Mexican Drug Cartels


The origin of Mexican drug cartels dates back to the tenure of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo as a federal agent working for the government. Gallardo formed the Guadalajara Cartel, which was the first drug cartel in Mexico (Langton 34). Guadalajara was formed in the early years of the 1980s and controlled all drug dealings in Mexico as well as trafficking activities across the Mexico-U.S. border. After forming Guadalajara, Gallardo started by smuggling drugs from Mexico to other countries (Langton 35).

He was so powerful and influential that he used his notoriety to form connections with cocaine cartels from Columbia. For instance, he was the main connection between the Medellin cartel and other cartels. The Medellin cartel was formed and created by Pablo Escobar. In 1980, Gallardo was the Mexican drug lord because his cartel was the only one that existed at that time (Langton 36).

As the years went by, other cartels emerged. After the capture of one of Guadalajara’s co-founders, Gallardo decided to split his cartel into small groups. These groups later morphed into independent cartels. Los Zetas, Gulf Cartel, and Knights Templar are examples of cartels that control different territories across Mexico (Shirk 57). Others include the Tijuana Cartel, Beltran Leyva Cartel, and Sinaloa Cartel. These cartels have severe political and social effects on Mexico and Latin America.

Drug trafficking in Mexico

Mexico is arguably the center of drug trafficking in the world. Reasons for rampant drug trafficking in Mexico include ineffective judicial, corruption, and police agencies and its closeness to the United States, which is the largest economy in the world about the consumption (Shirk 58). Drug lords and cartels bribe government officials in exchange for protection. After the dissolution of Columbian cartels in the 1980s, Mexican cartels took control over drug trafficking channels and markets in Latin America (Langton 38).

Mexico is used as an intermediate route for transporting drugs to other countries. For instance, police reports have revealed that 90 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the U.S. passes through Mexico (Shirk 58). Estimates by experts show that the contribution of the drug trade to Mexico’s GDP is approximately 3-4 percent. Drug trade employs more than 500,000 people, and its earnings are estimated at $30 billion annually (Shirk 59).

Mexico’s drug cartels

Drug cartels emerged in Mexico after the arrest of one of Guadalajara’s cofounders in 1985. To lower the risk of arrest, Gallardo divided the cartel into smaller groups that could operate without government suspicion. These small groups later morphed into cartels. Through the years, cartels have entered into alliances, fought for drug territories and markets, and divided into smaller cartels.

The most prominent drug cartels in Mexico include the Knights Templar, Beltran, Leyva, Tijuana Cartel, Juarez Cartel, the Zetas, and Sinaloa Cartel. These cartels regularly engage in combats that are aimed at gaining control over different territories. In such battles, members of different cartels are murdered.

Effects of drug cartels in Mexico

Mexico’s drug cartels have severe effects on the social and political wellbeing of Mexico. Many people are killed owing to terror and struggle for control of territories by different cartels (Lee par. 5). On the other hand, violence has escalated in various regions where the drug trade is rampant. Corruption has heightened because cartels bribe government officials in exchange for protection. Effects on, Latin America include increased violence, corruption, the murder of people, and high consumption of drugs.

Rampant violence

One of the effects of drug cartels in Mexico is heightened violence across the country. A recent report released by the office of the attorney general revealed that 90% of victims of the Mexican Drug War belong to the drug above cartels (Shirk 59). Police officers and military personnel are also victims of the war against drugs. The current government has heightened efforts to fight drug trafficking in Mexico.

One of the consequences of the war is heightened violence and animosity between cartel members and law enforcement officials (Langton 42). The police have reported cases of grenade attacks and massive murders executed by members of drug cartels. To claim territories, cartels use scary means such as beheading and vicious attacks on civilians.

For instance, in 2008, a grenade was hurled at a crowd in Morelia killing ten civilians. Such actions are aimed at discouraging the government from fighting the drug trade. Rampant violence deters foreign investments because of security fears (Lee par. 6).

Heightened corruption

One of the most severe effects of the drug trade is increased government corruption. To advance their operations, cartels bribe government officials and intimidate law enforcement officers (Lee par. 9). In certain cases, government officers work together with drug cartels. They offer protection, and the cartels offer money. For instance, an initiative known as Pax Mafioso promises support to any politician who promises to ignore the activities of drug cartels once they win and assume office.

According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), corruption is one of the major causes of the rampant drug trade in Mexico (Shirk 61). A report by the INCB revealed that some members of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) work in collaboration with certain drug cartels.

The report, which was released in 2005, revealed that more than 1500 members of the AFI had been compromised with bribes from drug cartels and were collaborating with them (Langton 46). In the past, several police officers and high-ranking government officials have been convicted for working together with drug cartels.

Violation of human rights

Drug cartels have adversely affected the status of human rights in Mexico. The military plays a key role in fighting drug cartels in Mexico. However, their actions have been associated with extreme violation of human rights because policies to fight drug cartels have bestowed the responsibility to the military. In their operations, the military and other law enforcement agencies sexually and physically abuse innocent civilians (Shirk 66).

