Mexican Drug War

“In the Mexico we want, there is no room for corruption, for cover-ups, and least of all for impunity.”
–  Enrique Pena Nieto






              124.5 million


              Nearly 200,000


              27,000 people are believed to have                       gone missing in drug-related                                circumstances.


              Mexican military, federal and                               local police, drug cartels,                                        paramilitary groups, street                                    gangs, and vigilante groups.

     Major Active Drug Cartels:

              Gulf, Los Zetas, Knights Templar,                        Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation,                          Tijuana, and Juarez.



The Mexican Drug War primarily refers to the conflict between the Mexican government and the drug cartels of Mexico, which began in 2006 and continues today. Mexican cartels have been the primary traffickers of illicit drugs into the United States for many years, and as various cartels’ power grew, so did money laundering, corruption, and drug-related violence in Mexico. Most of this violence is perpetrated against civilians, who are routinely caught in the crossfire between the military and cartels or else are threatened, extorted, or callously murdered by cartels. Currently, there is no clear end to the conflict in sight.


                 Key Actors:

  • The Mexican government is supported by its military, federal, and local police forces, with the aim of bringing an end to drug trafficking and drug related violence.
  • The major drug cartels are supported by street gangs and paramilitary groups in the fight against the Mexican government, but they also frequently fight against rival cartels.
  • The United States An opioid epidemic and a rising demand for heroin within its own borders is believed to be a factor behind the increased trafficking of harder drugs by cartels, along with the high murder rate in Mexico. As a result, the US has given almost $2.5 billion in funding through the Merida Initiative to help with equipment, training, resources, rebuilding, intelligence, and technical assistance. The US has also increased border security on its side of the border.
  • Jalisco New Generation cartel  formerly the Sinaloa cartel’s armed wing, it has since evolved to become its strongest competitor. It has expanded rapidly and aggressively. In 2017 it was declared Mexico’s largest criminal organization by Mexican Attorney General Raul Cervantes.
  • Sinaloa cartel – long considered Mexico’s most powerful criminal organization, the cartel faces an uncertain future owing to its leader, Joaquin Guzman’s current predicament—awaiting trial in New York after he was extradited to the US in 2017.



