Mexican Drug War

Mexican Drug War
Mexican Drug War
Date December 11, 2006 (when Operation Michoacan commenced)[1] – present
(&100000000000000040000004 years, &10000000000000344000000344 days)
Location Mexican states of Baja California, Durango, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Veracruz, Coahuila, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Morelos, and Sonora.[2]
Status Conflict ongoing

Rival drug cartels:

Commanders and leaders
Felipe Calderón

Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza
Guillermo Galván Galván
Sergio Aponte Polito[3]

Joaquín Guzmán Loera,

Ismael Zambada García,
Ignacio Coronel Villarreal ,
Antonio Cárdenas Guillén ,
Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez,
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes,
Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano,
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano,
Edgar Valdez Villarreal
Arturo Beltrán Leyva 
Héctor Beltrán Leyva,
Nazario Moreno González 

50,000 soldiers[4]
35,000 Federal Police[5]
100,000 foot soldiers[6][7][8]
Casualties and losses
1,000+ Police and prosecutors killed[9]

138 Army soldiers killed[10]
14 Marines killed[10]
318 Federal Police killed[10]
58 reporters killed[11]
~1,000 children killed[12][13]

121,199 cartel members detained[14]
8,500 convicted[15]
62 killed in 2006[16]

2,837 killed in 2007[16]
6,844 killed in 2008[16]
9,635 killed in 2009[16]
15,273 killed in 2010[17][18]
8,619 (September 26, 2011)[19]
Total killed: 43,000 (December 2006–September 2011)[20]

Total estimate of deaths: 40,000[21] - 50,000[22]

Total disappeared: 10,000[23] Total displaced: 230,000[24]

The Mexican Drug War is an ongoing armed conflict taking place among rival drug cartels who fight each other for regional control, and Mexican government forces who seek to combat drug trafficking. However, the government's principal goal has been to put down the drug-related violence that was raging between different rival drug cartels in Mexico before any intervention was made.[25] In addition, the Mexican government has claimed that their primary focus is on dismantling the powerful drug cartels, rather than on drug trafficking prevention, which is left to U.S. functionaries.[26][27][28]

Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed for several decades, they have become more powerful since the demise of Colombia's Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States.[29] Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, have led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.[30][31][32]

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that wholesale earnings from illicit drug sales range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually.[29][33] Mexican drug traffickers increasingly smuggle money back into Mexico inside cars and trucks returning to Mexico, likely due to the effectiveness of U.S. efforts at monitoring electronic money transfers.[34]



Mexican Army

Given its geographic location, Mexico has long been used as a staging and transshipment point for narcotics, illegal immigrants and contraband destined for U.S. markets from Mexico, South America and elsewhere. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was the main exporter of cocaine and dealt with organized criminal networks all over the world. When enforcement efforts intensified in South Florida and the Caribbean, the Colombian organizations formed partnerships with the Mexico-based traffickers to transport cocaine through Mexico into the United States.[35]

This was easily accomplished because Mexico had long been a major source of heroin and cannabis, and drug traffickers from Mexico had already established an infrastructure that stood ready to serve the Colombia-based traffickers. By the mid-1980s, the organizations from Mexico were well established and reliable transporters of Colombian cocaine. At first, the Mexican gangs were paid in cash for their transportation services, but in the late 1980s, the Mexican transport organizations and the Colombian drug traffickers settled on a payment-in-product arrangement. Transporters from Mexico usually were given 35% to 50% of each cocaine shipment. This arrangement meant that organizations from Mexico became involved in the distribution, as well as the transportation of cocaine, and became formidable traffickers in their own right. Currently, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf cartel have taken over trafficking cocaine from Colombia to the worldwide markets.[36]

Over time, the balance of power between the various Mexican cartels shifts as new ones emerge and older ones weaken and collapse. A disruption in the system, such as the arrests or deaths of cartel leaders, generates bloodshed as rivals move in to exploit the power vacuum.[37] Leadership vacuums are sometimes created by law enforcement successes against a particular cartel, thus cartels often will attempt to use law enforcement against one another, either by bribing Mexican officials to take action against a rival or by leaking intelligence about a rival's operations to the Mexican government or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.[37] While many factors have contributed to the escalating violence, security analysts in Mexico City trace the origins of the rising scourge to the unraveling of a longtime implicit arrangement between narcotics traffickers and governments controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which lost its grip on political power starting in the late 1980s.[38]

The fighting between rival drug cartels began in earnest after the 1989 arrest of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo who ran the cocaine business in Mexico.[39] There was a lull in the fighting during the late 1990s but the violence has steadily worsened since 2000.

Presidency of Vicente Fox

Violence increased from 2000 when President Vicente Fox sent troops to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas to fight the cartels. It is estimated that about 110 people died in Nuevo Laredo alone during the January–August 2005 period as a result of the fighting between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.[40] In 2005 there was a surge in violence as La Familia Michoacana drug cartel established itself in Michoacán.

Presidency of Felipe Calderón

Although violence between drug cartels had been occurring long before the war began, the government held a generally passive stance regarding cartel violence in the 1990s and early 2000s. That changed on December 11, 2006, when newly elected President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán to end drug violence there (Operation Michoacan). This action is regarded as the first major operation against organized crime, and is generally viewed as the starting point of the war between the government and the drug cartels.[1] As time progressed, Calderón continued to escalate his anti-drug campaign, in which there are now about 45,000 troops involved in addition to state and federal police forces. In 2010 Calderón said that the cartels seek "to replace the government" and "are trying to impose a monopoly by force of arms, and are even trying to impose their own laws."[41]


Mexican troops operating in a random checkpoint.

In April 2008, General Sergio Aponte, the man in charge of the anti-drug campaign in the state of Baja California, made a number of allegations of corruption against the police forces in the region. Among his allegations, Aponte stated that he believed Baja California's anti-kidnapping squad was actually a kidnapping team working in conjunction with organized crime, and that bribed police units were being used as bodyguards for drug traffickers.[3] These accusations of corruption suggested that the progress against drug cartels in Mexico has been hindered by bribery, intimidation, and corruption.

