Changes Noted in Structure of Drug-Trafficking Operations in Mexico

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, October 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

Changes Noted in Structure of Drug-Trafficking Operations in Mexico


The crackdown by Mexican authorities on large drug- trafficking gangs has given way to the emergence of smaller drug-trafficking organizations. Mexican authorities say these operations are smaller and less violent, but more efficient, than organizations like the Tijuana and Juarez drug cartels.

During the past two years, President Vicente Fox's administration has made significant inroads in fighting the large drug cartels.

The Tijuana cartel, which had been run by the Arellano Felix family, suffered a major blow with the murder of Ramon Arellano Felix in March of this year by a rival gang (see SourceMex, 2002-03-06). This was followed by the arrest of his brother Benjamin Arellano Felix, considered the intellectual power behind the Tijuana cartel. Brothers Eduardo and Francisco Javier Arellano Felix and others are said to have taken over leadership of the cartel, but are running the organization less effectively.

Authorities have also detained other prominent drug traffickers like Adrian Medrano Rodriguez and Albino Quintero Meraz. Medrano was considered the operations chief of the Tamaulipas-based Gulf Cartel, while Quintero presided over a multibillion-dollar operation that once trafficked more than 10% of all the cocaine sold in the US.

Mexican drug-enforcement officials say these large operations are no longer the norm, with smaller units gaining power. Prosecutors say the new cartels are attempting to build alliances instead of fighting each other. As a result, drug trafficking is becoming more difficult to control.

"The era of the big drug lord is over," said Mario Estuardo Bermudez, chief drug prosecutor at the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR). "Instead of one leader, they now build an automated organization with regional managers who can cover more territory and create zones of influence in practically the whole country."

But drug cartels remain a powerful force in the Mexican drug-trafficking picture. In statements to reporters in mid- September, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha acknowledged that the Gulf Cartel, currently headed by Osiel Cardenas Guillen, has gained a foothold in the northern state of Nuevo Leon and is attempting to squeeze out smaller drug- trafficking operations in the area. Experts say the weakening of the Tijuana and Juarez cartels has opened the door for Cardenas Guillen's organization to become the country's top drug-trafficking operation.

The US government has offered a US$2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Cardenas Guillen, who is listed among the 13 most wanted criminals in the US.

Officials say corruption remains one of the largest obstacles in the fight against drug trafficking, including the corruption of many top judges. In an interview with reporters in late August, Supreme Court Chief Justice Genaro David Gongora Pimentel confirmed that the PGR was investigating a handful of federal judges for alleged ties to drug traffickers. "We will make every effort to remove any public official involved in acts of corruption," said Gongora Pimentel.

US officials send mixed signals to Mexico

Mexico's efforts to go after the large drug cartels and its anti-corruption efforts have gained praise from US authorities. "What the Mexican government has done is put up a tough, engaged effort," said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In an interview in July, Walters said, "Mexico has gone after different organizations on as many levels as possible and destabilized them. …

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