Mexico's Drug Cartels
Mexico's Drug Cartels
Updated February 25, 2008
Colleen W. Cook
Analyst in Latin American Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Mexico's Drug Cartels
Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier
of marijuana and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States.
Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production,
it supplies a large share of heroin consumed in the United States. An estimated 90%
of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico. Violence in the border region
has affected U.S. citizens and more than 60 Americans have been kidnaped in Nuevo
Laredo. In July 2007, Mexican drug cartels reportedly threatened to kill a U.S.
journalist covering drug violence in the border region. The proposed Mérida
Initiative would provide at least $950 million to combat drug and organized crime.
Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed
for quite some time, they have become more powerful since the demise of
Colombia's Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now
dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States. Arrests of key cartel
leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, have led to increasing drug
violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.
The Gulf and Sinaloa cartels reportedly use personal "enforcer gangs" to perpetuate
violence and intimidate Mexican citizens and public officials. Mexican President
Felipe Calderón has called drug violence a threat to the Mexican state.
This report provides an overview of: Mexican cartels and their operations,
including the nature of cartel ties to gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha; Mexican
cartel drug production in the United States; and the presence of Mexican cartel cells
in the United States. Mexican cartels allegedly have used their vast financial
resources to corrupt Mexican public officials who either turn a blind eye to cartel
activities or work directly for them. Since 2005, the Mexican government has made
numerous efforts to purge corrupt police. In December 2006, President Felipe
Calderón launched operations against the cartels in 9 of Mexico's 32 states. He has
pledged to use extradition as a tool against drug traffickers, and sent 73 criminals to
the United States as of August 2007, including the alleged head of the Gulf Cartel.
This report also examines potential policy approaches to the problem of drug
trafficking and violence. Current U.S. and Mexican policy emphasizes interdiction
and eradication. Supporters of this policy maintain that these efforts have reduced
the supply of drugs in the United States. Critics maintain that Administration
officials have refused to release data showing that cocaine prices are falling,
suggesting that the drug supply is growing, not shrinking. These critics suggest that
more emphasis should be placed on demand reduction in the United States, including
drug prevention education and treatment. The Mexican government urges the United
States to increase its efforts to reduce U.S. demand for drugs, stating that it cannot
succeed in its efforts against the cartels so long as cartels stand to earn billions of
dollars annually from the U.S. illicit drug market. Critics of current policy, including
the Mexican government, are also calling for increased efforts to combat arms
trafficking from the United States to Mexico. This report may be updated. For
further information on Mexico, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations:
Issues for Congress, by Colleen W. Cook.
In troduction ......................................................1
Mi choacán ..................................................14
Mexican Government Response.....................................15
U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance to Mexico............................16
Policy Approaches and Debates......................................17
List of Figures
Figure 1. Map of Mexico............................................2
Figure 2. Mexican Cartel Areas of Influence.............................3
Figure 3. Mexican Cartel Presence in the United States....................6
List of Tables
Table 1: INCLE Assistance to Mexico, FY2002 to FY2008................16
Mexico's Drug Cartels
According to the Mexican government there are seven drug cartels1 operating
in Mexico. The Mexican government reports that the major cartels – Gulf, Sinaloa,
and Juárez -- are present in much of Mexico. The Gulf cartel has a presence in 13
states and its center of operations is in the northern state of Tamaulipas, which
borders southeastern Texas, and is a key transit point for drug shipments to the
United States. (See Figure 1 for map of Mexican states.) The Juárez cartel has been
found in 21 Mexican states and its principle base is in Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua
state, across from El Paso, Texas. The Sinaloa cartel has a presence in 17 states, and
is based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. In addition, the Tijuana cartel is present
in at least 15 states and is based in Tijuana, Baja California, near San Diego,
California; the Colima cartel is present in 7 states and is based in the Pacific state of
Colima; the Oaxaca cartel is present in 13 states and its operations are based in the
southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas; and the Valencia cartel is present in 13 states2
with a base in the central state of Michoacán.