On April 26, 2008, a major battle took place between members of the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, that left 17 people dead.[42] The battle also caused concern about the violence spilling into the United States, as Tijuana and a number of other border cities became hotspots for violence in the war. In September 2008, grenade attacks in Morelia by suspected cartel members killed eight civilians and injured more than 100.

In March 2009, President Calderón called in an additional 5,000 Mexican Army troops to Ciudad Juárez. The United States Department of Homeland Security has also said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spilling over the border into the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.[43]

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican cartels are the predominant smugglers and wholesale distributors of South American cocaine and Mexico-produced cannabis, methamphetamine and heroin. Mexico's cartels have existed for some time, but have become increasingly powerful in recent years with the demise of the Medellín and Cali cartels in Colombia. The Mexican cartels are expanding their control over the distribution of these drugs in areas controlled by Colombian and Dominican criminal groups, and it is now believed they control most of the illegal drugs coming in the U.S.A.[44]

No longer constrained to being mere intermediaries for Colombian producers, Mexican cartels are now powerful organized-crime syndicates that dominate the drug trade in the Americas. According to the FBI, Mexican cartels focus only on wholesale distribution, leaving retail sales of illicit drugs to street gangs. The Mexican cartels reportedly work with multiple gangs and claim not to take sides in U.S. gang conflicts.

Mexican cartels control large swaths of Mexican territory and dozens of municipalities, and they exercise increasing influence in Mexican electoral politics.[45] The cartels are waging violent turf battles over control of key smuggling corridors from Matamoros to San Diego. Mexican cartels employ hitmen and groups of enforcers, known as sicarios. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the Mexican drug cartels operating today along the border are far more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal group in U.S. law enforcement history.[44] The cartels use grenade launchers, automatic weapons, body armor, and sometimes Kevlar helmets.[46][47][48] Some groups have also been known to use improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[49]

Casualty numbers have escalated significantly over time. According to a Stratfor report, the number of drug-related deaths in 2006 and 2007 (2,119 and 2,275) more than doubled to 5,207 in 2008. The number further increased substantially over the next two years, from 6,598 in 2009 to over 11,000 in 2010.[49]

Sources of drugs

Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier of cannabis and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States.[29] Almost half the cartels revenue come from cannabis.[50] Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production, it supplies a large share of the heroin distributed in the United States.[29][51] Drug cartels in Mexico control approximately 70% of the foreign narcotics that flow into the United States.[52]

The US State Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits through Mexico, with Colombia being the main cocaine producer,[53] followed by Bolivia and Peru.[54] Reports indicate that Venezuela has clearly become a major transshipment point for illegal drugs leaving Colombia.[55][56][57][58][59]

Mexican cartels


Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the 'godfather' of Mexican drug cartels.

The birth of all Mexican drug cartels is traced to former Mexican Judicial Federal Police agent Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo ('The Godfather'), who in the 1980s controlled all illegal drug trade in Mexico and the trafficking corridors across the Mexico-USA border.[60] He started off by smuggling marijuana and opium into the U.S.A., and was the first Mexican drug chief to link up with Colombia's cocaine cartels in the 1980s. Through his connections, Félix Gallardo became the point man for the Medellin cartel, which was run by Pablo Escobar.[61] This was easily accomplished because Félix Gallardo had already established an infrastructure that stood ready to serve the Colombia-based traffickers.

There were no cartels at that time in Mexico. Félix Gallardo was the lord of Mexican drug lords. He oversaw all operations; there was just him, his cronies, and the politicians who sold him protection.[62] Félix Gallardo kept a low profile and in 1987 he moved with his family to Guadalajara city. According to Peter Dale Scott, the Guadalajara Cartel prospered largely because it enjoyed the protection of the DFS, under its chief Miguel Nassar Haro, a CIA asset."[63]

"The Godfather" then decided to divide up the trade he controlled as it would be more efficient and less likely to be brought down in one law enforcement swoop.[64] In a way, he was privatizing the Mexican drug business while sending it back underground, to be run by bosses who were less well known or not yet known by the DEA. Félix Gallardo "The Godfather" convened the nation's top drug traffickers at a house in the resort of Acapulco where he designated the plazas or territories. The Tijuana route would go to the Arellano Felix brothers. The Ciudad Juárez route would go to the Carrillo Fuentes family. Miguel Caro Quintero would run the Sonora corridor. The control of the Matamoros, Tamaulipas corridor - then becoming the Gulf Cartel- would be left undisturbed to Juan García Abrego. Meanwhile, Joaquín Guzmán Loera and Ismael Zambada García would take over Pacific coast operations, becoming the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzmán and Zambada brought veteran Héctor Luis Palma Salazar back into the fold. Félix Gallardo still planned to oversee national operations, as he maintained important connections, but he would no longer control all details of the business.

Félix Gallardo was arrested on 8 April 1989. Other arrests, greed, and desire for more power stimulated conflicts between the newly formed and now independent cartels.

Current cartels

Map of Mexican drug cartels based on a May 2010 Stratfor report.[65][66] Tijuana Cartel, red; Beltrán Leyva Cartel, orange; Sinaloa Cartel, yellow; Juárez Cartel, brown; La Familia Michoacana, green; Gulf Cartel, cyan; Los Zetas Cartel, blue.

Alliances or agreements between drug cartels have been shown to be fragile, tense and temporary. Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel.[67]

Mexican drug cartels have increased their co-operation with U.S. street and prison gangs to expand their distribution networks within the U.S.[33]

Beltrán Leyva Cartel

The Beltrán Leyva brothers, who were formerly aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, became allies of Los Zetas Cartel in 2008.[68][69] Since February 2010 they fight along Los Zetas against all other Mexican cartels.[70] The South Pacific Cartel is a branch of the splintered Beltrán-Leyva Cartel.[71][72][73]

La Familia Cartel

La Familia Michoacana is based in Michoacán. It was formerly allied to the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas Cartel, but has now split off and become an independent organization.[74] In February 2010, La Familia forged an alliance with the Gulf Cartel against Los Zetas Cartel and Beltrán Leyva Cartel.[70]

Juan José Esparragoza Moreno is a Sinaloa Cartel drug lord. He is a former Mexican Federal Judicial Police (PJF) officer.[75]

The Attorney General in Mexico (PGR) stated that La Familia Cartel was "exterminated" by mid-2011.[76]

Gulf Cartel

The Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, has been one of Mexico's two dominant cartels in recent years. In the late 1990s, it hired a private mercenary army (an enforcer group now called the Los Zetas Cartel), which in 2006 stepped up as a partner but, in February 2010, their partnership was dissolved and both groups engaged in widespread violence across several border cities of Tamaulipas state,[70][77] turning several border towns into "ghost towns".[78]

Juárez Cartel

The Juárez Cartel controls one of the primary transportation routes for billions of dollars worth of illegal drug shipments annually entering the United States from Mexico. Since 2007, the Juárez Cartel has been locked in a vicious battle with its former partner, the Sinaloa Cartel, for control of Ciudad Juárez. La Línea is a group of Mexican drug traffickers and corrupt Juárez and Chihuahua state police officers who work as the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel. Vicente Carrillo Fuentes heads the Juárez Cartel.

