Mexican Drug War


Mexico, the Americas

The Mexican Drug War primarily refers to the conflict between the Mexican government and the drug cartels of Mexico, which informally began in 1971 with the American War on Drugs and drastically escalated to a conflict of its own under the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The conflict formally started on December 11, 2006, when President Calderon  launched the “Operativo Conjunto Michoacan” in which 7,000 soldiers, marines and federal police were sent to the  state of Michoacan to fight drug cartels. 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, especially considering that criminal organizations have begun to diversify into other illegal businesses as the drug market shrinks.

In the Mexico we want, there is no room for corruption, for cover-ups, and least of all for impunity.

Enrique Pena Nieto, Former President of Mexico

Key Facts

125,000-150,000 homicides related to organized crime, from 2006 to 2018.

As of 2021, 95,000 people were officially registered as disappeared.

34,500 homicides in 2019, for a record national rate of 29 per 100,000.

Total population of Mexico: 130.2 million (July 2021 est.).

Annual Drug Revenue: est. $19-$29 billion.

Military spending with the purpose of  diminishing violence in Mexico: over 333 billion Mexican pesos (17  billion Dollar) in 2021.

Components of the market: Mexico is a significant source and  transit country for heroin,  marijuana, and synthetic drugs  (such as methamphetamine and  fentanyl) destined for the United  States.

A growing market, threatening the  US: 41,800 hectares of opium were  cultivated in Mexico in 2018, up  280% since 2013. Mexico’s  production of pure heroin rose to 106  metric tons (MT) in 2018 from 26 MT  in 2013. The DEA reported that 90% of U.S. Seized heroin comes from Mexico which is increasingly laced with  fentanyl (an opioid 50 times more  potent than heroin and a main cause of  overdose in the US with 71,000 deaths  in 2020, a 23% increase compared to  2019).

Growing  amount of drug seizures: In the first half of 2019, Mexico  reportedly seized 6.3 metric tons  (MT) of cocaine (a 14 percent increase compared to the same period  in 2018) and 157.3 kg of fentanyl (94  percent increase over the same period  in 2018).

Homicide rate: 26.6 deaths per 100,000 people, resulting in over  34,000 victims per year and 94 per day on average (2021). A 76% percent increase in homicide rate since 2015.

The Key Actors

The Situation

Classification: Internal Armed Conflict

Analyst’s suggestions:

  • A Failure to educate the youth is at the root of violence and  implication to drug cartels. With low teaching quality and a lack of  school material, Mexico ranks last in education among the 35  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. An increase in budget for education could be one possible  solution along with a strong focus on social welfare.

    Historically, education has proven to deteriorate homicides in Mexico. Indeed, a recent study  showed that from 1970’s to the year 2000, violence  decreased, linked with the opening of more than 200,000 public  schools by the beginning of the 21st century. Despite an economic  crisis and high unemployment, Mexico managed to decrease its homicide rate and education has shown to be a factor. However,  many students tend to leave the schooling system by age 10 to 12.  Therefore,It is believed that, while Mexico has been successful in  establishing universal primary education in the past, it now needs to  encourage and increase access for pupils to complete education until the age 15 to 18.

  • The offensive strategies deployed by  former president Calderon have only increased violence in the street.  Instead, jobs need to be created to offer alternative employment other  than being involved with drug trafficking. Additionally, With a very  low minimum wage, the Mexican population is incentivized to join the  cartels to escape poverty.  However, what can  be done to help prevent people from joining cartels is to establish more  severe law punishments regarding drug trafficking. Indeed, 90 percent  of drug crimes in Mexico go unpunished. Furthermore, to aid in reducing  corruption, the Mexican government has to establish relations with the civil society and show that it can provide individuals with  public goods and social services better than the narco-trafficking  organizations can.

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Similar Humanitarian Crises:

Philippine Drug War, Colombian Civil War, crack epidemic

Worsening

With the Covid-19 pandemic, organized crime groups have stepped in where the Mexican government has failed. With a healthcare system inaccessible to large portions of the population, as well as welfare programs put under extreme strain, criminal organizations have been observed distributing resources to some local communities. Though anti-drug efforts continue at the state and federal level, officials within the government have largely side-lined security in favour of prioritizing pandemic response. As of August 2022, Mexico has been affected by an increased violence, symbolized through the countless murders across the country, and the targeted attacks of major cities such as Guadalajara, Irapuato, and Leon from cartel militias. With cities being at the mercy of cartels and a heightened risk of crimes, the U.S warns travellers to act cautiously when travelling to touristic sites such as Cancun or Tulum.

Timeline of the Crisis

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 drug cartels and the beginning of the Mexican government’s ongoing war on drugs.