These violations are meted on marginalized groups that lack the political and economic power to fight for their rights. A corrupt government, the weak judicial system, and fraudulent military, as well as law enforcement agencies, worsen the situation.

The war against drug cartels has led to the emergence of federal agencies that help the military and police. However, they have contributed to human rights violation because the Mexican government does not regulate their activities and operations. On the other hand, drug cartels torture civilians as a way of coercing the government to stop pursuing them.

Impact on public health

The emergence of Mexican drug cartels increased drug consumption in certain Mexican regions. The rate of drug injection among young people has been on the rise in the past decade. These injections have increased cases of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) among young people. For instance, in Tijuana, the rate of STI infection and prevalence is reported to be 64% (Shirk 68). Drug use has also increased violence against sex workers.

The spread of infectious diseases to the general population is heightened by the marginalization of sex workers and other susceptible groups. On the other hand, poor health outcomes are promoted by the frequent rotation of military and police officers across different regions (Longmire 46). The rotation increases the risk of disease spread to other regions through the transfer of infections by military members and police officers.

Political effects

The government declared a war of drug trade and drug cartels in 2006 (Lee par. 10). Since then, many people have been murdered, especially law enforcement officers and politicians. Drug cartels target politicians from local regions who have great influence (Longmire 49). Many politicians that hail from drug-plagued regions have been murdered since the start of the war on drugs. Drug cartels target local politicians as a strategy to weaken local governments and as such, gain control of government amenities and structures.

They also target mayors because they have control over large areas in local governments. They bribe and intimidate mayors as a strategy to control local governments and win contracts. Cartels use government contracts and concessions to infiltrate local communities to advance their illegal operations (Longmire 52). Also, they use the contracts to gain the support and loyalty of the people. The cartel’s target politicians who threaten the stability of their illegal operations.

On the other hand, members of other cartels kill politicians who support specific cartels. Other politicians are murdered as a way of warning cartels that operates in a certain area. This usually happens when two or more cartels clash in efforts to control a certain territory.

Human trafficking and exploitation of migrants

Cartels kidnap, murder, and extort migrants who pass through Mexico while traveling to other countries. Murder of migrants is so rampant that mass graves have been discovered in several areas. A report released in 2012 by the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, revealed that the cartels had kidnapped more than 10,000 migrants. The cartels have been linked to human trafficking in Mexico. Victims of trafficking are forced to engage in prostitution and forced labor.

Others undergo rape ordeals that affect their psychological wellbeing. Girls are forced into prostitution and later taken to work in factories (Longmire 56). After its creation, Los Zetas cartel supplied women and young girls to other cartels involved in prostitution. However, they later ventured into the prostitution business in efforts to advance their influence and expand their territory. According to the U.S. government, forced labor is more rampant in Mexico than prostitution.

Effects on Latin America

Drug cartels have increased the production and trafficking of drugs across Latin America. Kidnapping and exploitation of migrants, as well as forced labor and forced prostitution, have increased significantly (Chalk 72). Also, drug consumption has increased among young people. The environment has suffered greatly, owing to governments’ efforts to eradicate coca plants. For instance, in certain countries, aerial spraying of coca plants with chemicals has caused serious environmental degradation (Chalk 72).

Other effects of drug cartels in Latin America include increased violence, violation of human rights, heightened corruption, and weakening of governments (Chalk 74). Security has also been compromised. For instance, Central America has been described as the most insecure region in Latin America due to the increasing number of drug cartels in the region.

For instance, Honduras has many cases of murders reported annually than in other countries in Latin America. Drug cartels target and kill human rights activities and journalists who expose their operations. Murder of politicians and police officers as well as intimidation of civilians has also increased (Chalk 74).


The drug trade in Mexico has intensified in the last two decades due to the emergence of drug cartels. A police agent known as Gallardo formed the first drug cartel, which was known as Guadalajara. Other cartels emerged after the arrest of one of Guadalajara’s cofounders. The most influential drug cartels in Mexico are Los Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Knights Templar, Tijuana Cartel, Beltran Leyva Cartel, and Sinaloa Cartel. The effects of these cartels on Mexico are devastating.

They have heightened corruption and violence, increased cases of human rights violation, and compromised law enforcement efforts. Many politicians have been murdered as well as journalists and human rights activists. The cartels kidnap, murder, and extort migrants who pass through Mexico while traveling to other countries. Many are forcefully introduced into prostitution and labor in drug production companies. The proliferation of drug cartels has heightened the use of drugs across Latin America.

Also, the cartels have increased corruption and murder of government officials, journalists, police officers, and civilians. Corruption of government officials is the main cause of rampant drug use in Mexico. It is imperative to eradicate the cartels for effective war against drugs in Mexico.

Works Cited

Chalk, Peter. The Latin American Drug Trade: Scope, Dimensions, Impact, and Response. New York: Rand Corporation, 2011. Print.

Langton, Jerry. Gangland: The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

Lee, Brianna. Mexico’s Drug War. Web.

Longmire, Sylvia. Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

Shirk, David. The Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a Shared Threat. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2011. Print.