Recent geographic trends in Mexico’s drug violence

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Feb 112012

Drug related violent deaths during the first nine months of 2011 increased by about 13% compared to 2010.  Data released by the Office of the President  in January 2012 indicate that from January through September 2011 Mexico had a total of 12,903 drug war deaths. This is a rate of about 15.3 per 100,000 people per year [2011 rates were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year] compared to 13.6 in 2010 and 7.55 in 2009 [“Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”]. While the rate of increase declined significantly in the past two years, still drug violence is increasing rapidly.

The geographic pattern of drug violence is still mainly concentrated in northern border states and some western states. Chihuahua was still the most violent state with 2,289 deaths in 2011 (Jan-Sept) for a rate of 90 deaths per 100,000 per year.  Other states with high rates were Guerrero (61), Durango (58), Sinaloa (53), Tamaulipas (45), Nayarit (42), Nuevo León (33), and Coahuila (28). Note that four of these states are along the border and four are in western Mexico.

At the other end, Yucatán had only one death for a rate of 0.07. Other states with low rates were Tlaxcala, 0.8; Puebla, 1.22; Querétaro, 1.24; Campeche, 1.62; Chiapas, 1.73; Hidalgo, 1.75; and the Federal District (Mexico City), 1.83. It is very interesting that the drug war death rate in the capital city was one of the lowest in the country and less than one eighth the national. A future post will investigate drug war death rates in Mexico City.

Among border states, drug war death rates decreased significantly for the western states. Baja California was down 38%; Sonora down 36%, and Chihuahua down 31%. Before 2010, Baja California and Sonora had death rates over twice the national average largely because of high death totals in Tijuana and Nogales. However for 2011 the rates for Baja California and Sonora were 31% and 22% below the national average. The worst drug violence in these two northwestern states might be a thing of the past.

The eastern border states all suffered increases. Coahuila was up 99% and Nuevo Leon was up 143%. Both now have death rates over twice the national average. Tamaulipas’ already high rate of 37 in 2010 increased 22% to 45, almost three times the average. Clearly the battleground of drug cartel clashes along the border has shifting to the east.

Violence is up in some western states where it already was quite high. The rate in Guerrero increased 80% to 60 deaths per 100,000 people, four times the national average. Nayarit suffered an increase of 21% to a rate 42, almost three times the average. Smaller, but still significant, increases were registered in Colima, up 24%, and Michoacán, up 40% putting these two states above the average. On the other hand, the some of the violent non-border states experienced declines. The rate in Sinaloa declined 19%; but with a 2011 rate of 53 it is still three and half times the average. Morelos was down 18% putting it just above the average.

Drug violence increased very rapidly in some non-border states that were relatively peaceful through 2010. The drug war death rate in Zacatecas increased 361% while that in Veracruz was up 302%. While these increases are alarming, these two states still had rates below the national average in 2011. Jalisco suffered an increase of 40%, but its 2011 death rate of 11 was still less than three-fourths of the average. The State of México was up 24%, but its rate was still less than a third the average.

In conclusion, drug violence in Mexico continued to increase in 2011. The violence appears to be mostly concentrated in a wide geographic arc formed by the border states and those in western Mexico. Within this region some areas are suffering rapid increases while drug violence is declining in other places.  It is not clear how this pattern will change in the years ahead. To get a clearer picture of the current pattern, in future posts we will investigate trends in drug violence among Mexico’s 2,458 municipalities.

Feb 082012

It is becoming harder and harder to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of drug cartel territories. As the government crack-down leads to more and more high-profile arrests, some cartels are struggling to reorganize and lose ground (literally) as rival groups step in to take control. This has resulted in drug-related violence in the past year spreading to new areas, accounting for the serious incidents reported in cities such as Guadalajara and Acapulco and in several parts of the state of Veracruz, even as violence diminishes in some areas where it was previously common. (The patterns of drug-related violence are analyzed in depth in several other posts tagged “drugs” on this site).