Knights Templar

The Knights Templar drug cartel (Spanish: Caballeros Templarios) was founded in Michoacán in March 2011 and is an offshoot of the now extinct La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.[79] It is headed by Enrique Plancarte Solís and Servando Gómez Martínez.

Los Negros

Los Negros was the former armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel; it was formed to counter Los Zetas Cartel and government security forces. Los Negros then worked with Edgar Valdez Villarreal's organization until his arrest on August 30, 2010.[76]

Sinaloa Cartel

The Sinaloa Cartel began to contest the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the coveted southwest Texas corridor following the arrest of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas in March 2003. The "Federation" was the result of a 2006 accord between several groups located in the Pacific state of Sinaloa. The cartel is led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Mexico's most-wanted drug trafficker and whose estimated net worth of US$1 billion makes him the 701st richest man in the world, according to Forbes Magazine.[80] In February 2010, new alliances were formed against Los Zetas Cartel and Beltran Leyva Cartel.[70] As of May 2010, numerous reports by Mexican and US media claimed that Sinaloa had infiltrated the Mexican federal government and military, and colluded with it to destroy the other cartels.[81][82] The Colima Cartel, Sonora Cartel and Milenio Cartel are now branches of the Sinaloa Cartel.[83]

Tijuana Cartel

'Wanted' poster for the Tijuana Cartel leaders (2009)

The cartel of the Arellano-Félix family, the Tijuana Cartel, was once among Mexico's most powerful but has fallen on hard times, thanks to the arrests of several top chiefs. The cartel entered into a brief partnership with the Gulf Cartel. It has been the frequent target of Mexican military confrontations and might be breaking into smaller groups. The Oaxaca Cartel reportedly joined forces with the Tijuana Cartel in 2003.

Los Zetas Cartel

In 1999 the Gulf Cartel hired a group of corrupt former elite military soldiers now known as Los Zetas, who began operations as a private army for the cartel. The Zetas have been instrumental in the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the drug trade in much of Mexico and have fought to maintain the cartel’s influence in northern cities following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas. Los Zetas made a deal with ex-Sinaloa cartel commanders, the Beltrán-Leyva brothers and since February 2010 Los Zetas became rivals of their former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel.[70]

Smuggling of firearms

AK-47 style rifle (locally called Cuerno de chivo, Spanish for Goat Horn, for its curved magazine)
M4 Carbine with Grenade launcher(locally called Chanate, Spanish for Raven-Like Black Bird).
Beta C-Mag double Drum magazine (locally called Huevos de Toro, Spanish for Bull Testicles) on a M4 Carbine.

Mexicans have a constitutional right to own firearms,[84] but legal purchase from the single Mexican gun shop in Mexico City, controlled by the Army, is extremely difficult.[85] Drug cartels main firearms source (around 70% of the cases) are U.S. gun traffickers[86] that obtain their guns in legal gunstores and smuggle them through the US-Mexican border[87][88], in other cases the guns are obtained through Guatemalan borders[citation needed], or by sea[citation needed], or stolen from the police or military.[89] Consequently, black market firearms are widely available. Many firearms are acquired in the U.S. by women with no criminal history, who transfer their purchases to smugglers through relatives, boyfriends and acquaintances and then smuggled to Mexico a few at a time.[90] The most common smuggled firearms include AR-15 and AK-47 type rifles, and FN 5.7 caliber semi-automatic pistols. Many firearms are purchased in the United States in a semi-automatic configuration before being converted to fire as select fire machine guns.[91] Mexico seized in 2009 a combined total of more than 4,400 firearms of the AK-47 and AR-15 type, and 30% of AK-47 type rifles seized have been modified to select fire weapons, effectively creating assault rifles.[92]

Also, there are multiple reports of grenade launchers being used against security forces,[93] and at least twelve M4 Carbines with M203 grenade launchers have been confiscated.[94] It was believed that some of these high powered weapons and related accessories may have been stolen from U.S. military bases.[95][96] However, most U.S. military grade weapons such as grenades and light anti-tank rockets are acquired by the cartels through the huge supply of arms left over from the wars in Central America and Asia. It has been reported that there have been 150,000 desertions from the Mexican army during 2003 to 2009. Stated another way, about one-eighth of the Mexican army deserts annually.[97] Many of these deserters take their government-issued automatic rifles with them while leaving. Some of those weapons originate from the USA.[98]

Gun origins

Colt AR-15 A3 Tactical Carbine

The U.S. government, primarily through ATF, ICE and Customs and Border Protection is assisting Mexico with technology, equipment and training.[99] Project Gunrunner is part of the ATF’s effort to collaborate with the Mexican authorities and its "cornerstone" has been the expansion of eTrace, a computerized system to facilitate tracing guns which were manufactured in or imported legally to the U.S.A.[100]