  • 11 December 2006 – President Felipe Calderón sends 6500 soldiers into the state of Michoacán in an attempt to curb drug-related violence there. This action is thought to be the first major retaliation by the government against the drug cartels and the beginning of the Mexican government’s ongoing war on drugs.
  • 20 January 2007 – Drug lord Osiel Cárdena Guillen of the Gulf cartel is extradited to the US.
  • 25 June, 2007 – President Calderón fires 284 federal police commanders due to corruption.
  • 29 December 2007 – The entire police force in Playas de Rosarito, Baja California is disarmed due to corruption charges.
    • The drug-related death toll in Mexico stands at 3000 in 2007.
  • May 2008 – Mexico’s director of investigation for organised crime, federal police chief, two bodyguards, and the commander of Mexico City’s investigative police force are all killed in succession.
  • 30 June 2008 – The Merida Initiative is signed into law, which guarantees Mexico $US1.6 billion in funding and assistance over the course of three years.
  • 15 September, 2008 – Eight people are killed and over a hundred injured during Independence Day celebrations, when hand grenades are thrown into a crowd.
  • 17 September 2008 – Over 200 people involved with drug trafficking are arrested across Mexico, the US, Guatemala, and Italy in Operation Solare.
  • 02 November 2008 – Federal police chief Víctor Gerardo Garay resigns, and is then arrested and charged for protecting the Beltrán-Leyva cartel.
  • 06 November 2008 – The Mexican army makes the largest weapon seizure in Mexican history.
  • 17-19 November 2008 – The ex-director and chief of Mexico’s Interpol Office are arrested for links to drug cartels.
  • 2008 – At least three high-ranking cartel members are arrested throughout the year.
    • The death toll stands at 6200 by the end of 2008.
  • 15 February 2009 – Seven tonnes of cocaine is intercepted by the Mexican Navy and US Coast Guard.
  • 20 February 2009 – The police chief of Ciudad Juárez resigns after drug traffickers threaten to kill one police officer every 48 hours, until his resignation.
  • 24 February 2009 – US authorities raid drug warehouses in California, Minnesota, and Maryland and arrest 755 people involved with the Sinaloa cartel.
  • 27 May 2009 – 27 high-ranking officials, including ten mayors and a judge, are arrested on corruption charges.
  • 2009 – At least nine high-ranking cartel members are arrested and three are killed.
    • The death toll count for 2009 is 9600, according to the Mexican government.
  • 5 March 2010 – The Mexican Red Cross stops treating gunshot victims after getting caught in violent crossfire.
  • 31 May 2010 – A mass grave with 55 bodies is found near Taxco, Guerrero.
  • 24 August 2010 – 72 bodies were discovered in Tamaulipas, all believed to be migrants killed by the Los Zetas cartel.
  • 18 October 2010 – 105 tonnes of US-bound marijuana is seized in Baja California.
  • 9 November 2010 – Customs seizes 113 kilos of marijuana at the International Airport of Mexico City.
  • 3 December 2010 – Mexican authorities capture a 14 year old hitman, with 300 confirmed kills.
  • 2010 – seven high-ranking cartel members are arrested and three are killed.
    • The death toll climbs to 15,200 in 2010.
  • January 2011 – The Mexican government claims approximately 34,612 citizens have been killed in the four years since the start of the drug war.
  • April 2011 – An estimated 177 bodies are found across 40 mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.
    • The death toll hits 1400 in April alone, the highest of any month so far.
  • 9 May 2011 – The Mexican government disarms all police forces in the state of Tamaulipas due to corruption allegations in 22 of the state’s 43 cities.
  • 14 May 2011 – 249 bodies are found in mass graves in the state of Durango.
  • 9 June 2011 – The US Government arrests 127 US Customs and Border Protection agents suspected of collaborating with Mexican drug cartels.
  • 14 July 2011 – A 120 hectare marijuana plantation is found in Baja California by the Mexican army, only 320 km south of San Diego, CA.
  • 25 August 2011 – 52 people are massacred in the Monterrey casino attack.
  • August 2011 – 140 schools close and over 600 teachers quit their jobs after money-related threats from drug cartels; 75,000 children stop attending school.
  • 2011 – approximately eight high-ranking cartel members are arrested.
  • 11 January 2012 – Mexico’s Attorney General claims over 13,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in 2011.
  • 31 August 2012 – Eduardo Arellano Félix of the Tijuana cartel is extradited to the US.
  • 1 December 2012 – Enrique Pena Nieto succeeds Calderon as President of Mexico in a general election, despite claims of fraud and media bias.
  • 13 May 2013 – Gulf cartel leader Aurelio Cano Flores is sentenced to 35 years in prison and becomes the “highest-ranking Gulf cartel member to be convicted by a US jury in the past 15 years.”
  • 6 June 2013 – The Mexican Army rescues 65 kidnapped migrants in Tamaulipas.
  • 1-6 December 2013 – 85 bodies are found in mass graves in Jalisco.
  • 2013 – seven high-ranking cartel members are arrested and another three are killed.
  • 22 February 2014 – Joaquín Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel and Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, is arrested.
  • 2014 – Four high-ranking cartel members are arrested and another four are killed in 2014.
  • 12 July 2015 – Leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín Guzmán escapes from a maximum security prison through underground tunnels.
  • 8 January 2016Joaquín Guzmán is re-captured.
  • 23 February 2016 – Alfredo Beltrán Leyva pleads guilty to charges of participating in an international narcotics trafficking conspiracy before a US District judge, and within a year, is sentenced to life in prison.
  • 27 July 2016 – in a report published by the National Mayors Association and Mexican Local Authorities Association, it is revealed that 78 mayors have been killed since the beginning of the drug war. Most of them were executed by drug cartels.
  • 19 January 2017 – Mexico turns Joaquín Guzmán over to US authorities.
  • 29 January 2017 – 22 Sinaloa cartel members are arrested and two killed in the joint Mexican-American Operation Diablo Express.
  • 14 March 2017A mass grave containing 250 skulls is found in Veracruz – the largest to date.
  • 13 January 2018 – Carlos Dominguez Rodriguez becomes the 131st journalist to be killed in Mexico since 2000. This represents the latest targeted killing in a wave of violence against journalists investigating the activities of the cartels and their associates.
  • 22 January 2018 – Mexico records highest murder rate in decades, as government figures reveal that 29,168 murders took place in 2017 alone. The previous peak was in 2011, during which 27,213 people were murdered.
  • 9 February 2018 – The alleged head of the Zetas drug cartel, Jose Maria Guitar Valencia, is captured by Mexican authorities
  • 11 June 2018 – Texan born leader “La Barbie” of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel is sentenced to 49 years and one month in prison. He was extradited to the US in 2015, and will likely spend the rest of his life there in federal prison.
  • 1 July 2018 – Lopez Obrador is elected to Mexico’s presidency by the largest margin in the country’s modern history. In his victory speech he pledges to address the root causes of drug related crime, calling the violent strategies of his predecessors ineffective. “You can’t fight fire with fire.”


                                        How You Can Help:

  • Anyone’s Child – Anyone’s Child is a campaign that connects families across the globe, whose lives have been affected by poor drug laws, and helps them campaign for strict drug regulation in order to bring the drug market into government control.
  • Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad – The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity is a Mexican grassroots campaign that focuses on mobilising people to demand change from the government in order to stop the war on drugs and resulting drug related violence.
  • Transform – Transform is a “charitable think tank” based in the United Kingdom, that works globally with media, governments, and other charities and NGOs to advocate for drug policy reform to move towards ending the war on drugs.

Latest posts by The Organization for World Peace (see all)