In recent years, the major cartels have formed alliances with one another; the
two rival alliances now compete for turf. The Tijuana cartel formed an alliance with
the Gulf cartel as a result of prison negotiations by their leaders. Several cartels have
also formed an alliance known as "The Federation." The Federation is led by
representatives of the Sinaloa, Juárez, and Valencia cartels. The cartels work
together, but remain independent organizations.3 (See Figure 2, for map of the
cartels' areas of influence.) In August 2006, Mexico's Deputy Attorney General for
Organized Crime, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, indicated that this re-
organization, and mounting violence, are the result of Mexico's success in capturing
1 Some law enforcement agencies and observers prefer to use the term "drug trafficking
organizations" when referring to these groups. The term drug cartel remains the dominant
term used colloquially and in the press, but some experts disagree with this because "cartel"
often refers to price-setting groups and it is not clear that the Mexican drug cartels are
setting illicit drug prices.
2 Procuraduría General de la República, Memoria Sexenal 2001-2006 de Acciones y
Resultados del Programa Nacional para el Control de las Drogas, December 2006;
Procuraduría General de la República, Acciones y Resultados: Informe Anual 2005, August
"Pesca la DEA al 'Tigrillo,'" Reforma, August 17, 2006.
3 CRS interview with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials, November 8,
Laurie Freeman, State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico,
Washington Office on Latin America, June 2006, hereafter Freeman, June 2006.
Figure 1. Map of Mexico
Ti j uana Me x i c a l i
C i udadJuarez
G uIs l a Herm osillo C hi huahua
f CNuevo Laredo
a l i f
o r nEsco llu sAlij o s
Gulfi a Saltillo Monterrey
NO RT H Vi c t o r i aZacatecas
PACIFICBahia deISLASAguascalientesSan Luis Potosi
IS L A SR E V IL L A GIGE D O CozumelP achuca C am pecheGuadal aj ara Morelia Queretaro
Colim a C uernavaca Jal apaTlaxcalaTo l u c a P uebl aMexico
C hetum alVi l l aherm o s a
C hi l panci ngo OaxacaMexico
Golfo deTehuantepecState (Estado) BoundaryNational Capital
State (Estado) Capital
0100200100200300 Kilometers300 Miles
Source:Map Resources. Adapted by CRS. (K.Yancey 8/17/06)
Figure 2. Mexican Cartel Areas of Influence
BAJ ACAL IF ORNIA S ONORA CHIHUAHUA
NUEVOLE ONBAJ A
CAL IF ORNIASUR
DURANG O M EXIC O
TA M A U L I P A SZACAT E CASSINALOA
V E RACRUZ -LLAV E YU CATAN
QU I NTAN AROO85JAL IS CO Mexico
OAXACAGUERREROBELIZEState (Estado) BoundaryNational Capital
CHIAPASGUATEMALAState (Estado) CapitalFederation Zones
HONDURASGuatemala TegucigalpaRoa d
1. AGUASCALIENTES2. DISTRITO FEDERALSanRailroad
3. GUANAJUATO4. HIDALGOSalvadorRivers
5. MEXICO6. MORELOSEL SALVADORNIC.0100200300 Kilometers
7. QUERETARO DE ARTEAGA8. TLAXCALA0100200300 Miles
Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, adapted by CRS (P. McGrath 3/2/2007)
From January 2000 through September 2006, the Mexican government arrested
over 79,000 people on charges related to drug trafficking. Of these arrests, some
lieutenants, 53 financial officers, and 428 hitmen (sicarios). In addition, Mexican
authorities arrested nearly 10,000 people on drug-related charges from December5
2006 through August 2007. On August 16, 2006, the United States Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Coast Guard arrested Tijuana cartel leader
Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, along with other Tijuana cartel leaders, on a boat off
the Mexican coast.6 His brother, Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, was extradited to
the United States in September 2006. In January 2007, Mexico extradited 15 persons
wanted for prosecution in the United States, including four senior drug traffickers.
The drug traffickers included Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the alleged head of the
powerful Gulf cartel, who is believed to have maintained control of the cartel since
4 Procuraduría General de la República, Memoria Sexenal 2001-2006 de Acciones y
Resultados del Programa Nacional para el Control de las Drogas, December 2006.