Since 1992 (and as recently as 2009), the Congressional Research Service has stated that the ATF tracing system (eTrace) was not designed to collect statistics.[101][102] Nevertheless, on February 2008, William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations of ATF, testified before Congress that over 90% of the firearms that have either been recovered in, or interdicted in transport to Mexico originated from various sources within the United States.[103] However, following a review by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on September 2010, the ATF admitted that “the 90% figure cited to Congress could be misleading because it applied only to the small portion of Mexican crime guns that are traced.”[100] During this 2010 review by the OIG, the ATF could not provide updated information on the percentage of traced Mexican crime guns that were sourced to (that is, found to be manufactured in or imported through) the United States,[100] and the November 2010 OIG analysis of ATF data suggest a much lower percentage, ranging from 27% to 44%.[104] In February 2011, Stratfor Global Intelligence calculated the number to be situated between 12% and 48%, and reported almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.[105] The OIG analysis of ATF data concluded that ATF’s attempts to expand gun tracing in Mexico have been unsuccessful.[106] While the United States is not the only source of firearms and munitions used by the cartels, ATF says that it has been established that a 'significant' percentage of their firearms originate from gun stores and other sources in the U.S.[107] ATF also says it is well-established that firearms traffickers often use the same routes as drug traffickers. Increasingly, ATF finds that Mexican cartels transport firearms and munitions into Mexico from Guatemala, situated on Mexico’s southern border.[107]

Although the number of trace requests from Mexico has increased since February 2006, most guns seized in Mexico are not traced.[106] Moreover, most trace requests from Mexico do not succeed in identifying the gun dealer who originally sold the gun, and the rate of successful traces has declined since the start of Project Gunrunner. Most Mexican crime gun trace requests that were successful were untimely and of limited use for generating investigative leads.[106] Senior Mexican law enforcement authorities interviewed by U.S. OIG officers do not view gun tracing as an important investigative tool because of limitations in the information tracing typically provides and because ATF has not adequately communicated the value of gun tracing to Mexican officials.[106]

If ATF or Mexican police does not collect tracing information quickly, it becomes unavailable.[108] In accordance with Mexican law, all guns seized by the Mexican government must be surrendered to the Mexican Army within 48 hours. It was determined that after the Mexican military obtains custody of the guns, ATF or Mexican federal police are unlikely to gain timely access to them to gather the information needed to initiate traces.[108] Mexican Army officials interviewed by OIG personnel said their role is to safeguard the weapons and that they have no specific authority to assist in trafficking investigations. To gain access to the weapons, ATF officials must make a formal request to the Attorney General of Mexico for each gun, citing a specific reason that access is needed, demonstrating that the requested information is related to a Mexican criminal investigation, and providing a description of the gun with the serial number. Yet, if ATF had the gun description and serial number, ATF officials would not need to request access to the gun.[108] Due to these barriers, ATF and wider Department efforts to gain access to weapons in Mexican military custody have not been successful.[108] Because many weapons are transferred to the military before basic information is collected, and many weapons for which information is available are not traced, the majority of seized Mexican crime guns are not traced.[108] The report states that the poor quality of the tracing data and the resulting high rate of unsuccessful traces suggest that the training is insufficient, training has been provided to the wrong people or there are other unidentified problems with Mexican law enforcement's crime gun tracing.[109]

The final OIG report, which was released on November 2010, concludes that because ATF has not been able to communicate the value of gun tracing to Mexican law enforcement officials, they are less likely to prioritize their efforts to obtain tracing information from seized crime guns and enter it into eTrace.[110] This hinders ATF’s plans to deploy Spanish eTrace throughout Mexico. Because the expansion of tracing in Mexico is the cornerstone of Project Gunrunner, this presents a significant barrier to the successful implementation of ATF’s Gunrunner strategy. The OIG report also revealed ATF has been unable to respond to many training and support requests from Mexican government agencies, and ATF’s backlog of requests for information from Mexican authorities has hindered coordination between ATF and Mexican law enforcement.[111] In addition, it was found that ATF has not staffed or structured its Mexico Country Office to fully implement Project Gunrunner’s missions in Mexico.[111]

In 2009, Mexico reported that they held 305,424 confiscated firearms,[112] but submitted data of only 69,808 recovered firearms to the ATF for tracing between 2007 and 2009.[91] This is a 23% sample of total gun population. To be statistically accurate, the property in the sample should reflect the population as a whole. Some analysts claim the sample submitted for tracing is preselected to represent the guns that Mexican authorities suspect are US origin.[113] The US Congress has been informed that ATF agents working in Mexico routinely instruct Mexican authorities "to only submit weapons for tracing that have a likelihood of tracing back to the U.S .... instead of simply wasting resources on tracing firearms that will not trigger a U.S. source." This policy skews the pool of weapons submitted for tracing to weapons already suspected of being US origin.[114] Gun-rights groups use the absolute number between seizures and traces to question whether the majority of illegal guns in Mexico really come from the United States.[115] Gun control advocates use the 48% to 87% successful US origin trace rate to call for re-enactment of the sunsetted Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994-2004.[116]

Project Gunrunner

ATF Project Gunrunner has a stated official objective to stop the sale and export of guns from the United States into Mexico in order to deny Mexican drug cartels the firearms considered "tools of the trade".[117] However, since at least February 2008 under Project Gunrunner, Operations "Fast and Furious", "Too Hot to Handle", "Wide Receiver" and others (all together satirically dubbed "Operation Gunwalker"), are alleged to have done the opposite by ATF permitting and facilitating 'straw purchase' firearm sales to traffickers, and allowing the guns to 'walk' and be transported to Mexico. This has resulted in considerable controversy.[118][119][120]

Senator Charles E. Grassley (IA) initiated an investigation with a letter to ATF on 27 January 2011,[121] and again on 31 January 2011. ATF responded through the Department of Justice by denying all allegations.[122] Senator Grassley responded with specific documentation supporting the allegations in letters to U.S. Attorney General Holder on 9 February 2011[123] and 16 February 2011.[124] ATF refused to answer specific questions in a formal briefing to Senator Grassley on 10 February 2011.