Osiel Cárdena Guillen, former-Gulf Cartel leader and founder of Los Zetas, is extradited to the US. Under the Kingpin Act, he is charged with conspiracy to traffic mass quantities of marijuana and cocaine, as well as charges relating to threats made against American DEA agents in 1999.

Across Mexico, at least 284 officers are purged from federal police departments in a bid to rid the country’s security forces of corrupt connections to the criminal underground.

The entire police force in the town of Playas de Rosarito is disarmed due to suspicions of colluding with drug traffickers to attack the town’s police chief. The town lies just south of Tijuana on the US-Mexico border.

Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, one of the founders of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, is arrested in Culiacán, Sinaloa, along with three bodyguards. With him, security forces find hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as grenades and automatic weapons.

Édgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, a high-ranking member of Mexico’s federal police force, is shot to death at his home, likely in retaliation for the arrest of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva.

The Mérida Initiative is signed into law, which guarantees Mexico $US1.6 billion in funding and assistance over the course of three years.

Eight people are killed and over a hundred injured during Independence Day celebrations in Morelia, Michoacán when hand grenades are thrown into a crowd. The attack is largely considered obscene by trafficking organizations active in the area, especially La Familia, who make an effort to distance themselves from blame.

Over 200 traffickers are arrested across the United States, Italy, Guatemala, and Mexico – including members of the Gulf Cartel as a part of Operation Solare.

In the border city of Reynosa, Mexican security forces make the largest weapons seizure in the country’s history, including over 400 rifles and handguns, 166 grenades, over a thousand magazines of ammunition, and a rocket launcher.

Rodolfo de la Guardia García, the ex-director of Mexico’s Interpol office, is arrested under suspicions of protecting members of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel.

Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas, head of Mexico’s Interpol office, is arrested for alleged connections to drug trafficking organizations.

After resigning on 2 February 2008, Federal Police Chief Víctor Gerardo Garay is arrested for allegedly protecting members of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel.

Robert Orduna, Chief of Police of Ciudad Juárez, resigns after drug traffickers threaten to kill one police officer every 48 hours.

US authorities raid drug warehouses in California, Minnesota, and Maryland and arrest 755 people involved with the Sinaloa Cartel.

The same day, Miguel Ángel Caro Quintero, leader of the Sonora Cartel, is extradited to the United States on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and racketeering. He is the brother of Rafael Caro Quintero, co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel and once-ally to the infamous Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo.

27 high-ranking officials, including ten mayors and a judge, are arrested in the state of Michoacán under suspicions of collaborating with La Familia.

Julio César Godoy Toscano, recently elected to the Lower House of Congress, is charged for allegedly ensuring the legal protection of members of La Familia Michoacana.

Marcos Arturo Beltrán Leyva, leader and co-founder of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, is shot and killed in a 90-minute shootout with 200 Special Forces agents at an upscale resort community in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Intelligence agents tried and failed to capture him only days before during Christmas party in Ahuatepec.

Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a Special Forces agent killed in the same shootout that took Marcos Arturo Beltrán Leyva, is buried in Tabasco. Hours later, gunmen break into his house and kill four of his relatives, including his mother, in retaliation.

Carlos Beltrán Leyva, another founder of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, is arrested via federal police officers in Culiacán, Sinaloa off of an anonymous tip.

The Mexican Red Cross stops treating gunshot victims after getting caught in violent crossfire.

A mass grave with 55 bodies is found near Taxco, Guerrero 200 meters down a ventilation shaft. Many of the bodies are found still bound and gagged. Though much of the violence in Mexico is in the north, Guerrero has become the epicenter of violence on the country’s Pacific coast.

For the first time since the beginning of the Mexican War on Drugs, drug traffickers from La Línea, the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel, successfully perform a car bomb attack in Ciudad Juárez. Cartel members call in a fake emergency call and use an injured man dressed in a police uniform to lure in first responders. The attack represents an escalation in violence in Mexico and evolution in the ingenuity of trafficking organizations to commit acts of terror.

Mexican authorities unearth at least 70 bodies from mass graves in the state of Nuevo León, with at least 51 of them found in the municipality of Benito Juárez alone.

15 corpses of members of Los Zetas are found lining the highway Matamoros-Ciudad Victoria, a busy highway outside of San Fernando Tamaulipas. The killings are attributed to the Gulf Cartel.

Four decapitated and mutilated bodies are found hanging from a bridge in Cuernavaca, Morelos at the hands of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel. In a message left near the bodies, Héctor Beltrán Leyva takes responsibility and threatens any other members who side with Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal, a former high-ranking member who came to question cartel leadership after the death of Marcos Arturo Beltrán Leyva.

