Mexican Drug War

Mexican Drug War
Part of the War on Drugs
Date11 December 2006 (2006-12-11) – present
(11 years, 10 months, 1 week and 5 days)
LocationThroughout Mexico, with occasional spillover across international borders into Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California,[9][10] and also into the neighboring countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala[11][12]


Consulting and training support by:
 United States through the Merida Initiative

Coat of arms of colombian national police.svg National Police of Colombia

Sinaloa Cartel[2]

Los Zetas[3]

Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
Mexico Felipe Calderón Hinojosa
Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto
Mexico Alfonso Navarrete Prida
Mexico Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda
Mexico Manuel Mondragón y Kalb
Mexico Manelich Castilla Craviotto
Mexico Alberto Elías Beltrán
Ismael Zambada García (Fugitive)
Joaquín Guzmán Loera (Arrested)[13]
Juan José Esparragoza Moreno (Fugitive)
Homero Cárdenas Guillén (possibly dead)
Ignacio Coronel Villarreal 
Antonio Cárdenas Guillén 
Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez (Arrested)
Nazario Moreno González 
Omar Treviño Morales (Arrested)
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano  
Miguel Treviño Morales (Arrested)
Arturo Beltrán Leyva  
Héctor Beltrán Leyva (Arrested)
Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano (Arrested)
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (Arrested)


  • 260,000 soldiers[14]
  • 35,000 Federal Police[15]
100,000+ individuals[16][17][18]
Casualties and losses


395 servicemen killed and 137 missing,[19] 4,020 Federal, State, and Municipal Police killed[20]
12,456 cartel members killed[21]
121,199 cartel members detained[22]
8,500 cartel members convicted[23]

Total conflict-related casualties:
250,000+ killed, 30,000 missing[24]

Total displaced:
1.6 million (as of 2012)[25]

The Mexican Drug War (also known as the Mexican War on Drugs; Spanish: guerra contra el narcotráfico en México)[26] is the Mexican theater of the U.S. led War on drugs, an ongoing, asymmetric[27][28] conflict between the Mexican Government and various drug trafficking syndicates. Since 2006, when the Mexican military began to intervene, the government's principal goal has been to reduce the drug-related violence.[29] The Mexican government has asserted that their primary focus is on dismantling the powerful drug cartels, rather than on preventing drug trafficking and demand, which is left to U.S. functionaries.[30][31][32]

Although Mexican drug trafficking organizations have existed for several decades, their influence increased[33][34] after the demise of the Colombian Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market and in 2007 controlled 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.[35][36] Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, has led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.[37][38][39]

The federal law enforcement has been reorganized at least five times since 1982 in various attempts to control corruption and reduce cartel violence. During that same time period there have been at least four elite Special Forces created as new corruption-free soldiers who could do battle with Mexico's endemic bribery system.[40] Analysts estimate that wholesale earnings from illicit drug sales range from $13.6 to $49.4 billion annually.[35][41][42]

The U.S. Congress passed legislation in late June 2008 to provide Mexico with $1.6 billion USD for the Mérida Initiative to provide Mexico with law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice to strengthen the national justice systems. By the end of Felipe Calderón's administration (December 1, 2006 – November 30, 2012), the official death toll of the Mexican Drug War was at least 60,000.[43] Estimates set the death toll above 120,000 killed by 2013, not including 27,000 missing.[44][45]


Given its geographic location, Mexico has long been used as a staging and transshipment point for narcotics and contraband between Latin America and U.S. markets. Mexican bootleggers supplied alcohol to the United States gangsters throughout the duration of the Prohibition in the United States,[36] and the onset of the illegal drug trade with the U.S. began when the prohibition came to an end in 1933.[36] Towards the end of the 1960s, Mexican narcotic smugglers started to smuggle drugs on a major scale.[36]

During the 1970s and early 1980s, 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.[46]

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.[47]

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.[47]

The balance of power between the various Mexican cartels continually shifts as new organizations 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.[48] Leadership vacuums are sometimes created by law enforcement successes against a particular cartel, so 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.[48]

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 (IRP), which began to lose its grip on political power in the late 1980s.[49]

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.[50] There was a lull in the fighting during the late 1990s but the violence has steadily worsened since 2000.


The centrist PRI party ruled Mexico for around 70 years until 2000. During this time, drug cartels expanded their power and corruption, and anti-drug operations focused mainly on destroying marijuana and opium crops in mountainous regions. There were no large-scale high-profile military operations against their core structures in urban areas until the 2000 Mexican election, when the right-wing PAN party gained the presidency and started a crackdown on cartels in their own turf.

Presidency of Vicente Fox

Mexican soldiers training in August 2010

It is estimated that about 110 people died in Nuevo Laredo between January and August 2005 as a result of the fighting between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.[51] The same year, there was another surge in violence in the state of Michoacán as the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel established itself.