Indictments filed in federal court, documentation obtained by Senator Grassley, and statements of ATF agents obtained by Senator Grassley and CBS News, show that the ATF Phoenix Field Division allowed and facilitated the sale of over 2,500 firearms (AK-47 rifles, FN 5.7mm pistols, AK-47 pistols, and .50 caliber rifles) in 'straw man purchases' destined for Mexico.[118][125][126][127][128][129] According to ATF agents, Mexican officials were not notified, and ATF agents operating in Mexico were instructed not to alert Mexican authorities about the operation.[130] Some ATF agents and supervisors strongly objected, and gun dealers (who were cooperating with ATF) protested the sales, but were asked by ATF to complete the transactions to elucidate the supply chain and gather intelligence.[118][131] However, there are accusations that the ATF was attempting to boost statistics to 'prove' that American guns are arming the Mexican drug cartels and to further budget and power objectives.[132]

Many of these same guns are being recovered from crime scenes in Arizona[133] and throughout Mexico,[134] which is artificially inflating ATF's eTrace statistics of U.S. origin guns seized in Mexico. One specific gun, recovered at the scene, is alleged to be the weapon used to murder Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry on 14 December 2010.[135]

Trends in U.S. firearms trafficking

Although there are about 78,000 gun dealers in the U.S.,[136] ATF suggested that gun shows, thefts and private sales may be a greater source of trafficked Mexican guns than licensed dealers.[107] Gun smugglers are known to coerce[137] or pay U.S. residents or citizens to purchase semi-automatic rifles and other firearms from gun shops or gun shows and then transfer them to a cartel representative.[91][138][139][140][141][142] This exchange is known as a straw purchase.[143]

There currently is no computerized national gun registry in the United States, but the Firearms Tracing System is partially automated thanks to registration records with individual names and addresses, along with other identifying information. ATF agents first query the five databases at the National Tracing Center by make, model and serial number. In addition, agents use another computer system (Access 2000) with an automated interface to 100 or more manufacturers, importers and distributors.[144] If these methods do not help identify the gun, the agents telephone the manufacturer or importer, then work their way down the supply chain first by computer, then by telephone and as a last resort, by demand letter or in person. Tracing guns rarely relies on an actual paper trail, except with the first retail sale. Agents rarely pursue disposition of firearms beyond the first suspect (first purchaser), although the gun may have been resold several times since the first purchase. The average age of traced guns is over 10 years, and over 15 years for guns seized in Mexico.[145][146][147][148][149]

It has been reported that more than 500 Romanian manufactured AK-47s (WASR-10) smuggled to Mexico were legally imported into the United States from Europe by Century Arms International[150] despite a U.S. ban on the importation of certain configurations of semi-automatic assault rifles.[91][151] Other types of AK-47s were also recovered in 2009; for example, according to the Violence Policy Center, Mexico seized 281 Chinese Norinco AK-47s from January 1 to June 30, 2009,[91] however, it should be noted that Chinese guns have not been imported into the United States since May, 1994.[152]


The House Foreign Affairs Committee has approved a bill (H.R. 6028) that would authorize $73.5 million to be appropriated over three years to increase ATF resources committed to disrupting the flow of illegal guns into Mexico.[153] Lawmakers included $10 million USD in the economic stimulus package for Project Gunrunner, a federal crackdown on U.S. gun-trafficking networks. As part of this effort, ATF outlined a path to full U.S. firearms registration in which it referred to web-based registration as the 'Gold Standard' of tracing.[154]

In June 2009 Rep. Connie Mack called for increasing the number of federal agents on the Mexican border.[155] U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to ratify an inter-American treaty known as CIFTA[156] to curb international small arms trafficking throughout the Americas. The treaty makes the unauthorized manufacture and export of firearms illegal and calls for nations in the western hemisphere to establish a process for information-sharing among different countries' law enforcement divisions to stop the smuggling of arms, adopt strict licensing requirements, and make firearms easier to trace.[157]

In October 2010, a spokesperson from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) declared that significant progress in limiting foreign assault weapon sales to straw purchasers could be made by enforcing existing gun control laws, such as the Gun Control Act of 1968.[158]

Sources of weapons

Weapon Primary Source
AK rifle variants (semi-automatic) United States[91][159][160]
AK rifle variants (select-fire) Central America, South America, Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia[161][162]
AR-15 rifle (semi-automatic) United States[91][163]
M16 rifle (select-fire) purportedly Vietnam[164]
Fragmentation grenades M61/M67/MK 2/K400 Central America, South Korea,[165] Israel, Spain, Soviet bloc, Guatemala,[166] Vietnam,[164] Unknown[166][167]
RPG-7 /M72 LAW / M203 Grenade launchers Asia, Central America/Guatemala,[166] North Korea[167][168][169][170]
Barrett M82 United States.[91][166][167][170][171][172][173][174]
M2 Carbine (select fire) Vietnam[164]

It is commonly claimed that most weapons and arms trafficked into Mexico are from gun dealers in the United States.[175] In response to the majority claim in a 2009 GAO report, the DHS pointed out that the "majority" were 3,480 U.S. origin guns of 4,000 successfully tracable by ATF out a total of 30,000 firearms seized in Mexico 2004 to 2008.[176] Most of the weapons end up in the hands of cartels.

There have been some speculation by the U.S. public media that Islamist terror groups may be supporting drug cartels in Mexico,[177][178][179] however, the former Mexican national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zínser, as well as Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, the director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security (CISEN) and now Attorney-General, noted that there are no indications that foreign terrorist organizations have established contact with Mexican organizations and had no reason to believe that there were Islamist terror groups present in Mexico.[180]

Effects in Mexico


The attorney general's office says that 9 of 10 victims are members of organized-crime groups,[181] and deaths among military and police personnel are an estimated 7% of the total.[182] The states that suffer from the conflict most are Baja California, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Sinaloa. President Calderón's government is currently fighting the traffickers, especially in his home state of Michoacán, but there are more operations taking place in the states of Jalisco and Guerrero, and in 2009 drug-related violence increased considerably in Sonora.

The states where most of the conflict takes place, marked in red.

On December 24, 2006, the governor of Baja California Eugenio Elorduy announced a similar operation in his state with cooperation of state and federal governments. This operation started in late December 2006 in the border city of Tijuana.

By January 2007, these various operations had extended to the states of Guerrero as well as the so-called "Golden Triangle States" of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa. In the following February the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were included as well. Organized crime responded to the increased pressure with a failed attempt to assassinate the federal deputy representing Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.[citation needed]

Seizures and arrests have jumped since Calderón took office in December 2006, and Mexico has extradited more than 100 people wanted in the U.S. A new rule that forces all private airplanes to stop for inspection at either the Cozumel airport on the Caribbean coast or Tapachula on the Guatemala border is credited, in part, for leading to confiscations of more than 270 planes in the past 1½ years.[citation needed]

On July 10 2008, the Mexican government announced plans to nearly double the size of its Federal Police force to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking.[183] The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military.

