Latin America – Drug trafficking: the mafia octopus

Drug trafficking can have a severe impact on a country’s economy and politics. It can affect the backbone of society creating a vicious circle where the illegal economy ends up by becoming indispensable to the national economy.

Cocaine trafficking revenues amount to about 500 billion dollars per year and criminal economy, as a whole, accounts for about 3% of the world’s GDP. Drug trafficking is increasingly present in the growing economies of the subcontinent, becoming a real threat for those states that, because of their extension, economic growth and geographic location, are the pillars of the India-Latin continent. Mexico, along with Brazil and Venezuela, plays a geopolitical and economic key role in the region as well as in the new international scenario. The country is one of the main drug trafficking centers in the world. The death toll of the current First World Drug War, which has been going on for years in Mexico, has risen to approximately 100,000 people over the last decade.

Mexico. The drug cartels
Mexican Drug cartels have become particularly powerful in the 1990s, since the demise of the Colombian cartels, which were the main suppliers to the US market. From drug ‘mules’ (a ‘mule’, in drug slang terms, or courier, is someone who smuggles illicit substances such as drugs) to big cartels, Mexico now plays a leading role in decision making with regard to production, traffic management, prices and routes. Almost 80% of drugs entering the United States come from Latin America, 50% of which are transported by land through tunnels or aboard freight trains.

Mexico is therefore a strategic country due to its geographical location on the border with the United States, (currently the largest consumer of drugs followed by the EU).

Latin America_1406DO-2

With the advent of the 2000s, two factors led to the interruption of the so-called Mexican peace, which had guaranteed balance among Mexican mafia groups. The first was the decline of Mexico’s Partido Revolucionario Isitucional, which culminated in its loss of the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of uninterrupted one-party rule. This created a political power vacuum and shook the clientelistic networks that the historical crime syndicates had established with the authorities. Riding Mexico’s democratic transition, new and more violent criminal organizations penetrated government institutions and challenged the old mafias, competing with them for political influence and for the control of key drug trafficking routes.

The United States’ drug demand going into decline, leading to a reduction in revenues, was the second factor that determined the war between mafia clans. The Sinaloa Cartel, also known as the Pacific Cartel, the Gulf, La Familia and the Tijuana cartels are among the 10 major cartels that emerged in the country in the following years.

Drug cartels are, basically, enterprises that have a horizontal structure of leadership, where there are numerous leaders in charge rather than a traditional vertical arrangement with a central head. These enterprises are highly specialized in each single sector of their illegal activity that ranges from plant cultivation, which must obviously be kept hidden, purchase of leaves and chemicals, transportation of raw materials to the laboratory areas, to cocaine packaging and surveillance of warehouses.

Latin America_1406DO-3

Armed groups, such as Los Zetas, Los Pelones and Los Negros, are hired by drug cartels in order to protect leaders and above all the smuggling routes from assaults and robberies. Los Zetas is considered one of the most powerful and violent criminal syndicates in Mexico. The group was founded by Gulf cartel’s leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who lured more than 30 army deserters of the Mexican Army’s elite to become his personal bodyguards, and later, as his mercenary wing. The group’s name Los Zetas is given after its first commander, Arturo Guzm·n Decena, whose Federal Judicial Police radio code was ìZ’ a code given to high-ranking officers. Lieutenant Arturo Guzman Decenas (Z1) was killed by members of the Mexican military in November 2002.

The group, formed by former special Mexican Army units had, during the 1990s, reportedly received training in commando and urban warfare from American Special Forces units, which included training in rapid deployment, marksmanship, ambushes, counter-surveillance and intimidation. Upon the arrest of the Gulf Cartel boss Osiel C·rdenas Guillen in March 2003 and his extradition in 2007, the Zetas took a more active leadership role within the Gulf Cartel and their influence grew greater within the organization. In 2010, however, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel broke apart. The group operates in several regions of Mexico (especially in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Veracruz), and in some India/Latin-American states, in particular, in Guatemala, where they have ties with the local crime organizations that control entire regions, weakening the state sovereignty and facilitating the drug trade. Los Zetas are also known for stealing drug loads from rivals, for extortion, for stealing oil out of pipelines, and for kidnapping the migrants from Central America that try to enter the United States illegally from Mexico. Several analysts link drug war to the struggle for control of natural resources and the expansion of the neo-liberalist program. Armed groups, according to analysts, are just trying to spread panic among local, regional and national capitalists, forcing them to close their businesses, in order to encourage foreign direct investment.

It is important to examine how the expanding ‘war on drugs’ connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources. Reconsidering the so-called drug wars, requires, in part, evaluating how they have encouraged the expansion of foreign direct investment and extractive industries in Colombia, Mexico and Central America.

Other analysts have also expressed sharp criticism over the Mèrida Plan, an agreement between Mexico and the United States signed in 2008, supposedly to make the fight against organized multinational crime more efficient. Although the plan does not provide for the presence of US armed forces in Mexico, it is the legal basis for the entrance, establishment and operation of US agencies in Mexico, according to many. The Los Zetas group are also notorious for perpetrating assaults against the indigenous communities that live in strategic areas or those regions rich in mineral resources, such as gas and oil: gunmen forced the small community of Ciudad Mier, in the Mier Municipality in Tamaulipas, a town located on the largest gas field in Mexico, and the Valley of Juarez’ residents, into escaping to Texas to flee extortion and threats of kidnapping.


Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis advocates for poor countries’…

In his Easter Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis urged all nations to “meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not…

Read more


The Chimpanzee and the Crocodile.

0nce upon a time the chimpanzee and the crocodile were good friends. At midday, the chimpanzee would always go to the riverbank and call the crocodile:…

Read more

Youth & Mission

African Youth Sowing Seeds Of Peace.

Starting afresh from children to build a peaceful future in Africa. Rely on their energies to transform the continent into a better place. This is the sense…

Read more