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Mexico cartels stronger than ever?

Recent report says Mexico's cartels are more powerful than they were when Calderón came to office, but this overlooks the fracturing of larger gangs, writes guest blogger Patrick Corcoran.

By Patrick CorcoranGuest blogger / February 21, 2012



• A version of this post ran on the author's site, Insightcrime.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

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A new report argues that, far from fracturing, Mexico's drug trafficking groups are stronger than at the beginning of Calderon's time in office. However, this overlooks the fragile and fast-changing nature of alliances between these gangs, and the shifting nature of the power they wield.

A recent article published by Proceso (in Spanish) argues that Calderon’s crime policy has not only coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of murders linked to organized crime, but has also had the perverse effect of strengthening the very gangs it should be weakening. Written by the longtime drug war chronicler Ricardo Ravelo, it states that:

A bit more than five years after Calderon ordered the militarization of the country, the criminal networks of five cartels -- the Zetas, the Familia Michoacana, and the Sinaloa, Juarez, and Gulf Cartels -- now dominate more than half of the national territory. This expansion has occurred despite the blows these organizations have suffered through arrests or deaths of their leaders.

However, this argument overlooks the most important development in Mexico's underworld in the last few years, which is the fracturing of larger gangs into dozens of smaller groups. This shift, which has been documented on numerous occasions by InSight Crime and other analysts (in Spanish), triggered the emergence of dozens of new regional groups, from the Mano con Ojos to the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG). The rise of these smaller bands has almost certainly meant a decline in the relative power of the larger, transnational groups that have long dominated Mexico.

Meanwhile two of the biggest gangs three years ago -- the Beltran Leyva Organization and the Juarez Cartel, both of whom are mentioned among the gangs that have grown more powerful -- are a shell of their former selves today, hit government pressure and wars with the Sinaloa Cartel.

That’s not to say that criticism of Calderon’s policy is unwarranted; the changes outlined above have contributed enormously to the violence in Mexico. But there is little evidence for the claim that the largest groups are stronger now than they were five years ago.

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