On July 16, 2008, the Mexican Navy intercepted a 10-meter long narco submarine travelling about 200 kilometers off the southwest of Oaxaca; in a raid, Special Forces rappelled from a helicopter onto the deck of the submarine and arrested four smugglers before they could scuttle their vessel. The vessel was found to be loaded with 5.8 tons of cocaine and was towed to Huatulco, Oaxaca, by a Mexican Navy patrol boat.[184][185][186][187][188]

One apparent paradox for the Calderón administration has been that, even while the government has clearly succeeded in damaging the cartels, the country’s security situation continues to deteriorate at what appears to be an unstoppable rate.[189] The most obvious sign of this deteriorating security situation is that the total number of drug-related homicides continues to climb dramatically. Violence has also escalated with intimidation and fear. The discovery of hit lists with the names of police officers has become increasingly common in many Mexican cities along the U.S. border. It also is common for the officers named on those lists to be gunned down one by one. In addition, drug trafficking organizations have now begun displaying large banners over highways in cities around the country. Many of the banners make threats against rivals, or accuse a particular criminal group of being supported by local and federal government officials. In several cases, purported recruiting banners appeared in northern Mexico offering higher pay and better equipment to soldiers and police officers who defect to Los Zetas.[189]

One escalation in this conflict is the traffickers' use of new means to claim their territory and spread fear. Cartel members have broadcast executions on YouTube[190] and on other video sharing sites or shock sites, since the footage is sometimes so graphic that YouTube will not host the video. The cartels have also tossed body parts into crowded nightclubs and hung banners on streets that are often stating their demands and/or warnings.[191] The 2008 Morelia grenade attacks took place on September 15, 2008, when two hand grenades were thrown onto a crowded plaza, killing ten people and injuring more than 100.[192] Some see these efforts as intended to sap the morale of government agents assigned to crack down on the cartels; others see them as an effort to let citizens know who is winning the war. At least one dozen Mexican norteño musicians have been murdered. Most of the victims performed what are known as corridos, popular folk songs that tell the stories of the Mexican drug trade—and celebrate its leaders as folk heroes.[193]

The extreme violence is jeopardizing foreign investment in Mexico, and the Finance Minister, Agustín Carstens, said that the deteriorating security alone is reducing gross domestic product annually by 1% in Mexico, Latin America's second-largest economy.[194]

Teachers in the Acapulco region were "extorted, kidnapped and intimidated" by cartels, including death threats demanding money. They went on strike in 2011.[195]

Government corruption

Mexican cartels advance their operations, in part, by corrupting or intimidating law enforcement officials.[3][196][197] The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reports that although the central government of Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in recent years, it remains a serious problem.[198][199] Some agents of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers for various cartels, and the Attorney General (PGR) reported in December 2005 that nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges.[196]

In recent years, the federal government conducted purges and prosecution of police forces in Nuevo Laredo, Michoacán, Baja California and Mexico City.[196] The anti-cartel operations begun by President Calderón in December 2006 includes ballistic checks of police weapons in places where there is concern that police are also working for the cartels. In June 2007, President Calderón purged 284 federal police commanders from all 31 states and the Federal District.[196]

Under the 'Cleanup Operation' performed in 2008, several agents and high ranking officials have been arrested and charged with selling information or protection to drug cartels;[200][201] some high profile arrests were: Victor Gerardo Garay Cadena,[202] (chief of the Federal Police), Noé Ramírez Mandujano (ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO)), José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos (ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO)), and Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas who is the ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office. In January 2009, Rodolfo de la Guardia García, ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office, was arrested.[203] Julio César Godoy Toscano, who was just elected July 5, 2009 to the lower house of Congress, is charged with being a top-ranking member of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel and of protecting this cartel.[204] He is now a fugitive.

In May 2010 an NPR report collected allegations from dozens of sources, including US and Mexican media, Mexican police officials, politicians, academics, and others, that Sinaloa Cartel had infiltrated and corrupted the Mexican federal government and the Mexican military by bribery and other means. The reports also alleged that Sinaloa was colluding with the government to destroy other cartels and protect itself and its leader, 'Chapo'. Mexican officials denied any corruption in the government's treatment of drug cartels.[81][82] Cartels had previously been reported as difficult to prosecute "because members of the cartels have infiltrated and corrupted the law enforcement organizations that are supposed to prosecute them, such as the Office of the Attorney General."[205]

Impact on human rights

The US drug control policies in Mexico that have been adopted to prevent drug trafficking via Mexico and to eliminate the power of the drug cartels that bring about corruption, terror and violence have adversely affected the human rights situation in Mexico. These policies have given the responsibilities for civilian drug control to the military, which has the power to not only carry out anti-drug and public security operations but also enact policy. According to the United States Department of State, the police and the military in Mexico were accused of committing serious human rights violations as they carried out government efforts to combat drug cartels.[206] Immense power in the executive branch and corruption in the legislative and judiciary branches also contribute to the worsening of Mexico’s human rights situation, leading to such problems as police forces violating basic human rights through torture and threats, the autonomy of the military and its consequences and the ineffectiveness of the judiciary in upholding and preserving basic human rights. Some of the forms of human rights violations in recent years presented by human rights organizations include illegal arrests, secret and prolonged detention, torture, rape, extrajudicial execution, and fabrication of evidence.[207][208][209] The US Drug Policy fails to target high-level traffickers. In the 1970s, as part of Operation Condor, the Mexican government sent 10,000 soldiers and police to a poverty-stricken region in northern Mexico plagued by drug production and leftist insurgency. Hundreds of peasants were arrested, tortured, and jailed, but not a single big drug trafficker was captured.[210]

The emergence of internal federal agencies that are often unregulated and unaccountable also contributes to the occurrence of human rights violations. It has been found that the Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación-AFI) of Mexico had been involved with numerous human rights violation cases involving torture and corruption. One well-known case is the death of a detainee, Guillermo Velez Mendoza while in the custody of AFI agents. The AFI agent implicated in his death was arrested but he escaped after being released on bail.[211] Similarly, nearly all AFI agents evaded punishment and arrest due to the corrupt executive and judiciary system and the supremacy of these agencies. The Attorney General's Office reported in December 2005 that one-fifth of its officers were under investigation for criminal activity, and that nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges.[212][213] The AFI was finally declared a failure and was disbanded in 2009.[214]