Who are the main players?  (February 2012)

According to security analysts Stratfor in their report entitled Polarization and Sustained Violence in Mexico’s Cartel War, polarization is under way among Mexico’s cartels. Smaller groups have been subsumed into either the Sinaloa Federation, which controls much of western Mexico, or Los Zetas, which controls much of eastern Mexico.

The major cartels are:

  1. Los Zetas, now operating in 17 states, control more territory than the Sinaloa Federation, and are more prone to extreme violence. They control much of eastern Mexico.
  2. Sinaloa Federation, formerly the largest cartel, currently in control of most of western Mexico. They have virtually encircled the Juárez Cartel in Cd. Juárez. Their production of methamphetamine has been disrupted by numerous significant seizures of precursor chemicals in west coast ports, including Los Mochis and Mazatlán (Sinaloa), Manzanillo (Colima), Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco) and Lázaro Cárdenas (Michoacán). As a result, the Sinaloa Federation appears to have moved some of its methamphetamine production to Guatemala.
  3. Juárez Cartel, now largely limited to Cd. Juárez
  4. Tijuana Cartel, now dismantled and effectively a subsidiary of the Sinaloa Federation
  5. Cartel del Pacífico Sur; weak, and competing with Zetas in central Mexico states of Guerrero and Michoacán
  6. Gulf Cartel, which still has important presence along Gulf coast, but weakened due to infighting and conflicts with Los Zetas.
  7. Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) comprises remnants of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), which is now almost defunct. Other former LFM members joined the Zetas.
  8. Independent Cartel of Acapulco is small and apparently weakened.

Alongside these cartels, three “enforcer” groups of organized assassins have arisen: the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel), La Resistencia (Los Caballeros Templarios) and La Mano con Ojos (Beltrán Leyva).

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico. Copyright Stratfor. Click map for enlarged version

Turf wars

Drug violence is largely concentrated in areas of conflict between competing cartels. The major trouble spots are Tamaulipas (Gulf Cartel and Zetas); the states of Durango, Coahuila, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí (Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas); Chihuahua (Juarez Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel); Morelos, Guerrero, Michoacán and State of México (Cartel del Pacífico Sur, aided by Zetas, against Los Caballeros Templarios).

One possible strategy (for the government) would be to stamp out all smaller groups until a single major group controled almost all the trade in drugs. At this point, so the argument goes, incidental violence against third parties would drop dramatically. Such a simplistic approach, however, fails to tackle the economic, political and social roots of narco-trafficking.

Meanwhile, there are some signs that Los Caballeros Templarios, the breakaway faction of LFM, based in the western state of Michoacán, wants to transform itself into a social movement. This is presumably why it has distributed booklets in the region claiming it is fighting a war against poverty, tyranny and injustice.

Jan 122012

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has released data for narco-related homicides for the first nine months of 2011. The data show that 12,903 narco-related deaths occurred in that period. The 2011 figure is 11% higher than the number of narco-related deaths reported for the same nine months in 2010. Even in the absence of data for the last quarter of 2011, we can safely assume that the total number of drug-related deaths in Mexico since the start of the “drug war” in December 2006 now exceeds 50,000.

As we have stressed in previous posts about drug-related violence in Mexico, the data for January-September 2011 show that violence is heavily concentrated in certain parts of the country, with other regions (such as Baja California Sur, Oaxaca and the Yucatán Peninsula including Quintana Roo) remaining untouched.

Narco-violence, January-September 2011

Narco-violence, January-September 2011 (El Universal)

As this graphic (original here) from Mexico daily El Universal shows, eight states (out of 32) accounted for 70% of all the homicides in the first nine months of 2011: Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Durango, Jalisco, State of México, Coahuila.

The ten municipalities with the highest number of homicides were Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Torreón, Monterrey, Culiacán, San Fernando, Durango, Mazatlán, Tijuana and Veracruz.
[* see comment below]

In all cases, it should be remembered that the data are for the total number of homicides and are not homicide rates (i.e. data adjusted for population size).

How might the USA adjust to “narco-refugees” from Mexico?

