New study provides context to the tsunami of drug-related violence in Mexico
By Beatriz Castaneda on April 21, 2011
EL PASO – The Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has created a resource that provides background information on the major criminal groups battling for control of territory and lucrative drug trafficking routes in Mexico.
Casualties have escalated to more than 30,000 people killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began to crackdown on cartels. More than 50 U.S. citizens were killed in Ciudad Juarez in the past two years.
“Given the extreme violence in Mexico, the United States in particular is looking at ways to support Mexican efforts against organized crimes,” said Eric L. Olson, author of A Profile of Mexico’s Major Organized Crime Groups and senior associate at The Mexico Institute.
Olson said that President Barack Obama favors U.S. support of anti-drug Mexican efforts and that the U.S. has acknowledged partial responsibility for the situation in Mexico because of U.S. consumption of illicit drugs.
“We thought it was useful to provide a brief explanation of the phenomenon who’s involved what we can do about the problem itself so that policy makers and the American public have a better understanding of what the U.S. might do,” Olson said.
The context itself offers basic structural information about the criminal organizations operating in Mexico. University of Texas at El Paso Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Howard Campbell said, “It’s a very complicated scenario, there are seven basic cartels in Mexico each of which has internal divisions so often times you have groups within one cartel fighting against others within the same group.”
Campbell, who is very familiar with the drug violence in Mexico, said it is difficult to understand what is going on between the cartels but has agreed the context offers a broader outlook of how each drug trafficking organizations operate.
“Each cartel has certain alliances within the Mexican police system, and the political system,” Campbell said. “There are also ways in which those relationships can break out and cause conflict and fighting.”
The guide’s current analysis since this past February said the year 2010 rapidly changed alliances between organized crime groups that ultimately contributed to making the year the most violent yet.
Olson said the situation in Mexico related to organized crimes is very confusing and people make assumptions about what is going on. “It’s an incredibly confusing problem since the organized crime groups are changing and evolving. We were looking to create a simpler, unified, centralized place where scholars, researchers, press, policy makers could get information.”
The context analysis also offers the evolution of organized criminal groups as far back as the 1980s and which organization evolved into the first large-scale drug trafficking organization headed by Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. The group was known as the Felix Gallardo organization, which was later known as the Guadalajara organized crime group.
The data analysis then continues to provide information about the drug trafficking organizations. It provides evolving information of each drug cartel in Mexico. “It’s amazing how the context gives brief information about the drug cartels in Mexico,” Andres Rodriguez, a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso studying political science. “We are taken deeper to see what is causing all the violence.”
Olson said with the help of government sources, secondary sources, and former members of organized crime groups who are now in U.S. prisons, the Mexico Institute was able to get more first hand accounts over the drug war. “We were trying to do more analysis of the information and more historical context,” Olson said.
Olson also said it took them around three months to gather the information, edit and rewrite it. He said he sees this as an evolving project where they will provide monthly updates as the situation evolves in Mexico.
“We established a background in the broader context but it is not a static situation, it is constantly changing and evolving so we want to provide some updated analysis from time to time to see how things are changing,” Olson said.
Campbell made clear that it is unknown to see where the future will stand with the drug trafficking organizations and believes the Mexican Presidential election of 2012 will create conflict and violence. “All the cartels have been trying to maintain their power of establishing relationships with incoming politicians,” Campbell said. “So all of this rearrangement of power that occurs with the election of a new president will lead up to violent conflicts.”
Olson and Campbell agree that this is a major issue for both the United States and Mexico. Both said President Obama has not given Mexico enough attention to the violence occurring.
“The challenge is that there is a lot we don’t know so this is part of our ongoing to getting a more accurate picture of this phenomenon that is affecting both the United States and Mexico,” Olson said.
You can download the resource clicking here.