72 bodies are discovered on a ranch in Tamaulipas, all believed to be migrants killed by Los Zetas for refusing to work. The discovery was made after a gunfight between police and supposed drug traffickers, killing three of the gunmen and a marine. It is the single largest mass grave discovered so far in the drug war.

Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal, once a high-ranking member of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, is arrested by federal police officers at a house near Mexico City.

Julio César Godoy Toscano, a congressman previously charged for connections to La Familia Michoacana, avoids arrest due to a judicial injunction and is allowed to swear in, granting him parliamentary immunity.

105 tons of US-bound marijuana are seized in Baja California. The drug seizure has an estimated street value of approximately 4.2 billion pesos, or $340 million. It is the largest drug seizure so far in the state’s history.

In response to leaked audio proving a relationship with Servando Gómez Martínez, former-leader of the Knights Templar Cartel and leader of La Familia Michoacana, Mexican Congressman Julio César Godoy Toscano resigns from his political party (the Partido de la Revolución Democrática) and flees as a fugitive.

Mexican authorities capture a 14 year old hitman, with 300 confirmed kills. Mexican authorities in Cuernavaca, Morelos arrest Edgar Jiménez Lugo, a sicario for the South Pacific Cartel known as “El Ponchis.” He allegedly has more than 300 kills, many through methods of violent torture, and is the youngest known hitman in Mexico.

Nazario Moreno González, the leader of La Familia Michoacana, is allegedly killed in a shootout in El Alcalde, Apatzingán, Michoacán. Despite counting this as a victory, the government provides no body and no evidence of Moreno González’s death. Many speculate that he survives.

28 dead bodies are found outside of the Plaza Sendero shopping center in Acapulco, Guerrero surrounded by 15 of their own decapitated heads. Several more are discovered in an abandoned taxi and throughout residential neighborhoods in the city, allegedly accompanied by signed messages from Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

An estimated 193 bodies are found across 40 mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Some media outlets speculate that the body count exceeds 500 but is being censored the local government.

The Secretariat of National Defense disarms all police forces in the state of Tamaulipas due to allegations of collusion with drug traffickers in 22 of the state’s 43 cities.

249 bodies are found across multiple mass graves in the state of Durango. Some media outlets speculate that the body count exceeds 300 but is being censored by the local government.

Members of the Los Zetas cartel kill at least 27 in the town of Petén, Guatemala, located near the country’s border with Mexico. This represents a significant shift in the Mexican War on Drugs as trafficking organizations display gradual migration down into Central America.

Mexican authorities unearth over 38 dead bodies from mass graves throughout the state of Coahuila.

The US Government arrests 127 US Customs and Border Protection agents suspected of collaborating with Mexican drug cartels.

José “El Chango” de Jesús Méndez Vargas, the leader of La Familia Michoacana immediately after Nazario Moreno’s alleged death, is arrested by federal police officers at a checkpoint in the state of Aguascalientes.

The Mexican army discovers a 300-acre marijuana plantation in the state of Baja California, worth approximately $160 million. This is the largest marijuana plantation discovered so far in Mexican history.

José Antonio Acosta Hernández, leader of the Juárez Cartel’s armed wing, is captured and arrested in Ciudad Juárez. He is responsible for over a thousand killings, including the car bombing from July of 2010.

At least 52 people are killed in an attack in Monterrey, Nuevo León, the deadliest in the state’s history. The gunmen allegedly opened fire before setting fire to the building’s exits to trap attendees inside.

In the state of Acapulco, 140 schools close and over 600 teachers quit their jobs after money-related threats from drug cartels; 75,000 children stop attending school.

80 gunmen, supposedly from the Gulf Cartel storm the town of Juchipila in the state of Zacatecas and successfully take control for over five hours in order to eliminate the influence of Los Zetas in the area. The event testifies to the dangerous potential of drug trafficking organizations to disrupt and appropriate the tradition powers of the Mexican government, a significant development.

Three trucks are found in Guadalajara, Jalisco containing at least 26 bodies of Sinaloa Cartel members. The killings are attributed to Los Zetas and the Milenio Cartel.

Mexico’s Attorney General claims over 13,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in 2011.

Just a day before Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit to Mexico, thirteen people are killed across the country. Seven men are found shot on the side of a road in Angostura, Sinaloa, while four severed heads and two unrelated bodies are found in Acapulco, Guerrero.

23 corpses are discovered in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, 14 of which are decapitated and 9 are found hanging from a bridge.

Along Mexican Federal Highway 40, authorities discover the decapitated and dismembered remains of at least 49 people near Cadereyta Jiménez, Nuevo León. The killings are tentatively attributed to Los Zetas.