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Jan 072012

The impacts of Mexico’s “War on Drugs” in recent years have been apparent in many parts of the country, particularly in the Mexico-USA border region. Apart from the obvious and well-documented increased levels of violence in several northern border states, we have looked briefly in a previous post at how some businesses closed their factories or offices in northern Mexico and relocated to the relative safety of Mexico City and central Mexico. Individuals living in the areas where drug-related violence has increased have also had tough choices to make, and many families have chosen to move, either to other areas of Mexico or to the USA or Canada.

Canada recorded a sharp spike in the number of Mexicans entering the country and claiming asylum on the grounds that their lives were in danger if they returned to Mexico. The number rose from 2,550 in 2005 to 9,309 in 2009, with about 10% being accepted as legitimate claims. Canada’s response to the sudden increase in applicants was to impose strict visa restrictions which made it far harder for Mexicans to enter Canada legally. The changes led to an 80% drop in the number of Mexicans applying for asylum in 2010.

Several US border cities have also experienced an influx of Mexican migrants. In Mexico’s “Narco-Refugees”: The Looming Challenge for U.S. National Security, Dr. Paul Kan, Associate Professor of National Security Studies and the holder of the Henry L. Stimson Chair of Military Studies at the U.S. Army War College, looks at how Mexican “narco-refugees” (who leave Mexico “unwillingly”) could influence US policymakers and force them to reconsider national security priorities.

Dr. Kan considers three alternative scenarios, which, he argues, “would force the narco-refugee issue onto the [US] national policy-making agenda”:

  • 1. the “new normal”, in which drug-related violence in the USA and Mexico becomes “a fact of life in relations between the two countries”, as drug gang and cartel activities spread into the USA along the corridors used to transport drugs.
  • 2. an “accidental narco” syndrome developing in Mexico, in which the Mexican government, in order to demonstrate its commitment towards lowering cartel violence,  may collude with one or more smaller cartels to help gain intelligence about the larger, more violent cartels prior to clamping down on them. Such a policy could lead to a sharp increase in the number of narco-refugees, as the core areas of stronger cartels see increasing violence as the cartels fight for survival.
  • 3. the emergence of a “Zeta state.” In this third scenario, a kind of “parallel state” emerges, in which private security firms play a much larger part as wealthy Mexicans seek to protect themselves, relying on their own resources, rather than on the government’s law and order or security forces.

As Dr. Kan emphasizes, these three scenarios are not mutually exclusive, and could coexist in different areas of the country simultaneously. Equally, some parts of the country might escape the effects of all three of the scenarios he analyzes.

Kan repeats anecdotal and other evidence which suggests that “narco-refugees” are becoming an important trend, with serious consequences for Mexico’s economy. For example, “One young Mexican executive at cement giant Cemex SAB, which has headquarters in Monterrey, said he can count at least 20 different families from his circle of friends who have left—nearly all of them for nearby Texas.” Reduced US investment in Mexico is not a good sign. According to the US Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, 25% of its members are “reconsidering their investments in Mexico as a result of worries over security”, with 16% having suffered extortion and 13% having experienced kidnappings. According to J.P. Morgan’s chief economist for Mexico, “the country likely lost approximately $4 billion in investment in 2010 when companies reconsidered such plans because of drug violence.”

At a more local level, in Ciudad Juárez, “more than 2,500 small grocery stores have closed due to extortion or because customers have left the city; the Mexican social security administration believes that 75,000 residents there have lost their jobs since 2007.”

Clearly, the impacts of Mexico’s “war on drugs” are far-reaching. Let’s hope that the situation improves in 2012, despite it being a year of federal elections in both Mexico and the USA.

Previous posts about the geography of drug trafficking and drug cartels in Mexico:

The diffusion of violence in Mexico since the early 1980s

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Nov 122011

Today, we take a quick look at Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, published on the InSight Crime website. InSight Crime’s stated objective is “to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

diffusion of violence in Mexico


Gary Moore, the author of Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, considers some of the claims made recently about Mexico being a “failed state”, where parts of the country are effectively no longer under government control. As the title of article suggests, Moore does not find evidence to support these claims.