Presidency of Felipe Calderón

On December 11, 2006, the newly elected President Felipe Calderón dispatched 6,500 Mexican Army soldiers to Michoacán, his home state, to end drug violence there. This action is regarded as the first major retaliation made against the cartel violence, and is generally viewed as the starting point of the Mexican Drug War between the government and the drug cartels.[52] As time passed, Calderón continued to escalate his anti-drug campaign, in which there are now about 45,000 troops involved along with state and federal police forces.[53]

Presidency of Andrés López Obrador

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka: AMLO) is the newly elected President from the National Regeneration Movement party that will take office on 1 December 2018. A controversial campaign promise he calls a "strategy for peace", is to give amnesty to all Mexicans involved in drug production and trafficking as a way to stop the drug trade and the resulting turf violence.[54] His proposed amnesty is still ill-defined.[54]

Drug sources and use


Drug traffic routes in Mexico

Mexico is a major drug transit and producing country. It is the main foreign supplier of cannabis and an important entry point of South American cocaine[55] and Asian[56] methamphetamines to the United States.[35] It is believed that almost half the cartels' revenues come from cannabis.[57] Cocaine, heroin, and increasingly methamphetamine are also traded.[58]

The U.S. State Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States is produced in Colombia[59] (followed by Bolivia and Peru)[60] and that the main transit route is through Mexico.[35] Drug cartels in Mexico control approximately 70% of the foreign narcotics flow into the United States.[61]

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.[62]

Since 2003 Mexican Cartels have used the dense, unused, isolated portions of U.S. Federal and State parks and forests to grow marijuana under the canopy of thick trees. Billions of dollars’ worth of marijuana has been produced annually on US soil. “In 2006, federal and state authorities seized over 550,000 marijuana plants worth an estimated 1 billion dollars in Kentucky’s remote Appalachian counties” Cartels profited from marijuana growing operations from Arkansas to Hawaii.[63]


The prevalence of illicit drug use in Mexico is still low compared to the United States,[64] however with the increased role of Mexico in the trafficking and production of illicit drugs, the availability of drugs has slowly increased locally since the 1980s.[64] In the decades before this period, consumption was not generalized – reportedly occurring mainly among persons of high socioeconomic status, intellectuals and artists.[64]

As the United States of America is the world's largest consumer of cocaine,[65] as well as of other illegal drugs,[66] their demand is what motivates the drug business, and the main goal of Mexican cartels is to introduce narcotics into the US.

The export rate of cocaine to the U.S. has decreased following stricter border control measures in response to the September 11 attacks.[64][67]

This has led to a surplus of cocaine which has resulted in local Mexican dealers attempting to offload extra narcotics along trafficking routes, especially in border areas popular among low income North American tourists.

Drug shipments are often delayed in Mexican border towns before delivery to the US, which has forced drug traffickers to increase prices to account for transportation costs of products across international borders, making it a more profitable business for the drug lords, and has likely contributed to the increased rates of local drug consumption.[64]

With increased cocaine use, there has been a parallel rise in demand for drug user treatment in Mexico.[64]


One of the main factors driving the Mexican Drug War is the willingness of mainly lower-class people to earn easy money joining criminal organizations, and the failure of the government to provide the legal means for the creation of well paid jobs. From 2004 to 2008 the portion of the population who received less than half of the median income rose from 17% to 21% and the proportion of population living in extreme or moderate poverty rose from 35 to 46% (52 million persons) between 2006 and 2010.[68][69][70]

Among the OECD countries, Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich.[71] The bottom ten percent in the income hierarchy disposes of 1.36% of the country's resources, whereas the upper ten percent dispose of almost 36%. OECD also notes that Mexico's budgeted expenses for poverty alleviation and social development is only about a third of the OECD average.[69]

In 2012 it was estimated that Mexican cartels employed over 450,000 people directly and a further 3.2 million people's livelihoods depended on various parts of the drug trade.[72] In cities such as Ciudad Juárez, up to 60% of the economy depended on illegitimate money making.[73]

Ineffective educational system

Illiteracy and lack of education have been present in Mexico for much of its history. In 1940, 58% of all Mexicans over the age of six were illiterate; in 1960, 38% were illiterate.[74] The 1960 national census found that as to all Mexicans over the age of five, 43.7% had not completed one year of school, 50.7% had completed six years or less of school, and only the remaining 5.6% had continued their education beyond six years of school.[74]

More recently, researchers from the World Economic Forum have noted that despite Mexico's relatively high investment of 5.3% of its GDP in education as of 2009 (31st out of 134 economies), the nation's primary education system is ranked 116th, thereby suggesting "that the problem is not how much but rather how resources are invested".[75] The WEF further explained: "The powerful teachers union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), the largest labor union in Latin America, has been in large part responsible for blocking reforms that would increase the quality of spending and help ensure equal access to education. Poor teacher performance and learning outcomes are associated with the SNTE-dominated, centralized collective bargaining for many work rules[.]" The result of the high levels of poverty, lack of well paid jobs, government corruption, and the systemic failure of Mexico's schools has been the appearance of los ninis, an underclass of several million dropouts who ni trabajan ni estudian (neither work nor study), of whom many ended up as combatants on behalf of the cartels.[76]

However, teachers unions argue that they oppose being tested and graded on their students' performance[77] with universally standard exams that do not take into account the socio-economic differences between middle class urban schools and under-equipped poor rural schools, which has an important effect on the students performance.[78][79][80][81] Also, teachers argue that the legislations are ambiguous, only focus on the teachers, without touching the Education Ministry, and will allow more abuses and more political corruption.[82][83][84][85][86]

Other Languages
Bahasa Indonesia: Perang Narkoba Meksiko
Bahasa Melayu: Perang Dadah Mexico