Eduardo Arellano Félix, founding member of the Tijuana Cartel is extradited to the US on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. He was previously arrested in 2008 after a shootout in Tijuana.

Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a Zetas leader known for feeding his torture victims to lions, is killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy in Progreso, Coahuila. Before the military can officially announce his death, his body is stolen on orders from Miguel Treviño Morales.

Enrique Peña Nieto succeeds Calderón as President of Mexico in a general election, despite claims of fraud and media bias.

Aurelio Cano Flores, high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel, is sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined $15 billion in the United States on charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and marijuana. He becomes the highest-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel convicted and sentenced in the US since the early 2000s.

Miguel Treviño Morales, the national leader of the Los Zetas cartel, is arrested by the Mexican marines in Anáhuac, Nuevo León.

Rafael Caro Quintero, co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, is released from prison after it is determined that he faced cruel and unusual punishment. Like his fellow founder Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, he was imprisoned for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of American DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

Mexican authorities in the state of Jalisco uncover at least 67 bodies from a mass grave in La Barca and 17 from one just outside of Zapopan.

Authorities uncover at least 30 bodies in mass graves in Gómez Farías, Tamaulipas. Residents speculate that there are actually at least 80 bodies buried in the area. The killings are attributed to Los Zetas.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, is arrested in Mazatlán.

Nazario Moreno González, the leader of the Knights Templar Cartel and former-leader of La Familia Michoacana once thought dead, is killed as authorities attempt to capture him in Tumbiscatío, Michoacán. DNA evidence confirms his identity.

43 students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teacher’s college known for its activism, are disappeared by the municipal police in Iguala, Guerrero. During an annual tradition in which they commandeer buses and travel to Mexico City to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, the students are stopped at a roadblock, shot at, and taken into custody. Many speculate that they are then handed over to Guerreros Unidos, a gang local to the state of Guerrero, and killed.

Héctor Beltrán Leyva, one of the founding brothers of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, is arrested in a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato.

At least 28 bodies are discovered across several mass graves in Iguala, Guerrero, all showing signs of torture and having been burned alive. Authorities initially believe that the bodies found are 28 of the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa Normal School.

After increasing the body count to at least 34, police announce that DNA testing has shown none of the bodies found on 5 October 2014 belong to any of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students. On the same day, four more mass graves are discovered in the same area.

In a press conference, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam confirms that forensic specialists at the University of Innsbruck have successfully identified uncovered remains as that of Alexander Mora Venancio, one of the 43 disappeared students from Iguala, Guerrero.

In Chilapa, Guerrero, authorities discover six mass graves containing at least 10 bodies and 11 heads, most still bound and showing signs of torture. They do not state whether the heads belong to the bodies in question or whether the case is related to the 43 missing students from Iguala.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escapes from the maximum security prison in Altiplano using underground tunnels and the allegedly bribery of prison employees.

Guzmán is recaptured in Los Mochis, Sinaloa as a part of the joint US-Mexico Operation Black Swan.

Jesús Murillo Karam, Mexico’s Attorney General, publicly declares that all of the 43 disappeared students from Iguala, Guerrero were killed by the Guerreros Unidos and burned to ashes. Spurred on by accusations of obstruction of justice by international organizations, much of the Mexican public do not believe the story and demand further investigation.

Mexican authorities announce that uncovered remains have been successfully identified as those of Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz, one of the missing 43 students from Iguala, Guerrero. Forensic scientists also reconfirm the tests identifying the remains of Alexander Mora Venancio.

22 Sinaloa Cartel members are arrested in Sonora and Arizona and two killed in the joint Mexican-American Operation Diablo Express.

Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, founding member of the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, pleads guilty to charges of participating in an international narcotics trafficking conspiracy before a US District judge.

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.

Mexico turns Joaquín Guzmán Loera over to US authorities on charges of manufacturing and distributing a range of illegal drugs, use of firearms, money laundering, and running a criminal enterprise..

Two different coolers are found in the streets of Guadalajara, Jalisco, one on an arbitrary street corner, the other in front of Televisa Guadalajara. The second is found to contain two severed human heads with a message threating Jesús Humberto Boruel Neri, inspector general of the Fuerza Unica Jalisco, and a local judge on behalf of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The contents of the first cooler are unknown.

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.

José María Guízar Valencia, one of the newest leaders of Los Zetas, is captured without the use of force in Mexico City.

Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal, Texan-born lieutenant of the Beltrán-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.

Andrés Manuel López 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.”

The US and Mexico announced a comprehensive strategy to combat trafficking organizations. This involves targeting the financial infrastructure of cartels and the establishment of an independent investigation group.