5 President Felipe Calderón, Mensaje a la Nación, September 2, 2007.
6 Terry Frieden, "Sources: Mexican Cartel Leader Captured," CNN, August 16, 2006,
accessed at [http://www.cnn.com] on August 16, 2006.
his 2003 imprisonment. Ismael Higuera Guerrero and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero of
the Tijuana cartel led by the Arellano Felix family; and, Hector Palma Salazar of the
Sinaloa cartel and a leader of the Federation alliance were also extradited to the
United States. The pace of extraditions from Mexico continued to increase in 2007,
with a record 73 suspected criminals extradited to the United States, compared to 63
alleged criminals extradited to the United States in 2006.7
Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier
of marijuana and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States.
Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production,8
it supplies "a large share of the heroin distributed in the United States." The State
Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico.
In 2006, the National Drug Intelligence Center estimated that Mexican and
Colombian drug trafficking organizations annually generate between $8.3 and $24.99
billion in wholesale drug earnings in the United States.
Mexico's cartels have existed for some time, but have become increasingly
powerful in recent years with the demise of the Medellín and Cali cartels in
Colombia. Closure of the cocaine trafficking route through Florida also pushed
cocaine traffic to Mexico, increasing the role of Mexican cartels in cocaine
trafficking. The National Drug Intelligence Center now considers Mexican drug
cartels as dominating the U.S. illicit drug market. According to the Center, Mexican
cartels "control the transportation and wholesale distribution of most illicit drugs in
every area of the country except the Northeast." The Center also notes that Mexican
cartels are making inroads into the Northeast by developing "cooperative
relationships with other [drug trafficking organizations, DTOs] in that10
area."Colombian groups continue to be the "dominant cocaine and heroin
traffickers, particularly in the Northeast; however they are relinquishing control to11
Mexican DTOs in order to shield themselves from law enforcement detection."
In February 2006, Mexico's Deputy Attorney General for Organized Crime, José
Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, asserted that Colombians continue to control drug12
trafficking in Mexico. The DEA, however, maintains that the Mexican cartels now
7 "Mexico Extradites Record 64 Criminals to U.S.," Reuters, August 29, 2007.
8 Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs,
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2007, March 2007, hereafter INCSR 2007.
9 Ibid; U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat
Assessment 2007, October 2006.
10 U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat
Assessment 2008, October 2007.
12 Procuraduría General de la República, Press Conference, "Sesión de Preguntas y
have command and control over the drug trade and are starting to show the hallmarks
of organized crime, such as organizing into distinct cells with subordinate cells that
operate throughout the United States.13 As a result of their dominance of the U.S.
illicit drug market, Mexican cartels are the leading wholesale launderers of drug
money from the United States. Mexican and Colombian trafficking organizations
annually smuggle an estimated $8.3 to $24.9 billion in drug proceeds into Mexico for
Mexican cartels also produce methamphetamine and marijuana in the United
States. Mexican cartels have long grown marijuana in the United States, often on
federal land in California, but they are now expanding production to the Pacific
northwest and, to a lesser extent, the eastern United States. (See Figure 3). Mexican
marijuana producers in California, the Pacific northwest, and eastern United States
are increasingly linked to each other and "[m]any of these groups maintain their
affiliation with the larger groups in California and Mexico and maintain some level
of coordination and cooperation among their various operating areas, moving labor15
and materials to the various sites – even across the country – as needed."
Respuestas durante la Conferencia de Prensa que Ofreció el Procurador General de la
República, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca Hernández en el Auditorio de Juristas, de Reforma 211,
México, D.F., a 10 de Febrero de 2006."
13 CRS interview with DEA officials, November 8, 2006.
14 U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat
Assessment 2007, October 2006. The report does not disaggregate Colombian and Mexican
drug trafficking organization money smuggling data.
Figure 3. Mexican Cartel Presence in the United States
Source: National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2007, adapted by CRS.
There is evidence that Mexican cartels are also increasing their relationships with prison and
street gangs in the United States in order to facilitate drug trafficking within the United States as well
as wholesale and retail distribution of the drugs. For example, in January 2006, the National Drug
Intelligence Center reported that gangs such as the Latin Kings and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) buy
methamphetamine from Mexican drug cartels for distribution in the southwestern United States.
