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Much of the traffic in narcotics in the United States originates in Mexico where drug cartels have proliferated and benefitted from the collapse of the Colombian ones at the end of the last century. The article traces the history of these Mexican criminal organizations and analyses their conflicts and their complex and ambivalent connections with Mexican state institutions and officials and with the US arms business. The article points out that there is no easy all round solution to this disease which affects all areas of the Mexican state and economy.

                                                                                     SUHASINI YADAV

Drug Trafficking Organizations(DTOs) as defined by the United States Department of Justice are a set of complex organisations with an extremely structured command and control system of production, transportation and distribution of illicit drugs. (U.S Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Centre, National Drug Threat Assessment,No. 2010-Q0317-001, February2010, URL: archive/ndic/pubs38/38661/38661p.pdf ) Drug cartels are criminal organisations having great financial and military powers that make it difficult for the government to take effective actions against them.

      The origin of Mexican drug cartels can be traced back to the former Judicial Federal police agent Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (famously referred to as the godfather), who founded the Guadalajara Cartel in 1980 and controlled the majority of the illegal drug trade in Mexico. This marked the beginning of an era of smuggling cocaine and marijuana into the United States. Being the maquiladora capital of Mexico, Ciduad Juárez was strategically and geopolitically more advantageous for the Juárez Cartel’s expansion into the United States. The cartel and its activities under the new leadership of Pablo Acosta Villarreal gained momentum only after 1990 and after his death the leadership was assigned to Amado Carrillo Fuentes in 1993. But the death of Amado created a power vacuum and a turf war among the members of the organisation, which led to the control being shifted into the hands of Amado’s brother Vicente Carrillo Fuentes in 1997. Despite all the disparities and instability within the cartel, the Juárez Cartel continued to dominate all the others till early 2000. Nevertheless, the cartel has undergone a series of changes in its organisational structure, evolving from a vertical chain of command to a more decentralised organisation, so much so, that some of its parts like La Línea and Barrio Azteca function semi-independently. This major transformation from being a criminal organisation to a leading drug cartel was brought about by its clash with the Sinaloa Cartel. The struggle for power over control of the Juárez metropolitan area had increased the Juárez Cartel’s dependence on the group of assassins, La Línea and the gang, Barrio Azteca. Along with protecting the cartel’s territory these groups were eventually made responsible for transportation and distribution of drugs throughout the country and into the United States while strengthening relations with the local gangs in the area.

      The Sinaloa Cartel posed a challenge to the Juarez Cartel for the control of the region of Ciduad Juárez with the established presence of its alliances and gangs like los Artistas Asesinos. The organisation was founded in the 1980s and run by Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, Adrián Gómez González and Joaquin Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) with its base in Culiacán, Sinaloa, and operations extending to the states of Baja California, Durango, Sonora and Chihuahua. The United States Intelligence Community (2010) affirmed the dominant status of the cartel and assessed the Sinaloa Cartel, which is also referred to as La Alianza, as the most powerful DTO in the Western Hemisphere. With his escape from a high security prison in 2001, El Chapo went on to lead the Sinaloa Cartel, making himself the top drug kingpin by 2008 despite its breakup from the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO). Since their split the strategy of the cartel also underwent a change from being a federation to forming alliances with rival groups of the Gulf Cartel, Tijuana Cartel and La Familia Michoacán (LFM), thus, creating a non-hierarchical organisational structure with its members maintaining their separate identities while ensuring cooperative links resembling that of the Colombian cartels. Since 2011 the cartel has expanded its territory into the regions of Mexico City, Guerrero and Michoacán and is continuously pushing into the areas once ruled by the Juárez and Tijuana cartels.