His position is set out early in the article when he writes that, “The statements are all serious assessments of an elusive reality. The violence in today’s Mexico forms a twilight zone. It is not an all-consuming apocalypse, but it is also not the relative peace of Mexico a generation ago.”

The article is illustrated by three maps, “snapshots” of the situation in the early 1980s, in 2006-2008 and in 2011. While these appear to show that there has been a significant expansion of violence across Mexico in recent years, some caution is needed since the evidence used for each map is entirely different.

Moore’s article is a useful overview of how and why violence has diffused across much of Mexico since President Felipe Calderón declared a “war on drugs” in December 2006. It is, though, only an overview. There are significant local differences even within those states (such as Tamaulipas and Chihuahua) which are considered to be among the worst for drug violence in the country.

Few analysts would disagree with the article’s concluding statements that:

“In the 1970s it was natural to assume that these throwback “bandido” areas were shrinking and would soon disappear, as the march of development brought education, opportunity and civilization.”

“The harsh news from the drug war is that the reverse has occurred. The landscape of no-go zones has swelled across Mexico, as at no time since the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.”

The Mexican Revolution threw Mexico into convulsions for more than a decade, and the war on drugs looks set to last at least as long.

Related posts:


Mexico City: attracting businesses from northern Mexico and revitalizing downtown core

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Sep 262011

Some businesses leaving northern Mexico and moving to Mexico City

According to Laura Velázquez, the Economic Development Secretary for the Federal District, the city has attracted 1650 firms from the north of Mexico in the first six months of 2011. The Federal District does offer some financial incentives for newly established companies, but the main reason is believed to be that the firms see Mexico City as having a higher level of public safety than some of the cities in states such as Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Sinaloa in northern Mexico,

A diverse range of businesses is involved; most are relocating in the northern and eastern sectors of Mexico City. The migration has boosted the number of available jobs in Mexico City and also led to an increase in foreign investment.

The continued face-lift of Mexico City’s historic downtown core

We introduced the on-going renovation project to beautify Mexico City’s Historic Center in The revitalization of Mexico City’s historic downtown core. The Trust Fund set up to rejuvenate Mexico City’s Historic Center repaired and cleaned more than 1000 facades between 2007 and 2010, with a total street frontage of 11.24 km. The work is part of the renovation of Mexico City’s Historic Center which now looks better than ever! Work continues on many other buildings that still require attention.

Cycle taxis becoming a popular means of transport in city center

Cycle taxis or pedicabs (bicitaxis) have become a much more common sight in downtown Mexico City. Less than three years after their introduction, they are now carrying about 180,000 passengers a year, according to an official of Mexico City’s Historic Center Trust Fund. The vehicles were introduced as part of the Trust Fund’s efforts to revitalize the historic downtown core of Mexico City. They help to reduce the city’s CO2 emissions. There are currently 132 licensed cycle taxis operating in the downtown area. They combine pedal power with small electric motors. Their “drivers” double as informal tour guides. Each cycle taxi is about 3 m (10 ft) long.

Other posts related to Mexico City

Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing? Perhaps, but…

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Aug 252011

This question is far more complicated to answer than might initially appear. To start with there are two primary sources of homicide data in Mexico which provide very different results and vary significantly from state to state and year to year.  The National System of Public Security (SNSP) compiles homicide statistics from police reports and investigations.  The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) obtains homicide data from death certificates reported through the Ministry of Health. For 2010, SNSP reported 35,053 homicides in Mexico, while INEGI – Reporta el INEGI más de 24 mil muertes en 2010 – reported 24,374 homicides.

For a very interesting comparison (in Spanish) of trends over time for these two data sources, including a detailed look at the trends in some individual states, see:

For two earlier posts using SNSP data, see:

What factors may explain why the data is so different?

The terminology associated with homicides is very complex. This is equally true in English and Spanish. Even the basic subcategories do not necessarily match closely from the legal system in one country to that in another. Legal definitions and classifications depend in part on subjective decisions by officials concerning such things as the perpetrator’s motive, intent and state of mind.