Up to 174 bodies across at least 32 mass graves are discovered in the municipality of Alvarado in the state of Veracruz, believed to be the victims of local conflict between Los Zetas and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Forensic scientists estimate the graves are at least a year old, if not older.

The trial of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera begins with a detailed list of previous crimes and acts within the drugs trade compiled through thousands of documents, videos and recordings.

A Mexican court overturns a controversial security law that aims to regulate the use of military in the war on drugs. Various human rights groups have accused the security law of encouraging already documented abuses conducted by the military.

Alleged members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel throw at least 2 grenades at the American consulate in Guadalajara, Jalisco, though only one explodes. The consulate is closed and empty at the time, so there are no deaths or injuries.

At a border checkpoint near Nogales, Arizona, authorities search a truck coming into the US and find 254 pounds of fentanyl lying under other official cargo, the largest ever fentanyl seizure. Also on the truck are 395 pounds of methamphetamine, altogether worth approximately $5 million.

In an American district court in New York City, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is found guilty of all counts accused, including leading a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to lauder narcotics, and illegal distribution of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and firearms.

Mario Estrada, a candidate in Guatemala’s June presidential election, is arrested in the United States for contracting members of the Sinaloa Cartel to kill his political rivals in exchange for control of sea and airports.

Official figures document an almost-10% rise in violence in 2019, with nearly 9,000 people killed in a 3-month period. AMLO denies such figures by claiming that the murder rate has not risen since taking office.

Combined police and army forces raid a drug lab in the state of Sinaloa containing millions of doses of meth. Officials label this as the biggest blow to meth trafficking this year.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera faces a life sentence in prison in New York following extradition to the US. Guzmán’s legal team has claimed that he faced an unfair trial.

In Uruapan, Michoacán, 20 bodies are found dismembered and mutilated with at least 9 hanging from a highway bridge. Hanging with the bodies is a banner of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

According to US anti-drug authorities, levels of methamphetamine being traded over the US-Mexico border are at a historic high, as indicated by the increasing levels of methamphetamine seizures. This is most likely due to a high demand in the US, as well as the re-appropriation of trafficking channels historically used for cocaine and marijuana.

The Mexican government announces the reopening of the Ayotzinapa case 5 years after the forced disappearance of the 43 Normalista students from Iguala, Guerrero.  López Obrador fulfills one of his campaign promises and claims that his administration is exploring new lines of investigation. This case is crucial for Mexico in its fight against impunity.

Members of the Sinaloa Cartel open fire on armed security forces in Culiacán, Sinaloa, killing 14 and injuring 21 people after Ovidio Guzmán (son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán) is arrested. Members of Guzmán’s faction of the cartel take to the streets and threaten President López Obrador with a bloodbath should he remain in custody. Under great pressure, he decides to release Guzmán, claiming that, because the cartel has nearly double the available gunmen of the government, hundreds could have been killed. The decision is widely criticized as defeat of rule of law.

Three women and six children – all American citizens –  are killed in the northern state of Sonora after  gunmen open fire on their SUVs.

Trump calls for Mexico to declare war on drug trafficking organizations but López Obrador refuses to do so, arguing that such an approach (carried out by previous administrations) has failed and caused the current situation in Mexico.

López Obrador promises a thorough investigation and asks for American cooperation.

The Trump administration publicly announces that it plans to designate Mexican drug trafficking organizations as terrorist organizations, meeting resistance from AMLO’s administration in Mexico. Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico´s foreign minister, states that Mexico will not accept any action that violates its national sovereignty.

According to data released by the Mexican government, 2019 was the most violent year in Mexican history with a record 34 852 homicides, an average of 94 murders a day.

López Obrador´s campaign promise to reduce violent crime in Mexico clearly fails during his first year in office, as drug related violence continues to rise.

The Mexican government announces a 50% increase in the number of people reported missing (the last announcement dates from June 2019) as a result of drug cartel violence. About 25% of these people are women.

In a 4-day march to Mexico City, family members of murdered or missing people protest against the government´s strategy against drug cartels. They claim the policy of “hugs not bullets” is failing and that the administration is contributing to the militarization of the conflict.

In a speech, Mexican President López Obrador declares an end to the long-lasting war on drugs. He justifies such as decision by referring to the need for peace, not war, and claims that his military would no longer prioritise the targeting of drug cartels. Critics are wary, however, due to the strong increase in military personnel amid claims of a permanently militarised country.

Armed traffickers open fire on civilians at a video game arcade in Uruapan, Michoacán with the intent to kill an unknown target. Nine people, including three children, are killed instead.