Ethnic prejudices have also emerged in the drug war, and poor and helpless indigenous communities have been targeted by the police, military, drug traffickers and the justice system. According to the National Human Rights Commission (Mexico) (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos-CNDH), nearly one-third of the indigenous prisoners in Mexico in 2001 were in prison for federal crimes, which are mostly drug related.[215]

Another major concern is the lack of implementation of the Leahy Law in U.S. and the consequences of that in worsening the human rights situation in Mexico. Under this U.S. law, no member or unit of a foreign security force that is credibly alleged to have committed a human rights violation may receive U.S. security training. It is alleged that the U.S., by training the military and police force in Mexico, is in violation of the Leahy Law. In this case, the U.S. embassy officials in Mexico in charge of human rights and drug control programs are blamed with aiding and abetting these violations. In December 1997, a group of heavily armed Mexican special forces soldiers kidnapped twenty young men in Ocotlan, Jalisco, brutally torturing them and killing one. Six of the implicated officers had received U.S. training as part of the Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE) training program.[216]

Journalists and the media

Mexico is considered the most dangerous country in the world to practice journalism, according to the National Human Rights Commission and the Reporters Without Borders, since more than 80 journalist have been killed for publishing narco-related news.[217][218]

Offices of Televisa and of local newspapers have been bombed.[219] The cartels have also threatened to kill news reporters in the U.S. who have done coverage on the drug violence.[220] Some media networks simply stopped reporting on drug crimes, while others have been infiltrated and corrupted by drug cartels.[221][222] In 2011, Notiver journalist Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his wife and son were murdered in their home.[223]

About 74 percent of the journalists killed since 1992 in Mexico have been reporters for print newspapers, followed in number by Internet media and radio at about 11 percent each. Television journalism only includes 4 percent of the deaths. [224] These numbers seem a bit disproportionate — in 2006, there were 462 newspapers registered with the Secretariat of the Interior. The newspaper with the largest circulation of any in Mexico has a circulation of a mere 385,000,[225] about the size of the Houston Chronicle, the tenth largest in the United States. [226] Online publications still do not have the influence print has, with only 22.5 percent of households having Internet access. But 82.5 percent of households own a radio and 94.7 percent have a television set.[227] There is no clear explanation of why a medium that reaches a much smaller portion of the population is statistically much more dangerous, but typically, print journalists are in the field more often than broadcast.

Since harassment neutralized many of the traditional media outlets, anonymous blogs like Blog del Narco took on the role of reporting on events related to the drug war.[228] The drug cartels responded by murdering bloggers & social media users. Twitter users have been tortured and killed for posting and denouncing information of the drug cartels activities.[229] In September, 2011, user NenaDLaredo of the website Nuevo Laredo Envivo was murdered allegedly by the Zetas. [230]

Murders of politicians

A total of 28 mayors have been assassinated all across the country since the start of the drug war;[231] over 120 mayors have been threatened, too.[232] In addition, a candidate for governor of Tamaulipas[233] and 1 congressman has also been killed.[234]

Exploitation of migrants

Drug cartels, such as the Zetas, exploit economic migrants who flee Mexico and Central America for the United States. The cartels engage in kidnapping, ransom and extortion of migrants and force them to join their organizations. If they refuse to be recruited, they are tortured and murdered. Mass graves have been discovered in Mexico containing bodies of migrants.[235][236] The cartels have also infiltrated the Mexican government's immigration agencies, and attacked and threatened immigration officers.[237] The National Human Rights Commission of Mexico (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) said that 11,000 migrants had been kidnapped in 6 months in 2010 by drug cartels.[238]

Effects internationally


Improved cooperation of Mexico with the U.S. led to the recent arrests of 755 Sinaloa cartel suspects in U.S. cities and towns, but the U.S. market is being eclipsed by booming demand for cocaine in Europe, where users now pay twice the going U.S. rate.[30] U.S. Attorney General announced September 17, 2008 that an international drug interdiction operation, Project Reckoning, involving law enforcement in the United States, Italy, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala had netted more than 500 organized crime members involved in the cocaine trade. The announcement highlighted the Italian-Mexican cocaine connection.[36]

In December 2010 the government of Spain remarked that Mexican cartels have multiplied their operations in that country, becoming the main entry point of cocaine into Europe.[239]


The Mexican Army crackdown has driven some cartels to seek a safer location for their operations across the border in Guatemala, attracted by corruption, weak policing and its position on the overland smuggling route.[240][241] The smugglers pick up drugs from small planes that land at private airstrips hidden in the Guatemalan jungle. The cargo is then moved up through Mexico to the U.S. border. Guatemala has also arrested dozens of drug suspects and torched huge cannabis and poppy fields, but is struggling. The U.S. government has sent speedboats and night-vision goggles under a regional drug aid package, but much more is needed. In February 2009, Los Zetas Cartel threatened to kill the President of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom.[242] On March 1, 2010, Guatemala's chief of national police and the country's top anti-drugs official have been arrested over alleged links to drug trafficking.[241] A report from the Brookings Institution[243] warns that, without proactive, timely efforts, the violence will spread throughout the Central American region.[244]

According to the United States government, Los Zetas control 75% of Guatemala through violence, political corruption and infiltration in the country's institutions.[245] Sources mentioned that Los Zetas gained ground in Guatemala after they killed several high-profile members and the supreme leader of Los Leones, an organized crime group from Guatemala.[246]

West Africa

At least nine Mexican and Colombian drug cartels have established bases in 11 West African nations.[247] They are reportedly working closely with local criminal gangs to carve out a staging area for access to the lucrative European market. The Colombian and Mexican cartels have discovered that it is much easier to smuggle large loads into West Africa and then break that up into smaller shipments to Europe - mostly Spain, the United Kingdom and France.[247] Higher demand for cocaine in Western Europe in addition to North American interdiction campaigns has led to dramatically increased trafficking in the region: nearly 50% of all non-U.S. bound cocaine, or about 13% of all global flows, is now smuggled through West Africa.[248]