According to the FBI, Mexican cartels focus only on wholesale distribution, leaving retail sales of
illicit drugs to street gangs. The Mexican cartels reportedly work with multiple gangs and do not take16
sides in U.S. gang conflicts.
In addition to drug trafficking, Mexican cartels have been tied to both human and arms
trafficking, auto theft, and kidnaping. Mexican drug traffickers increasingly smuggle money back into
Mexico in cars and trucks, likely due to the effectiveness of U.S. efforts at monitoring electronic
money transfers. Mexican law enforcement officials note that while the drug cartels may sometimes
traffic persons who are willing to act as mules, they do not engage in large-scale human trafficking as
that would add further risk to the transit of drug shipments. Separate criminal groups focus on human
trafficking. U.S. law enforcement officials report that the Tijuana cartel has been weakened due to
the arrests and deaths of several cartel leaders, forcing the cartel to focus its energies on controlling
trafficking routes through the corruption of Mexican law enforcement officials and intimidation17
measures, including kidnaping, torture, and murder.
16 CRS interview with FBI officials, January 10, 2007and U.S. Department of Justice
National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2006, January 2006.
The 2007 Drug Threat Assessment does not include information on ties between Mexican
cartels and specific gangs.
17 "Atrapados por las mafias," Reforma, August 7, 2005; CRS interview with DEA officials,
November 8, 2006; and, CRS interview with Federal Preventive Police (PFP) official,
November 14, 2006.
The Gulf Cartel is one of the most powerful Mexican cartels. Its center of operations is in the
northern state of Tamaulipas, which borders southeastern Texas, and is a key drug transit point for
drug shipments into the United States. Mexico extradited Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillen
to the United States in 2007 where he faces multiple charges including drug trafficking and threatening
to murder U.S. federal agents in Matamoros, Mexico. The Gulf Cartel is notoriously violent.
Cárdenas was the first drug cartel leader to create his own paramilitary organization, the Zetas,18
discussed in more detail below.
Mexican authorities report that in 2008 they plan to extend anti-cartel operations beyond
patrolling to seeking out cartel gunmen in their safehouses. The Gulf cartel is believed to be
responsible for two shootouts in Reynosa, Mexico, in early January 2008. Mexican authorities believe
the shootouts were in reprisal for a confrontation between Mexican federal authorities and cartel
members in Rio Bravo, Mexico, just across from Donna, Texas. The Rio Bravo confrontation led to
the death of three Gulf cartel gunmen and the arrest of 10 other alleged cartel members, including
three U.S. citizens. The McAllen, Texas, police chief stated that he does not believe that cartel19
violence is spilling over into the McAllen area.
The Gulf cartel is reportedly branching out into other trafficking activities, including migrant
smuggling. One possible explanation for the cartel's expansion into other smuggling efforts is that
drug profits are down because of recent U.S. and Mexican enforcement efforts. The Gulf cartel is
reportedly involved in human smuggling along the Texas border. U.S. authorities report that the drug20
cartels take part in human smuggling to divert U.S. law enforcement attention away from drug routes.
The Sinaloa cartel is based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa and headed by Joaquín "El
Chapo" Guzmán. Guzmán is a fugitive who escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001. Alleged former
Sinaloa cartel leader Hector Palma Salazar was extradited to the United States in January 2007 and
faces charges in California for conspiracy to distribute large quantities of cocaine. In February 2008,21
Palma Salazar was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment for cocaine trafficking. As noted above, the
Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war with the Gulf cartel for the last several years to establish
control of lucrative trafficking routes into the United States.
In October 2007, Mexican authorities arrested Sandra "Queen of the Pacific" Ávila Beltrán, a
senior member of the Sinaloa cartel who was instrumental in building ties with between the Sinaloa
cartel and Colombian cocaine traffickers. She faces drug trafficking charges in Mexico and the United
States has reportedly requested her extradition on similar charges. In November 2007 Peruvian
authorities announced that the arrest of five Sinaloa cartel members in Peru. Peruvian authorities
18 Oscar Becerra, "New Traffickers Struggle for Control of Mexican Drug Trade," Jane's
Intelligence Review, September 1, 2004.
