Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Understanding of Mexican Drug Cartels and its Operations

Buggs for Borderland Beat


The usual questions are always why is there wars between rival cartels and sometimes, even between the same organization. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out the operations and the decisions made by of some these criminal organizations.

In the drug business of cartels, the common idea is created from groups that make up the same characteristics related to their class or nature, which allows them to establish a relationship of common ground and uniformity between them. And all the groups/cells that are linked to a main cartel obey the orders of a great higher up capo and all operate in the same way, but in reality, the situation is different.



The truth is that they operate under a larger scheme and an organizational structure is similar to large multinational companies, the most representative division of responsibility of these groups is divided into three areas of operation:

  • The purchase, production, storage and care of the merchandise, which can be marijuana, cocaine or synthetic drugs.
  • The fundamental part is based on legal and political relations, dedicated to defending cartel members in court.
  • The third is the financial aspect, the groups are in charge of reinvesting and laundering the profits, as well as ensuring the payment of the collaborators and support groups. They are also responsible for buying the collaboration (corruption) and support of police and local government authorities.

This is done by organizing people in areas controlled by the criminal enterprise, where they run plazas (towns controlled by a specific cartel) and assign a plaza boss to ensure these responsibilities are carried out.


An additional proponent that is critical in maintaining control of overall operations is to have a well-rounded group of sicarios and support groups such as halcones, estacas, contadores, mulas etc, , , to ensure operations are kept safe and protect their turf from rival groups attempting to steal control.

Some of these groups/cells are only franchises of a registered brand, as in the case of the Cartel del Golfo (CDG), which was made up of the union of small groups/cells and hundreds of collaborators in charge of the plazas throughout the Tamaulipas territory. These larger main cartels had their groups/cells that had a responsibility for the sale and purchase of drugs and storage (warehoused in stash houses), and the critical element to face the rivalry between the cartel, such as the Gulf (CDG) and El Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS) came the creation of a group to protect, at all cost, the businesses of the cartel. It was necessary for the CDG to create the foundation of tactical group of Los Zetas that had a military background or Gente Nueva of the CDS. But like anything else in the narco world that has a short shelf life, it ultimately gets lost in the fragmentation of the structure because in many cases, like the case of Los Zetas, did not go along with the decisions of the leaders of the CDG.


Today, franchises, groups linked to the CDG has disintegrated to such groups as Los Ciclones, Grupo Escorpiones, Los Metros, Los Rojos, Los Dragones, etc, , , from there was born and remains a part of this group was the creation of El Cartel del Noroeste (CDN) linked to the once mighty Zetas.

Today, Labor relations in the world of drug trafficking are so fragile and there are several examples of this.

Presence of cartels in Mexico and the USA

There is the existence of independent groups/cells that have a link to a larger main cartel but work and make decisions on their own. Some of them produce and export their own drugs. Others are basically intermediaries, and in some cases, their main income does not depend on drug trafficking, but rather in extortions, flat fees like a form of tax to businesses or a charge to rival cartels for permission to operate in their plaza (cobro de piso) and kidnapping, as has been the case with such groups as La Familia Michoacána or Los Zetas that demanded a certain amount of money from their franchised groups. If these groups/cells did not have the certain amount of money per place at a certain time, but if they could not get the money from selling drugs, they looked at other sources for generating currency already mentioned.


An example is La Union Tepito that in the face of the attacks of the government of the city of Mexico, sought and formed an alliance with Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) that has greater financial and logistical power, and is extremely violent to help align drug-government operations. Smaller groups/cells are always looking for support from larger organizations.

What are the reasons for the fights or disagreements in the organizations?

An example of this is the Sinaloa Cartel. Its leadership is always representative because it falls on family members or people from the same region. they share the same code of ethics and similar values. In the organization there were operation managers, advertisers and operators who keep the company at the highest level of drug sales and productivity.

From top left, El Chapo, El Mayo, El Azul and Nacho.
In the case of El Chapo and El Mayo, the most known former and present heads of the organization, it is a constant marketing process for the cartel. El Chapo was a master mind in negotiations and his abilities and means to corrupt governmental authorities. While El Mayo is the director of the organization, good negotiation skills and has a high degree of resilience. Other top bosses of the same level like El Azul was the manager of the organization, while Nacho Colonel expanded operations to a broad unheard level and the brothers, Arturo and Alfredo Beltran Leyva, created large franchises (cells) for the organization that were spread out in Sinaloa and Sonora, with a tight reinforcements of sicarios to retain in full control of trafficking corridors in the border to the US.