In cartel-controlled regions of Mexico where the government cannot or will not go, drug traffickers begin providing aid to affected families. A video emerges of members of Los Viagras distributing packs of food in Michoacán at the same time as pictures show donation boxes of cooking staples like sugar and oil labelled “Gulf Cartel” in Tamaulipas.

A gunfight between Sinaloa- and Juárez-allied drug traffickers leaves 19 dead in Madera, Chihuahua. At the scene, police find abandoned vehicles and firearms, as well as grenades.

Congresswoman Anel Bueno is kidnapped by armed gunmen in Ixtlahuacán, Colima, a strategic drug trafficking town located in one of the most violent regions of the country.

The body Congresswoman Anel Bueno is found in a shallow grave. She was previously missing after being abducted by armed gunmen in April.

In a move resonant of the 2014 kidnapping of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, 80 people protesting racial inequality and police violence are arrested and held incommunicado in Guadalajara, Jalisco. All but two reemerge after 24 hours.

Omar García Harfuch, Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Security, is nearly killed in an attempted assassination that left two police officers and a civilian dead.

Forensic scientists successfully confirm recovered remains to be that of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, one of the few of the 43 missing Iguala students to be found since 2014.

A video is published online showing large numbers of drug traffickers armed with weapons and military garb. Authorities allege it was created by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and doubt it is true to life, but independent experts disagree.

El Universal publishes a video linked to a shooting incident from July which the military had previously claimed was with a group of drug traffickers. The video shows soldiers shooting hundreds of rounds into a pickup truck allegedly owned by a student. When one of the passengers is discovered alive, the soldiers are ordered to kill him. AMLO calls for an investigation into the incident.

Mexico approved a new law that would limit the powers of foreign law enforcement agents and within the country and remove their diplomatic immunity. Despite not being specifically targeted, US agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will be affected. The DEA operates as an intelligence agency in Mexico. It will now be required to communicate all intelligence gathered to the Mexican government and will have limits placed on their ability to carry out enforcement operations and recruit informants.

At least nine were killed when gunmen stormed a wake outside a private home in Celaya, Guanajuato state. The region has seen increasing violence; in 2020 it averaged nine homicides a day, one of the highest rates in the country. The recent killings and several others are likely linked to a territorial dispute between the two rival drug cartels, the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which controls more of the country and is expanding into Guanajuato state.

The Mexican Health Ministry introduced rules to begin the regulation of a new medicinal cannabis industry. Pharmaceutical companies in Mexico will now be allowed to research the use of cannabis products in medicine with permission from Mexican health regulator, COFEPRIS (Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk). This is a preliminary step in a larger process to create a legal market for cannabis with a bill to legalise its recreational use expected to be passed in Congress after the next legislative elections.

Mexico’s attorney general, Arely Gómez González, announced he would not seek charges against Salvador Cienfuegos, the ex- Minister of Defense who was arrested in Los Angeles in October 2020 for allegedly collaborating with a drug cartel. Cienfuegos was returned to Mexico in November. Gómez González’s office said in its statement that there was no evidence Cienfuegos “had any encounters with members of the criminal organization investigated by US authorities, nor did he maintain any communication with them, or carry out acts tending to protect or help said individuals”.

Tamaulipas state Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica announced that 12 state police officers had been arrested in connection with the murder of 19 people near the US border in January. At least two of the dead were Guatemalan migrants. It is possible that the officers were paid by local cartels who charge migrants a fee when they pass through their territory and sometimes order the killing of those who haven’t paid them.

Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies voted 316-129 to legalise the recreational use of marijuana. This could be the first step in creating the world’s biggest legal market for the drug. The bill, if passed in the Senate and signed by Mexico’s president, would allow adults to use marijuana and grow a small amount with a permit. It would also allow for the commercial growing and distributing of marijuana.

13 police officers were killed in Coatepec Harinas, 125km southwest of Mexico City, apparently by members of a cartel. La Familia Michoacana is the cartel thought to control the area where the officers were ambushed.

The body of Carlos Sánchez Martínez, known as ‘El Cholo’ was found in Tlaquepaque, a small tourist town in Jalisco state. He was the leader of the ‘Nueva Plaza’ cartel. Hours prior to his death he had defected from the cartel by publishing a video on social media admitting to various crimes and accusing local authorities of having links with organized crime. His cause of death was gunshot wounds. A note attached to the body bag read: ‘the traitor’.

Eight bodies were found in Michoacán state. The victims are supposedly members of the Carteles Unidos, which is engaged in armed conflict with the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Aside from being decapitated, authorities also reported multiple gunshot wounds on each body.

