Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Mexican Cartels & Organized Crime Groups are the 5th Largest Employers in Mexico

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

Researchers have developed a mathematical model of cartel recruitment and losses that hints at a better way out of this cycle of violence. The study, published today in Science, reveals that cartels collectively “employ” some 175,000 people in Mexico, making them the fifth largest employer in the country—and shows the only way to effectively combat organized crime is by decreasing cartels’ ability to recruit new members.

“It’s a breakthrough,” says Carlos Gershenson, a computer scientist at Binghamton University who was not involved in the study. Policing cartels has only led to more violence, he says. “You need to cut the source of the problem rather than dealing with the consequences.”'

Security analysts and governments have long struggled to understand cartels, given that the organizations operate within a secretive “black box” that prevents outsiders from seeing their internal structures. “What we observe is what comes out of this box,” says study author Rafael Prieto-Curiel, a former police officer in Mexico City—namely, the homicides that occur when groups fight one another, the people who go missing, and the eventual arrests and incarceration of cartel members. 

So Prieto-Curiel, who now works as a mathematician at the Complexity Science Hub, decided to turn to mathematical modeling to find out why this violence keeps increasing and how it could be prevented.

First, Prieto-Curiel and his colleagues figured out exactly how many people cartels have employed across the past decade. The team used public data on the number of weekly homicides and imprisonments nationwide between 2012 and 2022, estimating that cartel members accounted for 10% of these murder victims and 5% of incarcerations. 

By feeding these data into their model, alongside information about known rivalries and alliances between cartels during this period, they could calculate how many members the cartels would have to recruit per week to replace their losses.

The data showed the rate of recruitment has outpaced those killed or incarcerated

The model showed that the criminal organizations collectively lost about 200 members per week. In total, about 37% of cartel members active over the past decade were either killed or incarcerated. But the total size of cartels grew by about 7,000 people per year over the same period, meaning they must have recruited about 19,300 new members per year to make up their losses. 

Cartel employee members compared to other Mexican companies

Mexico’s 150 cartels/organized crime groups ultimately grew from 115,000 members to about 175,000 people in a decade, according to the model—making the cartels the country’s 5th biggest “employer,” with a similar number of workers to Oxxo, the country’s largest corner shop chain.

In an unrelated report in July, the DEA estimated that the two largest Mexican cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) and Jalisco New Generation (CJNG), employed more than 44,800 people in total. Prieto-Curiel’s model found a similar number of 46,600 cartel members across the two groups. 

Actual operations might involve many more people since the model only accounts for those directly involved in work that puts them at risk of violence, not members, such as bankers for money laundering, transporters, suppliers, and manufacturers/growers. Corrupt officials are not counted as well.

Under current policies that focus on arresting cartel members, the model predicted cartels would grow by 26% by 2027, resulting in 40% more casualties. Doubling the number of cartel members in prison through police crackdowns would stem these increases a little, but violence would still continue to grow. 

Other policies such as peaceful negotiations with cartel leaders would have no meaningful effect. 

The only thing that would decrease violence, the algorithm found, was lowering the number of people who joined the organizations in the first place.

Newly appointed Attorney General of Baja California María Elena Andrade

"We Do Not Fight Criminal Groups, We Fight Crimes."

María Elena Andrade is the newly appointed Attorney General of the State of Baja California (after the resignation of Ricardo Iván Carpio). She stated that “it is not my job to directly combat the cartels", later in the interview, she accepts that, "of course," she will fight them from the common jurisdiction.

“Precisely those groups that may be criminals under federal jurisdiction, and become a crime of the common order. I know that they operate because they are borders and cartels, and I know precisely what we are facing. We are going to combat crimes, regardless of where they come from; It is our obligation when they are crimes of the common order or to coordinate them with the corresponding authorities if the commission of a crime under federal jurisdiction is clearly noted with the attorney general's offices of the Republic. As the State Prosecutor's Office, we do not combat criminal groups in this type of crimes; however, we do combat crimes and it is our obligation to address them from where they arise when they are crimes of the common order.”

"We are not looking at which cartel they belong to, but at the crime they are committing; and if it is known, its participation in that cartel is noted, precisely it is to provide us with information and know what we are stepping on. But each person within their powers," stated Andrade to Zeta Tijuana.


  1. So this means they are at least the 3rd…

  2. Remember what Mayo said during his interview? Millions are involved

    1. Mayo didn't say anything new.

    2. 8:36 - What interview ?

    3. 9:04
      The interview he did with Proceso over a decade ago.

  3. What constitutes an "employee"? Extended amount of employment to same organization? How many are really just contractors?

    1. Contracting is "self-employment" so it's still employment.

    2. I doubt they’re getting W-2s. Employee is just a way to say they’re working for and making money from cartels

  4. Hard to believe the mexican government is just letting cartels become more powerful than them everyday. Saying "It's not my job..." IS THE PROBLEM. They slacked off over a decade ago and allowed crime to grow exponentially while continually stealing from the public to protect big corporations. Now they act like it was all just a math problem they need to look at differently? No wonder people join cartels, they hate their government - simple math.

    1. The government of Elmo, can care a rats azz. Elmo is a big liar.

  5. Ojalá que la Claudia no sea tan pendeja.

    1. Te lo va comprobar si se convierte en la presidenta. Desafortunadamente para México.

  6. This can't be true. Im.guessing the report writers are Almo haters.

  7. Corruption doesn't help either . Given how easily and quickly the politicians extend their hand for bribes

  8. lopez obrador es mas hombre que toda la bola de ratas de la historia de Mexico.

  9. All a bunch of hypothetical bullshit ! Who knows ? Dick Nose !


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;