19 Ibid and Jeremy Roebuck and Sean Gaffney, "Mexico Vows Vigilance Against Cartel,"
The Monitor, January 9, 2008.
20 Olga R. Rodriguez, "Mexican Drug Smugglers Use Migrants to Bait Feds," Associated
Press, May 6, 2007.
21 Justice in Mexico Project, "Key Cartel Members Sentenced in U.S. and Mexican Courts,"
News Report - February 2008.
report that the Sinaloa cartel is the largest purchaser of Peruvian cocaine, the majority of which is22
destined for European markets.
The Sinaloa cartel is also reported to be expanding into human smuggling, perhaps in response
to the shut down of drug trafficking routes. The Sinaloa cartel reportedly now controls most migrant23
smuggling routes into Arizona.
The Tijuana cartel is headed by the Arellano Félix family. The cartel has suffered several arrests
in recent years and it is not clear who is currently heading the cartel at this time. At its peak the cartel
supplied 40% of cocaine consumed in the United States. While weaker than in the past, the cartel
reportedly continues to control the Tijuana-San Diego corridor. Baja California, where Tijuana is
located, was Mexico's most violent state in 2007 with over 400 murders. In September 2007, Mexico
sentenced Benjamin Arellano Félix to 22 years' imprisonment on organized crime and drug trafficking
charges. The United States requested his extradition in January 2007 to face drug trafficking,
racketeering, and money laundering charges. The U.S. Coast Guard captured Francisco Javier
Arellano Félix in the Sea of Cortes in August 2006. He pled guilty to running a criminal enterprise
and money laundering and in November 2007 was sentenced to life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole in the United States. Yet another brother, Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, was
extradited to the United States in September 2006. He subsequently pled guilty to conspiracy to
distribute cocaine and intent to distribute based on a 1980 drug bust. In September 2007, Francisco24
Rafael Arellano Felix was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
The Juárez cartel is headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and is based in Ciudad Juárez, across
the border from El Paso, Texas. The Juárez cartel was dominant in the 1990s, but became less
dominant following the death of leader Amado Carrillo Fuentes. The Juárez cartel was the principal
target of the "Maxiproceso" effort which issued 110 arrest warrants of alleged cartel members and
accomplices in the late 1990s, 65 of which were executed against persons allegedly tied to the Juárez
cartel. Maxiproceso prosecutions continued in 2007, including the acquittal of Arturo Hernández who
was charged with being a leader of the Juárez cartel's hitmen and spies. Although the cartel was
weakened, it has a presence throughout much of Mexico and is considered one of the four major
cartels. The Juárez cartel is widely believed to be benefitting from its membership in the Federation
alliance of drug cartels and profiting from increased sales of Mexican heroin used to make cheese (a
mixture of Mexican heroin and cold medicine) in Texas. Other reports, cited by the Government
Accountability Office (GAO), indicated that the Juárez cartel may no longer be tied to the Federation25
due to murders committed by another Federation member.
22 "Peruvian Cocaine Production Doubles in Six Years," BBC Monitoring, November 21,
November 25, 2007; Olga R. Rodriguez, "In Mexico, a 'Queen' Allegedly Rose to Kingpin,"
Chicago Tribune, October 14, 2007;"U.S. Seeks Extradition of Alleged Drug Leader from
Mexico," Xinhua News Agency, December 1, 2007; and, Jo Tuckman, "Queen of the Pacific
Has Mexico Hooked," The Guardian, October 6, 2007.
23 Olga R. Rodriguez, "Mexican Drug Smugglers Use Migrants to Bait Feds," Associated
Press, May 6, 2007.