Like in every corporate company there is a win-win situation, as we deal with the human element, there is always the possibility of betraying those values that initially united them. An example is the case of when the Beltran Leyva brothers accused El Chapo and company of treason, when it was rumored that El Chapo gave Mexican Felipe Calderon a gift by turning over El Mochomo and Nacho Colonel to the authorities to turn his drug empire in to a win-win situation.

Damaso Lopez
The meritocracy fights, as was with Los Chapitos (sons of El Chapo and part of the fragmented CDS) that were held against Damaso Lopez for control of the organization of the El Chapo, it was logical that control would fall by mere inheritance from El Chapo to his children. But because of merit and loyalty El Chapo gave a part of the organization to Damaso. However, neither wanted to maintain a relationship in leadership, that is why there were accusations of treason.


In the case of the war of the armed groups of Los Chapitos against El Ruso, a lieutenant of Mayo Zambada, in the beginning there was talk of a fracture between Los Chapitos and Los Mayos, but apparently El Mayo had already made his decision to retain his power base from Los Chapitos and leave El Ruso alone in a war with Ivan Guzman. As in any business if the franchise is not profitable, you close it down. This is how El Mayo continues to think about the future and apparently, war is not an option. The biggest problem of CDS is that it's dying from within, they are eating their own and as a result, appear to be self destructing. They are in essence their own worst enemy.

There is also the case of the CJNG which in reality and for anyone that has some knowledge of Mexican cartels, they are the largest competitor of CDS. CJNG's leadership falls to a small familiar group and its rapid decision-making makes them the largest cartel to date in Mexico. Their great financial strength and their ability to turn their finances to support their operations has kept the organization afloat. Like any expansion of a business enterprise, there are negotiations for new territories, but there is also resistance, we are talking about the business of drug trafficking and violence is an open option that the organization’s needs.


The war of CJNG in Guanajuato against El Marro that also taking place in Michoacan, the home front of El Mencho, which La Famila Michoacana defends today. CJNG is not afraid to pick a fight against El Cartel del Noroeste (CDN) while forming an alliance with some factions of the CDG, and especially not afraid to challenge the fracture of the Sinaloa cartel, specifically with the factions of El Mayo. CJNG is aggressive in their intent to steal huge pieces of real estate in every part of Mexico including the heavily protected border region of Sonora and Chihuahua.

The rapid flow of the CJNG allows them to achieve operations that do not leave traces, given this, it is difficult to oppose any movement of the organization. Today, the great test of the CJNG is the lack of bigger than life collaborators to maintain the leadership of the organization. The arrest of family members and those close to El Mencho has made the cartel vulnerable. We are at the verge of seeing the great expansion of the CJNG along the northern region of Mexico to include the border corridor or maybe perhaps they end up like the cartels like Los Zetas or CDG that at one time achieved their greatest peak.

An example of the fragility of cartels are cemented in this ideology:

  • If the two groups chose to rob, the two go home without any money, because the cartel made them disappear.
  • If one chooses to steal and the other chose to divide. The one who stole took all the money they had earned and the other went home with nothing and you can imagine what this brings, violence.
  • If they both chose to divide, they both carried half the money, then the cartel grows.

Under these conditions, the only way for both of them to earn money is for both of them to choose to divide. Without both honoring the deal, both are guaranteed money. The problem is that the two groups have the incentive to know that if they break the agreement and choose to steal, they would take ALL the money. Therefore, each group has an interest in trying to deceive the other.


The problem can be seen for example when the two people think the same, they try to steal from each other, and therefore they leave with nothing. The same thing happens in a cartel. If they stick to the deal, they all win, but if you are smart, you may make more money for a while, but if everyone does, the cartel ends up going down. And it is very difficult to keep your word when you think that by cheating the other you are going to earn a lot of money.

That is why there are clashes (topones) and betrayals for the need to win.

In short and trying to summarize, the reasons for the wars are due to inheritance problems and the merit of obtaining a place to obtain the objectives, for the lack of values and code of ethics. And the largest of them for the sake of business, according to the DEA, drug traffickers made profits of more than 450 billion of dollars in last year alone.

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