I wrote the following for a CFR “expert brief” which originally appeared here.
Brazen assassinations, kidnappings, and political intimidation by drug lords conjure up images of Colombia in the early 1990s. Yet today, it is Mexico that is being engulfed by escalating violence. In 2007, drug related killings topped 2,250; in 2008 they reached nearly 6,000. Drug cartels are adopting guerrilla-style tactics – sending heavily-armed paramilitary battalions to attack police stations, ambush military brigades, and assassinate high-level security officials, political officials, and journalists. They also are adopting innovative public relations strategies to encourage recruits and intimidate their enemies and the population in general: hanging narcomantas–drug banners–in public places, placing videos on YouTube depicting gruesome murders, and more recently staging street protests against the military’s presence in some of Mexico’s largest cities and most violent regions.
Mexico’s drug business has changed significantly since the 1980s. Previously primarily middlemen, Mexican drug cartels now produce, transport, and distribute drugs. Every year over 500 metric tons of cocaine, 15,500 metric tons of marijuana, 18 metric tons of heroin, and a still unknown amount of methamphetamines make their way through Mexico into the United States. These cartels also supply Mexico’s growing domestic market for illegal substances, and their networks have become increasingly sophisticated. U.S. and Mexican interdiction efforts in the last two decades weeded out mom-and-pop operations, leading drug trafficking organizations to professionalize their operations and add former Mexican military officials, some of them U.S.-trained commandos, to their payrolls. They also diversified their business structures, adding new products (such as meth) and moving into U.S.-based distribution and production.
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