The War on Drugs


The War on Drugs

During the final years of the last century, most of the old power structures in Mexico, which allowed for the relationship between the government and the drug business, were uncovered.[1]  The PAN’s elected president in 2002, Vicente Fox, was determined not to cooperate with the cartels, action which exacerbated violence within Mexico.  The situation has changed as of December 11, 2006 when the then President elected Felipe Calderon sent 6,500 federal troops to Michoacán in order to stop the violence unleashed by the “Cartel de la Familia,” which was completely out of control.  That action was considered the first direct step toward the end of violence.  Over time, the President increased the Government’s action against illegal drugs.  Unfortunately, a limiting factor continues to be the corruption at the local and state levels.

The cartels have had to defend their corridors with increased violence, not only against other “cartels” – constantly competing for control of territory – but now also from the government.  From a very basic level, in order to understand the threat the cartels pose to the national security of Mexico it is necessary to observe their internal structure.  Usually, it is understood that the trafficking business is leaded by strong and organized “cartels,” which have a centralized organization, with recognized leaders and a well-established hierarchy.  If this were to be the case, it would be much easier to fight this organizations and the predominant Mexican-American strategy of “decapitación” (the murder or capture of the leaders), would be highly effective.  However, in Mexico, cartels have a “semi-organized” structure:  a small group of well-organized cartels join forces with weak, small and short-lived “gangs,” which are in a constant re-organization and transformation.[2]  Consequently, this “flexible structure” is able to survive even if the principal leader or a specific organization vanishes.

This “war on drugs” has created catastrophic consequences for the stability of the nation.  According to official figures, since the beginning of the war, the death tall has reached more than 34,600,[3] let alone the death toll for 2010 being 12,237 – the highest so far.[4]  However, it would be unfair to blame the President for all this violence.  While it is true that the breaking of corrupt old political structures unleashed violence between the government and the organized crime, it is important to note that much of the terror and violence that strikes Mexico is due to intra-cartel violence.  In this regard, many analysts point to struggles between “formerly allied cartels, for example, the split between the Gulf Cartel and its former armed enforcers, Los Zetas, erupted into bitter fighting in eastern parts of Mexico that had been relatively free of violence.  Additionally, much of the violence in Ciudad Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua is attributed to a turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.”[5]

[1] Luis Astorga, Drogas sin Fronteras,1994, p. 25.

[2] José Luis Velasco, Drogas, Seguridad y Cambio Politico en México, Nueva Sociedad, 2005, Vol. 198, p. 94.

[4] R. Zamaripa, Nuevo año, misma Guerra, Periódico Reforma, January 2, 2011, (available at

[5] Mexico’s drug related violence, BBC News, June 14, 2011 (available at


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