Mexican Drug War


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.


Where: Mexico

Population: 124.5 million

Deaths: 200,000

Missing peoples: 27,000

Current Situation: Various drug cartels remain in operation throughout the country

Key actors

supported by its military, federal, and local police forces, with the aim of bringing an end to drug trafficking and drug related violence.

supported by street gangs and paramilitary groups in the fight against the Mexican government, but they also frequently fight against rival cartels.

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.

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.

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.

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

Drug lord Osiel Cárdena Guillen of the Gulf cartel is extradited to the US.

President Calderón fires 284 federal police commanders due to corruption.

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.

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.

The Merida 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, when hand grenades are thrown into a crowd.

Over 200 people involved with drug trafficking are arrested across Mexico, the US, Guatemala, and Italy in Operation Solare.

Federal police chief Víctor Gerardo Garay resigns, and is then arrested and charged for protecting the Beltrán-Leyva cartel.

The Mexican army makes the largest weapon seizure in Mexican history.

The ex-director and chief of Mexico’s Interpol Office are arrested for links to drug cartels.

At least three high-ranking cartel members are arrested throughout the year.

The death toll stands at 6200 by the end of 2008.

Seven tonnes of cocaine is intercepted by the Mexican Navy and US Coast Guard.

The police chief of Ciudad Juárez resigns after drug traffickers threaten to kill one police officer every 48 hours, until his resignation.

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

27 high-ranking officials, including ten mayors and a judge, are arrested on corruption charges.

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.

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.

72 bodies were discovered in Tamaulipas, all believed to be migrants killed by the Los Zetas cartel.

105 tonnes of US-bound marijuana is seized in Baja California.

Customs seizes 113 kilos of marijuana at the International Airport of Mexico City.

Mexican authorities capture a 14 year old hitman, with 300 confirmed kills.

seven high-ranking cartel members are arrested and three are killed.

The death toll climbs to 15,200 in 2010.

The Mexican government claims approximately 34,612 citizens have been killed in the four years since the start of the drug war.

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.

The Mexican government disarms all police forces in the state of Tamaulipas due to corruption allegations in 22 of the state’s 43 cities.

249 bodies are found in mass graves in the state of Durango.

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

A 120 hectare marijuana plantation is found in Baja California by the Mexican army, only 320 km south of San Diego, CA.

52 people are massacred in the Monterrey casino attack.

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

eight high-ranking cartel members are arrested.

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

Eduardo Arellano Félix of the Tijuana cartel is extradited to the US.

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

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.”

The Mexican Army rescues 65 kidnapped migrants in Tamaulipas.

85 bodies are found in mass graves in Jalisco.

seven high-ranking cartel members are arrested and another three are killed.

 Joaquín Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel and Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, is arrested.

Four high-ranking cartel members are arrested and another four are killed in 2014.

Leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín Guzmán escapes from a maximum security prison through underground tunnels.

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.

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 over to US authorities.

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

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.

The alleged head of the Zetas drug cartel, Jose Maria Guitar Valencia, is captured by Mexican authorities

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.

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.”

The US and Mexico announced a comprehensive strategy to combat drug cartels. This involves targeting the financial infrastructure of cartels and the establishment of an independent investigation group focused on cartels.
Gunmen associated with the La Union drugs gang opened fire and killed 3 at a tourist attraction in Mexico City.
The trial of notorious drug lord “El Chapo” begins with a detailed list of previously crimes and acts within the drugs trade collected with 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.
In a speech, Mexican president AMLO declared an end to the long-lasting war on drugs. AMLO justified such as decision by referring to the need for peace, not war, arguing that his military would no longer prioritise the targeting of drug cartels. Critics are wary, however, due to the strong increase in army personnel amid claims of a permanently militarised country.
Official figures document almost a 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 that contained millions of doses of meth. The authorities labelled this as the biggest blow to meth trafficking this year.
Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” faces a life sentence in jail following extradition to the US. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has claimed that he faced an unfair trial.
Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) refers to recently jailed “El Chapo’s” life sentence as inhumane. Despite this, AMLO reaffirms his commitment to establish a society less obsessed with material wealth, hoping to lower the occurrence of violence.
In what is feared as a resurgence of killings committed by Mexican drug cartels, over 19 bodies are found hanging from a bridge in Mexico.

Levels of the Methamphetamine drugs are being seized at a historical high according U.S authorities. According to a U.S Border guard, the increase in Meth transport is due to high demand in the U.S., whilst Mexican cartels are creating their own meth and then pushing it across the border through the channels that they use historically for cocaine and marijuana.

How can you 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.

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