In general terms, homicide (homicidio) means the deliberate killing of one person by another. A homicide may be either an:

  • intentional homicide or murder (homicidio doloso) or an
  • involuntary homicide, negligent homicide or case of manslaughter (homicidio culposo)

In some jurisdictions, intentional homicides are further divided into such categories as “first degree murder” and “second degree murder”.

The data associated with homicides are at least as complicated as the legal definitions. Statistics originating from police records will never exactly match those coming from death certificates or public records. For instance, some individuals may have been recorded originally as dying from accidents, natural causes or suicide on their death certificates, but then shown later to have been intentionally killed (murdered) and therefore counted in police records as murder victims. There are numerous possible scenarios in which the police data will differ from the data recorded on death certificates.

Differences in terminology, definitions and application may explain some of the differences in the two data sets, but is very unlikely to explain 100% of such significant differences, so care is needed before drawing any conclusions about Mexico’s homicide rate.

What do the figures for homicides suggest?

In 2000, INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics Agency, recorded 10,743 homicides in Mexico. This number dropped gradually to 8,897 in 2007 before jumping up to 14,006 in 2008, 19,803 in 2009 and leaping  23% in 2010 to 24,374. Current information suggests the number of homicides will be at least as high in 2011.

The SNSP data have become significantly higher than INEGI data in recent years. They also show an increase in the number of homicides in 2010 (compared to 2009), but of only 11%.  Both data sets indicate a rapid increase. This is especially troublesome given that murder rates had declined rather steadily up until the “drugs war” started in earnest in 2007.

If we average the INEGI and SNSP numbers, it suggests that the overall 2010 homicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 population.

How does Mexico’s murder (intentional homicide) rate compare to that in other countries?

Wikipedia’s list of intentional homicide (murder) rates claims that Mexico’s murder rate in 2010 was 15 per 100,000. SNSP data for Mexico show 2010 figures of 18 per 100,000. Either of these figures is very high compared to Canada (1.6 per 100,000), Peru (3.2) or the USA (5). On the other hand, Mexico’s homicide rate is rather low compared to Honduras (78), El Salvador (65), Venezuela (48), South Africa (34) and Brazil (25). In 2007, Mexico’s murder rate was about 8.4 per 100,000, very close to the world average.

How many of Mexico’s murders are drug-war related?

Data released last January by the Mexican government indicated that drug-war deaths increased in 2010 by 5,659 from 9,614 to 15,273. These data suggest that 63% of Mexico’s intentional homicides in 2010 were related to drug violence compared to only 49% in 2009, 28% 2007 and roughly 10% in 2006. In fact, non-drug-war-related intentional homicides in Mexico appear to have declined 11% from 10,189 in 2009 to 9,101 in 2010, less than the total number of homicides in any year from 2000 through 2006.

This brings us back to our original question, “Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing?” Yes, they are increasing, but only as a result of the much publicized “war on drugs”. It is likely that if there was no drugs war, then Mexico’s homicide rate would be continuing to decline, consistent with its long-term trend.

Related posts, relying on data issued by the Office of the President of Mexico:

Jul 182011

With so much media attention focused on drug violence in Mexico, many potential tourists and tour operators are canceling planned trips to Mexico. Are such decisions rational? The analysis below indicates that travel to Mexico is considerably safer than risking vehicle traffic in the USA.

The US State Department has issued numerous travel advisories concerning visits to Mexico. As we discussed in a previous post —Which parts of Mexico are currently subject to US travel advisories?— the advisories focus on specific areas of Mexico. Unfortunately, many potential tourists overlook the geographic specificity and get the impression that all parts of Mexico are dangerous. Previous posts clearly indicate that levels of drug war violence vary enormously from place to place in Mexico.

This post investigates the chances of being a fatal victim of drug violence in various places in Mexico and compares these with the chances of being a fatal victim of a traffic accident in the USA. The US Department of Commerce estimates that about 19 million US citizens visit Mexico each year. According to MSNBC, in 2010 at least 106 Americans were killed in Mexico as a result of drug violence. Dividing the 19 million visits by the 106 deaths suggests that the chance of a visitor being killed on a trip to Mexico in 2010 was about 1 in 179,000. These are good odds, much better than the annual chance of being killed in a US traffic accident which is about 9,000 to 1. In other words, the chances of dying in a US traffic accident are roughly 20 times greater than being killed as a consequence of drug violence while visiting  Mexico. (As an aside, the annual chances of being killed in a Mexican traffic accident are about 1 in 4,800.)