Two police officers have been injured after explosives were dropped on them by drones. Authorities believe the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is behind the attack. Two drones were rigged with containers that held ball bearings and plastic explosives. The officers were clearing roads in Aguililla,  Michoacán that had been blocked by the cartel.

US Customs and Border Protection discovered $1,469,500 worth of methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana at the US border along with $90,000 in US cash. Four individuals were arrested while attempting to smuggle the drugs and cash across the border over the weekend.

Shootouts took place between Mexico and Jalisco New  Generation Cartel, when Jalisco New Generation Cartel  ambushed the National Guard in the town of Aguililla  which left 15 dead.

Eduardo Arellano Felix had been rearrested in Mexico  after serving 8 years in prison out of a 15 year-sentence  in the United States. Along with his brothers he has  founded the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel and he is  now facing organized crime and drug trafficking charges  in Mexico.

The former leader of the Juarez cartel, one of the  country’s biggest drug trafficking cartels, has been  sentenced to 28 years in jail.

Police found the bullet-ridden bodies of five men and six  boys in Mexico’s western state of Michoacan as several  cartels were engaging in violent conflicts.

Mexico and the United States began to collaborate on a  new framework in order to replace the Merida Initiative,  which had focused on building up Mexico’s capabilities  to battle the drug cartels.

A new action plan was created between Mexico and the  United States which replaces the Merida Initiative in  order to fight the Mexican drug war. The plan aims at  establishing a comprehensive, long-term  approach for binational actions to pursue the safety and  security of both societies.

Cartels have begun using improvised explosive devices  (IEDs) on roads to disable army vehicles.

Mexican authorities have arrested the alleged leader of  the Cartel of the Northeast, Juan Gerardo Treviño, also  known as “El Huevo or “The Egg”, in the violent state of  Tamaulipas. Alongside allegations of drug trafficking, he  is also accused of murder, terrorism, extortion and  criminal association in Mexico, the government told  Reuters news agency. The arrest has led to violent  clashes, as Mexico’s secretary of national defence claimed that 38 government facilities and 22 military  headquarters were attacked. On March 14, the day that followed the attack, the border city of Nuevo Laredo,  Tamaulipas, experienced around three hours of  shootings, road blockades, and vehicle burning between  an alleged cartel and elements of the Mexican Army.

Attackors burst into a clandestine cock fight and opened  fire, killing 20 people and wounding four, indications show that it had links with conflicts between cartels.

A report by organized crime expert Vanda Felbab-Brown shows that Mexican cartels are now delivering products such as totoaba, sea cucumber and abalone to Chinese traders, who in exchange provide  the chemical precursors needed to make illegal drugs such as fentanyl. The Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New  Generation cartel (CJNG) are robustly entering both  illegal logging and wildlife trafficking and using wildlife  commodities as a method to pay for precursor chemicals  for methamphetamine, fentanyl, and synthetic opioids for  drugs.

Eight women and 3 men were killed in simultaneous  shooting attacks on two bars in north-central Mexico. Evidence left at the scenes of the killings showed that the  attacks were part of a rivalry between two drug cartels  that have been battling for control of Guanajuato state for  several years.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign  Assets Control, says that Jalisco local police coordinator  Severo Flores Mendoza provides law enforcement  information to the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG) in exchange for bribes.

Government officials in Arizona say that Mexican cartels seek vulnerable Arizona residents who might be willing to stuff cocaine and  methamphetamine in the gas tank of their car. They must then cross the border in exchange for large money  compensations and the promise of a quick fortune and  power.

More than 90 percent of the 10,000 pounds of fentanyl  seized in fiscal 2021 occurred at legal border entry points  in California and Arizona. Areas where roughly 30 percent  of migrants are entering the US, based on numbers from  the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report  shows that border patrol agents are too busy dealing with  the influx of migrants, and are not really focused on  looking for fentanyl due to a lack of funds and support.

The monkey received his own ‘corrida’, a  traditional Mexican folk ballad/tribute often composed in honour of drug lords.

At least 35,000 people in the western state of Michoacan  have been forced to flee their homes and farms in recent  years due to the ubiquity of crime and extreme violence  in the region. Mexican activists state that the government  should return their land and actively and, equally, fight  all drug cartels.

A Mexican drug cartel is accused of  the gruesome killings  of nine women and children from a Mormon community. They  must now pay $1.5 billion to the families, a federal judge  from North Dakota ruled. This tragic massacre constituted  terrorism. Therefore, under the federal Anti-Terrorism  Act, such financial reimbursements are automatically  tripled, bringing the total settlement to $4.6 billion.

U.S. Authorities insist on extradition of Mexican drug  trafficker after he has been captured by a Bloodhound  tracker dog in the mountainous Badlands of his home  State of Sinaloa. The drug lord was on the FBI’s 10 most  wanted list, with a $20 million reward for his capture. 

