel’s business ventures include the importation and distribution of cocaine as well as the production and distribution of marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines. Since its beginnings, five of the seven Arellano Félix brothers have been captured and one has been killed by police or the military.
The Sinaloa Cartel
Headed by Joaquin “El Chapo (Shorty)” Guzman, the Sinaloa Cartel has been one of the biggest cartels since the 1980’s. They base operations out of the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Baja California, Durango, Sonora, Chihuahua and Michoacán. The Sinaloa Cartel deals in Columbian cocaine, marijuana and heroin. Guzman was captured in 1993 and held in a Mexican maximum security prison until he bribed his way in 2001. Despite being Mexico’s top wanted man with a $5 million reward on information leading to his arrest and prosecution, Guzman still makes public appearances, often managing to stay a step ahead of the authorities.
To counter the rival Gulf Cartel’s Los Zetas military group, the Sinaloa Cartel formed the Los Negros military group. Los Negros is headed by American Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez from Laredo Texas. Though not comprised of former military personnel like Los Zetas, Los Negros goes toe-to-toe with Los Zetas with heavily armed mafia and street-gang members. Much of the bloodshed in Mexico’s war on drugs has been the result of the battling Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels and their allies.
The Juarez Cartel
The Juarez Cartel was started in the late 1980’s by brothers Amado and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and they led together until Amado’s death in 1997 from plastic surgery complications intended to evade capture. Before Amado’s death, he had grown the Juarez Cartel to be four times more profitable than any other in Mexico and it is estimated that he had acquired a fortune of $25 billion making him one of the world’s richest men. After Amado’s death Vicente assumed full control of the cartel’s operations in Columbian cocaine, marijuana and heroin. To counter the Gulf-Tijuana cartel alliance the Juarez Cartel joined forces with the Sinaloa Cartel. Eventually after an unpaid debt the alliance broke in 2007 and now the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels are at war against each other. After the break up, the Juarez Cartel joined forces with their former enemy Gulf Cartel.
A Global Market
The war on drugs in Mexico has struck many major blows against the major Mexican drug cartels. Alliances have been forged and broken, and the captures of major drug kingpins have put the cartels at war with each other and themselves. In addition to the massive military offensive, President Filipe Calderón has made much progress in cleaning up the corruption among local law enforcement. He first took away their guns to prevent them from attacking the troops then launched massive internal investigations and firings followed by pay raises to help reward honest cops (and keep them honest).
The war wages on and with the capture of one kingpin comes the rise of two more. Calderón allocated over $7 billion to be used for fighting the war on drugs over the next three years. The drug cartels keep on finding enough resources to fight the government, the military and each other. Demand from the United States has fueled a stable $50 billion a year business. Recently there have been reports of the Sinaloa Cartel expanding their business to ship through Africa into the lucrative European market where cocaine can be sold for as much as four times more what its sold for in the United States.
Fed up with the slow progress of the war, escalating violence and extortion of businessmen. Mexican people have begun to forms groups of vigilantes and kill gang members. While some people consider these vigilantes heroes, the official stance of the government is to discourage it. To help fight the war the Mexican government has requested assistance from the United States government stating that it is US consumers and powerful weapons smuggled in from across the border that finance and arm the violent drug cartels.
Removed from the girth of the violence and corruption the United States prefers to fight the war on drugs with treatment and education. Finally the United States joined the fight by passing the Mérida Initiative in June 2008. The Mérida initiative pledges $1.4 billion in financial support along with Military training and increased border security to prevent the smuggling of weapons over a three year span. The support has stirred up some controversy when it was discovered the United States had been providing torture training for Mexican law enforcement but it was clarified the training was intended to help them resist the torture that might be inflicted on them from the drug cartels.
Still, the United States have been criticized that they are still not doing nearly enough to fight the war on drugs. Major criticisms have stated that $1.4 billion over three years is ‘chump change’ compared to the $100 billion a month spent on Iraq to liberate their people, and nearly $1 trillion to bailout financial and insurance firms in 2008 alone. Considering that it’s America’s own people being hurt by these cartels, most have come to doubt the United States’ commitment to the war on drugs.
It is well known that the drug trade was established by key players as a political attack against the United States but greed has kept drug cartels pumping dope in. A famous example of this is the work of George Jung and Carlos Lehder. Together Jung and Lehder flooded the United States with cocaine by air, successfully raising the amounts being smuggled in from a few kilos at a time to a few tons. When Jung overheard that Lehder had not been in the business for money but to drop the deadly and addictive drug on the American’s like an atomic bomb, Jung broke ties with Lehder but continued trafficking the drug on his own until his capture.