North America

The Mexican Army has severely curtailed the ability of the Mexican drug cartels to move cocaine inside the U.S. and Canada, prompting an upsurge in gang violence in Vancouver, where the cocaine price has increased from $23,300 to almost $39,000 per kilo as both the U.S. and Canadian drug markets are experiencing prolonged shortages of cocaine.[30] As evidence of this pressure, the U.S. government says the amount of cocaine seized on U.S. soil dropped by 41 percent between early 2007 and mid-2008.[30]

United States

The U.S. Justice Department considers the Mexican drug cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.[249] During the first 18 months of Calderón's presidency, the Mexican government has spent about $7 billion USD in the war against drugs.[250] In seeking partnership from the United States, Mexican officials point out that the illicit drug trade is a shared problem in need of a shared solution, and remark that most of the financing for the Mexican traffickers comes from American drug consumers.[251] On March 25, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stated that "Our [America's] insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade", and that "the United States bears shared responsibility for the drug-fueled violence sweeping Mexico."[252] U.S. State Department officials are aware that Mexican president Felipe Calderón’s willingness to work with the United States is unprecedented on issues of security, crime and drugs, so the U.S. Congress passed legislation in late June 2008 to provide Mexico and Central American countries with $1.6 billion USD for the Mérida Initiative, a three-year international assistance plan. The Mérida Initiative provides Mexico and Central American countries with law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice to strengthen the national justice systems. The Mérida Initiative does not include cash or weapons. In January 2009, a U.S. military assessment expressed some concern that if the war is extended 25 years, it could cause a collapse of the Mexican government due to the military strength of organized crime, and that the conflict could possibly spread to border states.[253][254] Currently, the Mexican drug cartels already have a presence in most major U.S. cities.[255] In 2009, the Justice Department has reported that Mexican drug cartels have infiltrated nearly 200 cities across the United States,[256] including Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.[257]

Multiple researchers propose focusing on prevention, treatment and education programs to curb demand rather than the continued support of combating the supply of drugs. Studies show that military interdiction efforts fail because they ignore the root cause of the problem: U.S. demand. During the early to mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center; the study concluded that $3 billion USD should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest and most effective way to cut drug use. President Clinton's drug czar's office rejected slashing law enforcement spending.[258] The Bush administration proposed cutting spending on drug treatment and prevention programs by $73 million, or 1.5%, in the 2009 budget.[194]

U.S. death toll and national security

U.S. authorities are reporting a spike in killings, kidnappings and home invasions connected to Mexico's cartels, and at least 19 Americans were killed in 2008.[259][260] Another 92 Americans were killed between June 2009 and June 2010.[261]

For the U.S. Joint Forces Command, in terms of worst-case scenarios, Mexico bears some consideration for sudden collapse in the next two decades as the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels.[253] The Joint Forces Command are concerned that this internal conflict will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state over the next several years, and therefore would demand an American response based on the implications for homeland security alone.[253] In March 2009, the United States Department of Homeland Security said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spreading to the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.[43] The call for National Guard on the border greatly increased after the 2010 murder of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, possibly at the hands of Mexican drug smugglers.[262][263]

In March 2009, the Obama administration outlined plans to redeploy more than 500 federal agents to border posts and redirect $200 million to combat smuggling of illegal drugs, money and weapons.[264] On May 25, 2010 President Obama authorized deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico to assist with border protection and enforcement activities, as well as help train additional Customs and Border Protection agents.[265] The deployment has drawn criticism primarily from the border state governments which argue that an additional 1,800 men to control over 2,000 miles of border is not nearly enough and is more a political show than a serious attempt to stop incursions at the border.


Policy failure

According to former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, the United States-led drug war is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral; Mr. Cardoso said in a conference that "the available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war".[266] The panel of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy commission, headed by Cardoso, stated that the countries involved in this war should remove the "taboos" and re-examine the anti-drug programs. Latin American governments have followed the advice of the U.S. to combat the drug war, but the policies had little effect. The commission made some recommendations to President Barack Obama to consider new policies, such as decriminalization of cannabis (marijuana) and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.[267] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs states it is time to seriously consider drug decriminalization and legalization,[268] a policy initiative that would be in direct opposition to the interests of criminal gangs.

Money laundering

Despite the fact that Mexican drug cartels and their Colombian suppliers generate, launder and remove $18 billion to $39 billion from the United States each year,[269] the U.S. and Mexican governments have been criticized for their unwillingness or slow response to confront the various cartels' financial operations, including money laundering.[269][270][271]

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has identified the need to increase financial investigations relating to the movement of illegal drug funds to Mexico.[272] The DEA states that attacking the financial infrastructure of drug cartels has to play a key role in any viable drug enforcement strategy.[272][273] However, the U.S. DEA has noted that the U.S. and Mexican financial services industry continues to be a facilitator for drug money movement.[194][272] Following suit, in August 2010 President Felipe Calderón proposed sweeping new measures to crack down on the cash smuggling and money laundering. Calderón proposes a ban on cash purchases of real estate and of certain luxury goods that cost more than 100,000 pesos (about USD $8,104.) His package would also require more businesses to report large transactions, such as real estate, jewelry and purchases of armor plating.[271] In June, 2010, Calderón "announced strict limits on the amount in U.S. dollars that can be deposited or exchanged in banks",[271] but the proposed restrictions to financial institutions are facing tough opposition in the Mexican legislature.[269][271]

In 2011 the Observer reported that Wachovia, at one time a major US bank, was implicated in laundering money for Mexican drug lords, through its lax laundering controls (a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act).[274]


RAND studies released in the mid-1990s found that using drug user treatment to reduce drug consumption in the United States is seven times more cost effective than law enforcement efforts alone, and it could potentially cut consumption by a third.[275]

In FY2011, the Obama Administration requests approximately $5.6 billion to support demand reduction. This includes a 13% increase for prevention and a nearly 4% increase for treatment. The overall FY 2011 counter-drug request for supply reduction and domestic law enforcement is $15.5 billion with $521.1 million in new funding.[276]

See also


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Vulliamy, Ed, Amexica: War Along the Borderline, Bodley Head, 2010. ISBN 9781847921284
Grillo, Ioan, El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, Bloomsburry Publishing, 2011. ISBN 9781608192113

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