Mexico’s Fight Against Drug Cartels and Corrupt Authorities

By Paulina Anaya.

Putting a Price on Lives : A Drug Cartel Reality in Mexico

Between 2008 and 2012, Mexico distinguished itself for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to the zenith in drug cartel conflicts along the U.S.-Mexico border. Thus, Ciudad Juarez, a border city across El Paso, Texas,  became known as the “murder capital” of the world. In 2010 alone, the city saw 3,057 murders, the highest murder rate throughout the four-year period. Thousands shut their businesses and fled to southern states in order to avoid the violence, transforming Ciudad Juarez into a ghost town.

States bordering the U.S. is where most of the violence takes place; the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning status to twenty of Mexico’s thirty-two states, advising caution if planning a visit to these zones. Currently, the most dangerous of these states are:

  • Coahuila
  • Chihuahua
  • Sonora
  • Nuevo Leon
  • Baja California
  • Tamaulipas
  • Jalisco
  • Michoacán
  • Guerrero

Although Ciudad Juarez is no longer the world’s most dangerous city, nor is it one of the top 50, Mexico and Ciudad Juarez seem to be having trouble ridding themselves of the unfortunate fame. The last six years have seen a significant increase in violence across the country. Homicides regarding drug-related activities have made Jalisco, known for mariachi and tequila, one of the most dangerous states. Shootings in social events, nightclubs, malls, highways, and parking lots have become a recurring reality in what continues to be Mexico’s safest city, Guadalajara, if only by a thread.

A War of Drugs

Unfortunately, the exponential demand for illegal drugs fuels the drugs war and its consequent violence. The sale of drugs is an ever-growing business, with teenagers and young adults as the main customers, despite its illegality. The few who manage to infiltrate the business as producers, distributors, or customers, become living targets, but the income is apparently that much worth it.

As rich as Mexico is in culture, it is in the production of illegal drugs which are of high demand in the country and across its borders. Drug-trafficking routes belong to the cartels dominating a certain state. The most strategic states are the ones along the border, but when these delineations are ignored or want to be changed, cartels ruthlessly battle for dominance and collateral damage is to be expected with every confrontation.

Police officers in Mexico roughly earn $500 per month, barely enough to get by, so it is not rare for cartels to offer them attractive amounts of money in exchange for their silence. Notwithstanding, the persistence of incidents involving innocent victims ensures they do not go by unknown, despite the fact that only a fraction of crimes are reported.

Mexican Guns: In or out of Control?


Back in 1985, the army confiscated Ciudad Juarez’s police weapons under the claims of an inspection. They were never seen again. Even with seemingly strict regulations, guns confiscated by the army or police often find their way to the black market, allowing anyone with the means to purchase one. Determining who was responsible for a gun-inflicted casualty has become an arduous task thanks to the hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns in Mexico.

In order to acquire a gun, the interested party must be at least 18 years of age, submit a genuine purpose for the acquisition, and be subjected to a series of background checks that will determine the person’s capability for firearms possession. For personal defense purposes, the amount of firearms per individual is limited to two unless there is special justification for any more. Though the right to possession of firearms is guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution under certain conditions, there is much ambivalence concerning gun control in the country. Carrying a firearm in plain view in public spaces is prohibited, however, keeping it concealed, with the due permit, is allowed. Many are unsure which is worse.

Inefficient Gun Regulations

Today, shady possession of firearms means Mexicans can never be certain of who might be carrying a gun, until, unfortunately, it is too late. Sadly, drug lords are not the only ones who carry weapons; their chauffeurs, bodyguards, right-hand people, and teenage children will most likely have one too. The reason why being related to these people is considered dangerous in Mexico is because upsetting them can sometimes result in death. Once you become a nuisance to them, you and everyone you know is put at risk. While it may sound exaggerated, such is the reality. Lamentably, it is not safe to say that not having any connection to cartels is a synonym of safety.

Accidents happen, right? And those accidents take the lives of complete strangers who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once the shots are fired, everyone starts screaming and running in all directions. Until things have died down, the victim’s identity remains unknown. By the time the police arrives, whoever was responsible for the attack has fled, and worse, by the time an ambulance arrives, it is many times too late. If a cartel’s specific target manages to survive the attack, it is very difficult for them to make it out of the hospital because people are normally sent there to “finish the job”.

Things that happen as an effect of a previous action can hardly be stopped, but how many more lives are to be taken before the government decides to put a definite halt to it all?

As of 2015, murder rates increased by 9%; Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s  cabinet seems to be under pressure regarding national security. According to unofficial sources, there exists a direct link between the police, politicians and drug cartels, decreasing their credibility and accountability. One such example being the 43 students that were attacked by the police from the state of Guerrero, who then handed them over to a cartel in September 2014. The incident received widespread criticism and was denounced by the international community. Investigations have not ceased these last two years, but have ceased to provide relevant information, nevertheless, it is thought that the students were killed by the cartel.

A Moment of Reflection

Trying to fix the problem is not enough; the government has been trying for about eight years now, but as some things are brought under control, more seem to pop up even stronger. Does Mexico have a problem with progression or regression? Corruption in Mexico points nowhere but to the fact that no death is accidental. An accident is an unfortunate event that happens unexpectedly; once authorities are paid to ignore deaths, they are no longer unexpected.

Like in many countries in the midst of armed conflict, lives are put at the mercy of those who carry firearms. Taking a life merely takes a gun with a bullet. In a country with thousands of unaccounted weapons in the wrong hands, both of those items are in surplus, along with deeply rooted corruption in the corresponding authorities. Investigations regarding the death of accidental victims often lead to the middle of nowhere. Evidently, when corruption becomes a wealthy activity, despite its low morality, it is bound to take place and people are put in danger for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but can we really put a price on a life? How about several?

Image Sources:

Pile-o-Bullets” by Karen is licensed by CC BY 4.0. Terms of use are compatible with those of Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. No modifications were made.

Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal” by Esparta Palma is licensed by CC BY 4.0. Terms of use are compatible with those of Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. No modifications were made.


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