 Chance of a visitor being killed in drug violence in MexicoRelative danger of death in a road accident in the USA
MEXICO (whole country)1 in 179,00020 times greater
Ciudad Juárez1 in 11,4001.3 times greater
State of Chihuahua1 in 18,5002.1 times greater
Culiacán1 in 25,0002.8 times greater
Mazatlán1 in 47,0005.2 times greater
Tijuana1 in 52,0005.7 times greater
Monterrey1 in 210,00023 times greater
Puerto Vallarta1 in 288,00032 times greater
Chapala1 in 299,00033 times greater
Cancún1 in 360,00040 times greater
State of Jalisco1 in 378,00042 times greater
Oaxaca City1 in 427,00048 times greater
Guadalajara1 in 569,00063 times greater
Mexico City1 in 750,00083 times greater
State of Yucatán1 in 4,151,000460 times greater
Puebla City1 in 6,572,000730 times greater

Some areas of Mexico experience much more drug violence than others. For example drug violence deaths in Ciudad Juárez are 16 times greater than the Mexico national average. Consequently, the chance of an American visitor getting killed in drug violence in Ciudad Juárez is about 11,400 to one, still safer than risking traffic in the USA. The table shows the risks for a range of Mexican locations and compares them to the risks of US traffic. In the city of Puebla the risk is one in 6.6 million compared to one in 750,000 for Mexico City, one in 570,000 for Guadalajara, one in 360,000 for Cancún, about one in 300,000 for Chapala and Puerto Vallarta, and about one in 50,000 for Tijuana and Mazatlán.

These results indicate that the chance of a visitor being killed by drug violence in Mexico is extremely unlikely, far less likely than the risk of being killed in a US traffic accident. For example, a visit to Chapala is 33 times safer than risking US traffic for a year, while Mexico City is 83 times safer. Though this analysis focuses on the travel of US tourists to Mexico, the results are equally relevant for visitors from other countries.

Round-up of recent developments in Mexico’s Drug War

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Jul 142011

Drugs smugglers are getting more and more creative in trying to circumvent drug trafficking and money laundering regulations either side of the Mexico-USA border. Flows of drugs northwards are counterbalanced by flows of cash southwards, since drug shipments have to be paid for somehow. What a shame that drug traffickers’ incredible ingenuity is not channeled into more legitimate and socially-responsible activities.

In March, one 33-year-old woman from Monterrey, Mexico, traveling back home from the USA, was apprehended aboard a trans-border bus with two teddy bears, each with their own pillow. How much cash can you stuff into two teddy bears? Well, if you add a couple of pillows into the mix, the answer is at least $277,556, since that is the total amount confiscated from Jeanette Barraza-Galindo. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 8; she faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Just how can drug cartel leaders protect themselves and their assets, given the constant disputes between cartels and in-fighting within the cartels? Mexico’s luxury vehicle production has been doing suspiciously well for years; production of specialist armor-plated vehicles has been rising so rapidly that legitimate manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with demand. Drug capos consider armor-plated vehicles a necessity. So it perhaps not surprising that one cartel started its own production line. In June, the Mexican Army seized a factory in Camargo, Tamaulipas, that turned out armored vehicles for the Zetas, one of the most violent of Mexico’s drug gangs. In the process, it confiscated 28 vehicles, including four that were “ready to roll”, as well as numerous weapons.

What happens to the remains of drug lords killed in the war on drug cartels? Some of them end up occupying cemeteries that, for some future generation, will probably be viewed as macabre tourist attractions.

Perhaps the most extreme example is the Jardines de Humaya cemetery in Culiacán, Sinaloa, which has some of the most impressive funereal monuments in all of Mexico, up to and including mausoleums with stained glass, telephone lines and oriental rugs.