Rafael Caro Quintero was previously detained by  Marines in an operation that ended tragically as 14  Marines were killed in a helicopter crash. He was later found by a navy dog  hiding in bushes in the town of San  Simón, Sinaloa, according  to a Mexican Navy statement.

According to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, 22  people are facing charges in a methamphetamine  trafficking scheme. They were allegedly responsible for distributing  more than 1,000 pounds of meth worth at least $24  million. Those convicted could be sentenced to a  minimum of 10 years in prison with paying a fine of up  to $10 million.

Five men and one woman were killed late on the night  of the 24th of July in the suburb of San Pedro  Tlaquepaque, declared the Jalisco state prosecutor’s  office delared. The shooting happened as a confration between rival gangs including the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

On July 23rd authorities in Mexico City seized 1.6 tons of  gear in two tractor trailers in what was the largest  cocaine bust in the city in the past 12 years. Four men  were arrested and identified as members of the Sinaloa  cartel in which they are suspected of planning to traffic  the drugs into the U.S. The cocaine seized appeared to  be branded with logos such as “Prada” and “Tesla”.

Using census data, researchers observed a Historical  decline in violence and homicide in Mexico from the  1970s to 200. This is linked to the opening of more than 200,000 public schools by the year 2000. Despite  an economic crisis and high unemployment coupled  relatively young population, violence decreased, making  education a significant factor for peace.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, also known as the ‘Queen of the  Pacific’, a former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has been interviewed by popular Mexican YouTuber Jonathan Vest, known as “Gusgri”.  She claims in the video that “Felipe Calderón did a lot of  harm to a lot of people, like me; I suffered a lot in  prison, lost many loved ones. But he was the one  collaborating with all the narcos”.

Apparent members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel  (CJNG) opened fire after the Guatemalan convoy was  spotted in the small village of La Laguna at the  Guatemala-Mexico border during a tour by President  Alejandro Giammattei, although he was reportedly not involved in the incident.

69 year old Rafael Caro Quintero, wanted for drug  trafficking and murder of DEA agent in 1980s has seen  his extradition to the US suspended by a federal judge in  the Mexican state of Mexico. The ruling follows a series  of appeals filed by Caro Quintero’s legal team seeking to  halt the move. Although Mexico’s Attorney General can  challenge the decision, Caro Quintero will remain in  Mexico for now.

In just one day, 11 people were murdered in The city of  Tijuana which has seen a shocking surge in cartel  violence . 188 were murdered last month, bringing the  total for 2022 to a staggering 1,098.

The city of Colima in Mexico has seen four corpses  dumped in two days; two were wrapped in silver duct  tape, one on a bridge and another dismembered down  to a torso. The New Generation Jalisco Cartel (CJNG) and  La Vaca, the leader of a cartel group that splintered from  the CJNG, are in control of the regions where the bodies  were discovered, according to Borderland Beat, though  it is not immediately clear which cartel group committed  the horrifying murders

Two grandparents were killed by a Mexican drug cartel who were hunting their son, 62, as he was hiding inside  his parents’ home in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora.

The western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato were  under siege for around 10 hours on the 9th of august in a response to a series of arrests of drug cartel figures,  authorities have declared. The cities of Guadalajara,  Irapuato, Celaya, and Leon saw numerous cars and  buses engulfed in flames to block off traffic arteries,  while a reported 25 convenience stores were also set on  fire.

Following the arrest, armed men from Pueblos Unidos  organization blocked six National Guard patrol vehicles and retained the 25 officers inside, according to Mexico  authorities. A Pueblos Unidos leader arrived at the scene  to negotiate with the authorities and after making  agreements, the retained officers were let go.

He is wanted by a federal district court in New Mexico for allegedly supervising drug exports from the state of Chihuahua to the United States.

Juan Luis Lagunas Rosales, 17, was a viral social media  star from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He was founded dead with at least 15 bullet wounds after a video of him  insulting a notorious cartel boss went viral on social  media.

State Department official of Quintana Roo issued a  warning on Aug. 17 of a heightened risk of violence to Americans traveling there. While the U.S. government has no restrictions on travel to Quintana Roo’s tourist sites, such as Cancun, Cozumel, and Tulum, it warns Americans to “exercise increased caution due to crime and kidnapping.”

More on this Crisis

The Peace Production Ep. 14: Drug Cartels in Mexico. In this episode, Alex Macintyre discusses Mexico’s drug cartels and president López Obrador’s bold, unprecedented strategy to defeat them. Featuring political scientist and OWP correspondent Andrew Bernstein.  

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