The area of influence of each individual drug cartel in Mexico is far from fixed. As cartels fight each other (and government forces) to control their markets, the cartels’ areas of influence expand and contract. This inevitably means that conventional maps of drug cartel “territories” are only a snapshot, each valid only for a limited time. Territories change so rapidly that it is seemingly impossible to keep up.
Two Harvard graduate students have now shown how Google can be used to derive maps of cartel influence. In How and where do criminals operate? Using Google to track Mexican drug trafficking organizations, Viridiana Ríos and Michele Coscia use an algorithm called MOGO (Making Order Using Google As an Oracle) and show how Google data can be processed into maps and graphs.
The method is a much faster, and lower-cost alternative to the sophisticated intelligence and research techniques employed by private security consultants and research institutes.The new approach suggests that different drug groups operate in quite different ways.
The spatial patterns related to the activity of each cartel show distinctive peculiarities. For instance, the longer-established cartels, including the Juárez cartel (see graphic) and Sinaloa cartel, “have a tendency towards being not competitive, being most of the time the first to operate in a particular territory. They operate in a large number of municipalities but also have a high turn over.”
On the other hand, newer groups such as the Zetas (see maps) are “Expansionary competitive”, being both highly competitive and very willing to explore new territories.”In other words, they not only try to invade others’ territories but also are the first to colonize new markets and to operate in areas where drug tracking organizations had never been present before.” By mid-2012, the Zetas operated in 324 municipalities. They were adding “an average of 38.87 new municipalities every year”. However, they also “abandon an average of 22 municipalities per year, lasting an average of only 2.86 years in each one of them.”
These findings appear to lend support to the view that, even in the worst-hit areas, the violence related to cartel activities does not last indefinitely. Indeed, the latest homicide figures from Ciudad Juárez and many other northern border areas show a significant improvement from a year or two ago. Hopefully, the new administration will continue to make progress in tackling the violence. According to press reports, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose six year term as President starts 1 December, will focus his public security policies on reducing Mexico’s homicide rate, as well as reducing the rates of kidnapping and extortion.
- How much drugs money is laundered in Mexico each year?
- How does money laundering work, and what is being done about it?
- Geographic trends in Mexico’s drug violence (February 2011)
- Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update
- Mexican attitudes on the drug war, violence and crime (16 July 2012)