Where do all the guns come from? According to Jesús Enrique “El Mamito” Rejón, the answer is the USA. Rejón is a Zeta drugs gang boss, recently captured and interrogated by Mexican federal agents.

In the interview, Rejón says he deserted the Mexican Army in 1999 to join the Zetas. The Zetas have since become a multinational organization,purchasing drugs,  according to Rejón, through accountants who buy them from Guatemala and then transporting them across Mexico and into the USA. He says all the Zetas’ weapons have been purchased in the USA, and then smuggled into Mexico by a variety of routes, including walking across the international bridges connecting the two countries. Rejón claims that the Gulf Cartel gets its weapons more easily than the Zetas, suggesting that their leaders must have made a deal, perhaps with border officials. One of the many individuals apprehended at the border in recent months by police and customs agents was, US authorities allege, supplying an order from the Gulf Cartel which included 200 AK-47 assault rifles.

Protest march against drug violence (Mexico City, May 2011)

Protest march against drug violence (Mexico City, May 2011)

Finally, there is some good news. As has been reported elsewhere —Mexico winning cartel war—Mexico does appear to be making progress against the cartels. Numerous cartel leaders have been arrested or killed. This has led to renewed clashes between cartels as some seek to exploit perceived weaknesses in their rivals. Some splinter groups appear to be leaderless; their rank and file have lost their previous sources of income and so are now engaging in more localized acts of petty crime. Unfortunately, these are investigated by poorly equipped state or municipal police forces, rather than their much better-equipped federal counterparts.

As elections loom, there are renewed calls for an end to the violence, which has cost more than 35,000 lives since 2007. Protest marches have been held in many major cities, including one that generated a massive turn out in Mexico City in May (see photo).

Last month, a “caravan of peace” comprised of more than 14 buses and 30 cars began a journey which will take it through some of Mexico’s most troubled regions, including Ciudad Juárez.

Here’s hoping that things soon begin to improve and that we will not need to compile many more updates to Mexico’s war against the drug cartels.

Previous posts about the geography of drug trafficking and drug cartels in Mexico:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses drug trafficking, and efforts to control it, in several chapters. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Drug gangs diversify their business activities

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Jun 282011

Wise investors know that diversification is a sound way to protect their resources, and Mexico’s drug cartels have apparently been well educated in this regard. Recent news reports have highlighted two new ways in which Mexico’s drug cartels preserve and grow their wealth: the marketing of pirated merchandise, and the theft and sale of natural gas concentrates.

Marketing of pirated merchandise

According to an article originally published in the Dallas News, Mexico’s drug gangs now make almost as much money from pirated merchandise as from their trade in illicit drugs. By some estimates, the proliferation of pirated brand name goods has resulted in more than 450,000 manufacturing job losses and has caused the demise of many textile, clothing and shoe-making firms. Officials say that pirated videos account for as many as 9 out of every 10 movies sold across the country.

Pirated videos

"Almost original" DVDs for sale in Mexico

Theft of natural gas concentrates

Mexico’s giant Burgos natural gas field, which straddles the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, lies in a zone which has become a center for violence in Mexico’s drug wars. Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil giant, claims that up to 40% of the gas concentrate produced has been stolen since 2006, as drug gangs have systematically targeted, kidnapped and intimidated oil workers. In some cases, cartels have even constructed their own pipelines to siphon off the gas, before filling their own tankers and driving them across the border using forged documentation.

Pemex has filed suit in Texas against eleven US firms (including Plains All American Pipeline LP, SemCrude, and Western Refining), alleging that they purchased up to 300 million dollars of fuel illegally acquired by drug gangs from Mexican pipelines and then shipped across the border. According to Pemex lawyers, the US firms may have been complicit in the forging of documents required for the gas concentrate shipments to cross the border, and profited (knowingly or unwittingly) from the trafficking of stolen fuel.

Previous posts about the geography of drug trafficking and drug cartels in Mexico:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses drug trafficking in several chapters. A text box on page 148 looks at trends in the drug trafficking business and efforts to control it. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!