Only Two Drug Cartels Left in Mexico: Official

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A Mexican government official has declared that only two drug cartels remain in the country, a claim that is debatable, but reflects the ongoing trend towards criminal fragmentation.

In an interview with Proceso, Tomas Zeron — director of the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) within Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR) — said the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) are the last two drug cartels “operating and functioning” in Mexico.

The splintering of other major criminal organizations following the death or capture of top leaders — such as those from the Gulf, Juarez, Tijuana, Knights Templar, and the Beltran Leyva Organization — has produced hundreds of independent criminal cells throughout the country. Zeron says these cells are all “seeking power in order to survive,” leading to disputes and violence.

According to Zeron, only three major cartel bosses now remain in Mexico, and two of them — Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo,” and Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias “Chapo Isidro” — are leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. The third, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” leads the CJNG.

Zeron called the CJNG a powerful group and a “focal point” following their recent attacks against government forces.

InSight Crime Analysis

The fragmentation of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, and their breakdown into smaller, more localized criminal groups has been a marked trend in recent years. Many cartels now operate more as fluid, dynamic enterprises consisting of multiple cells (in the case of the Zetas, like a “franchise”) rather than as clearly defined, hierarchical structures.

As Zeron states, this process has been fueled by the death and capture of top cartel leaders. Indeed, groups like the Zetas (who Zeron says have been disabled to the point of disintegration), Gulf Cartel, Knights Templar, and Juarez Cartel have all suffered a diminution of their power in the face of government pressure (something the upstart CJNG may be about to experience, as the authorities launch major security operations in Jalisco state).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Jalisco Cartel

The breakdown of Mexico’s larger cartels, and the multiplication of smaller criminal cells, has in turn led to criminal groups diversifying their revenue streams and engaging in more localized crimes — such as extortion, kidnapping, and theft of natural resources. Competition for these markets has led to increased violence between groups. 

However, Zeron’s claims clash with recent figures from the PGR, which said that nine cartels and 45 criminal cells were operating in Mexico. Moreover, Chapo Isidro is generally reported to lead a Beltran Leyva splinter group known as the Meza Flores network, rather than being a Sinaloa operative. The complexity of the country’s criminal landscape and the difficulties identifying and differentiating between different criminal organizations mean that it is hard to produce solid facts on the number and status of these groups, but Zeron’s claim that only two cartels remain risks oversimplifying and minimizing the nature of the threat still present in Mexico.

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