The Mexican Drug War

The Mexican Drug War has been a hot topic in recent years, with an astonishing amount of media coverage and plenty of news articles that have focused on the horrors that have now kept many tourists away from this previously popular travel destination.

Most recently, Mexico's Supreme Court made the daunting decision to give specific individuals the right to grow, possess and transport marijuana legally and for non-commercial purposes only. Many have speculated that this will lead to an overall legalization of marijuana throughout the country and hit the drug war where it hurts.

Unfortunately, the corruption and poverty that the war has caused is not going anywhere anytime soon. Let's dive a little deeper into the Mexican Drug War and examine all the interworking factors that are not frequently discussed with the general public.

What is the Mexican Drug War?

The Mexican War on Drugs exists between the Mexican Government and drug trafficking organizations as well as other countries that are impacted by the Mexican Drug Cartels. The Mexican military first started to intervene in 2006 with the primary goal of ending the disastrous amount of drug-related violence.

To clarify, the Mexican government is spending most of their efforts towards dismantling the various drug cartels that exist. In relation to drug trafficking, countries affected by the cartels have put forth efforts to tackle the damaging impact they are creating by forming government organizations.

Drug Trafficking Routes in Mexico

© Claudio Fabbro, DensityDesign Research Lab - Drug Trafficking Routes in Mexico

Historical Timeline of the Mexican Drug War

  • 2006

This year marked the beginning of the Mexican War on Drugs. President Felipe Calderon, who was newly elected, made the decision to deploy over 6,500 Mexican soldiers to battle drug traffickers. Within the first few weeks of the war, 62 individuals were killed.

  • 2007

The first full year of the war on drugs resulted in 2,837 people killed, 20,000 Mexican soldiers and federal police spread out across the country, and 284 police commanders being fired on the basis on corruption. Furthermore, Osiel Cardena Guillen who was a drug lord and head of the Gulf cartel was captured and extradited to the United States.

Mexican Soldiers in an intervention in 2007

Mexican Soldiers in an Intervention in 2007

  • 2008

This year alone brought 6,844 deaths. With an increase in the corruption as a result of the war, multiple police officials and organized crime investigators are murdered, mostly in Mexico City. During an independence day celebration, a terrorist attack designed by the drug cartels killed eight individuals when grenades were thrown into a crowd. Federal Police head, Victor Gerardo Garay, resigned based on the suspicion of corruption.

  • 2009

The Mexican government reports that there were 9,635 deaths as a result of the drug war. Two main cartel heads, Braulio Arellano Dominguez and Arturo Beltran Layva, were killed in shootouts with Mexican forces on separate occasions.

  • 2010

The death toll hits 30,100 people since the beginning of the war in 2006. Numerous deaths and arrests of cartel members occurred this year. Carlos Beltran Leyva, Sergio Villarreal, and Edgar Valdez Villarreal of the Beltran Leyva Cartel, and Manuel Garibay Espinoza of the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested.

Additionally, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guilen of the Gulf Cartel, Ignacio Voronel Villarreal of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Pedro Roberto Velazquez Amador of the Beltran Leyva Cartel are killed by federal forces. This year also held the discovery of 72 migrant bodies that were kidnapped and killed for refusing to traffic drugs.

  • 2011

Many more cartel members from various groups are captured or killed during 2011 by the Mexican government. Eleven members of the Los Zetas drug cartel are arrested, seven who are linked to the death of a United Stated ICE agent. Twelve Los Zetas Cartel members are killed by troops.

Numerous public displays of murder and torture occurred including 26 bodies found in abandoned vehicles, 16 charred bodies inside trucks set ablaze, five severed heads found near an elementary school, 35 bodies dumped in a roadway during rush hour, two individuals mutilated and hung from a bridge, and 52 people killed in a casino fire.

Protest against drug-related violence

© Zapata - 2011 protest against drug-related violence

  • 2012

The Mexican government has now killed over 40 major cartel members, although the violence continues. More than 50 decapitated and dismembered bodies are found on a highway. This was a year that played a major role in the United States upping their forces against the drug war. President Enrique Pena Nieto took office at the end of 2012. Approximately 60,000 deaths can be attributed to drug-related violence since 2006.

  • 2013

Many cartel members are arrested and sentenced from previous charges.

  • 2014

El Chapo was arrested in Mexico and another cartel leader was killed during an arrest attempt. In another terrorist attack, gunmen opened fire on buses with college students inside resulting in six confirmed deaths and 43 missing.

  • 2015

In an event that made headlines, El Chapo escaped from the Altiplano Federal Prison. He previously escaped from prison in 2001 and eluded authorities for over twelve years. Twenty suspects were arrested in connection with the prison break, including officials in the prison system.

  • 2016

El Chapo was arrested again and will be extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges.


Mexican Mafia Tattoo

Mexican Mafia Tattoo


Mexican Drug Cartels

  • Gulf Cartel - One of the most powerful cartels next to the Sinaloa Cartel, it is based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
  • Beltran Leyva - Founded by four brothers, it is aligned with Los Zetas to fight a battle against three other cartels including Sinaloa, Gulf, and La Familia Michoacana.
  • Juarez Cartel - Currently fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua from the Sinaloa Cartel, the Juarez Cartel used to be aligned with them for major drug trafficking organizations.
  • Los Zetas Cartel - With members formerly in the Mexican military, this cartel was originally devised to serve as hit men for the Gulf Cartel. Currently they are battling for control of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
  • Sinaloa Cartel - Led by the infamous Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, this is considered to be one of the most dominant drug trafficking cartels in Mexico.
  • Tijuana Arellano Felix Cartel - Although most of the Arellano Felix brothers have been captured or killed, this cartel is based in Tijuana.
Sinaloa Cartel Plaza Bosses, 2013

Sinaloa Cartel Plaza Bosses, 2013

Operations Against the Mexican Drug Cartels

In addition to the increased presence of the deployed Mexican soldiers to fight the corruption caused by the drug cartels, the Obama Administration followed George W. Bush's Merida Initiate to secure the U.S. - Mexico border against drug trafficking.

Further initiatives include reducing the movement of guns and bulk cash transfers between the two countries. The legalization of Marijuana in some areas of the United States have hit the cartels hard, as they are a top foreign source of marijuana, but their heroin and methamphetamine production is still running strong.

Facts About the Mexican Drug War

  • Since 2006, approximately 120,000 people have been killed as a result of organized crime related to the Mexican Drug War.
  • In the United States alone, Mexican drug cartels profit an estimated $19 to $29 billion each year.
  • The Mexican Drug War originated by President Felipe Calderon began targeting drug-related violence throughout the country.
  • A main target of arresting authorities throughout the war has been Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in relation to his role in one of the most powerful trafficking operations in Mexico.