24 "Bodies Found after Mexican Raid," BBC News, January 18, 2008 and S. Lynne Walker,
"Cartel Figure Gets 22 Years in Mexico Prison," San Diego Union-Tribune, September 5,
25 Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Counternarcotics Aid to Mexico, August
2007; "Exonera Juez a Ex-Militar por Narcotráfico," El Norte, December 29, 2007; "Exhibe
Fallas el 'Maxiproceso,'" Reforma, January 15, 2008; Alfredo Corchado, "Mexican Alliance
The Colima cartel, also known as the Amezcua Contreras cartel, is based in the western state
of Colima and focuses in synthetic drugs. Its leaders, the Amezcua Contreras brothers, are often
referred to as the "Methamphetamine Kings." The three brothers have been imprisoned since 1997,
yet the cartel continues to function in seven Mexican states. The United States has long sought the
extradition of José de Jesús Amezcua Contreras, but an October 2007 list of extraditable drug capos
prepared by the Mexican Attorney General's office reportedly stated that he cannot be extradited
because of a standing judicial order blocking his extradition to the United States. In May 2007, Luis
Amezcua Contreras also requested a judicial order blocking extradition to the United States. In
December 2007, the Mexican newspaper El Milenio reported that the Colima cartel is starting to
reconsolidate its position and is starting to win control of some trafficking routes dominated by the26
Sinaloa, Tijuana, and Gulf cartels.
The Oaxaca cartel focuses on marijuana trafficking and operates in southern Mexico,
particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. It is led by Pedro Díaz Parada, who was arrested by
federal agents in January 2007. Pedro Díaz Parada was sentenced to 33 years' imprisonment in 1985,
but subsequently escaped prison twice – once in 1987 and again in 1992. Press reports indicate he
ordered the murder of the sentencing judge in 1987. The Mexican government reportedly considers
Díaz Parada to be one of the leading traffickers of drugs into southern Mexico via Mexico's border
with Guatemala. The Oaxaca cartel reportedly joined forces with the Tijuana cartel in 2003 and press
reports indicate that Díaz Parada was the most important representative of the Tijuana cartel in
southeastern Mexico at the time of his arrest. Díaz Parada is also alleged to have ties with Colombian
cocaine traffickers. Díaz Parada faces several charges including possession of marijuana and cocaine27
with the intent to distribute and illegal firearm possession.
The Valencia cartel, led by Luis and Armando Valencia, is strong in central Mexico with a base
in the state of Michoacán. The cartel is aligned with the Federation and is reported to operate in the28
strategic trafficking state of Colima, on Mexico's Pacific coast.
Drives Drug Flow," Knight Ridder Tribune News Service, April 12, 2007; and Anna
Gilmour, "Gulf War – Pressure Mounts on Mexico's Gulf Cartel," Jane's Intelligence
Review, January 1, 2008.
26 "Se Reposiciona el Cártel de los Amezcua: Sedena," El Milenio, December 3, 2007;
Rubén Torres, "Colima Se Salva de Narcoejecuciones, Pero No del Trasiego," El
Economista, November 5, 2007; and, Silvia Otero, "PGR Alista Paquete de 15
Extraditables," El Universal, October 19, 2007.
27 "Consignan a Pedro Díaz Parada a Penal del Altiplano," NOTIMEX, January 20, 2007;
"Mexico Captures Díaz Parada Drug Cartel Leader," Reuters, January 17, 2007; "Captura
PGR al Narcotraficante Pedro Díaz Parada," Servicio Universal de Noticias, January 17,
January 17, 2007; "Consideran a Díaz Parada Narcotraficante de la 'Vieja Guardia,'"
NOTIMEX, January 18, 2007; "Revelan Reportes Nexo Díaz Parada – 'Tigrillo,'" Palabra,
January 19, 2007; and "Dictan Formal Prisión a Pedro Díaz Parada," NOTIMEX, January
28 Rubén Torres, "Colima Se Salva de Narcoejecuciones, pero no del Trasiego," El
Economista, November 5, 2007 and "Les Principales Organisations Criminelles et Leurs
Chefs," Le Monde, January 22, 2008.
Mexican cartels employ individuals and groups of enforcers, known as sicarios. In August
2006, Mexico's Deputy Attorney General for Organized Crime, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos,
postulated that these gangs are becoming increasingly powerful as they fill the void left in cartels when
their leadership are arrested by the Mexican government. The Mexican government arrested over 300
sicarios from January 2000 through September 2006, with Gulf cartel enforcers accounting for over
one-quarter of arrests. This included 134 enforcers from the Gulf cartel, 107 from the Tijuana cartel,
98 from the Sinaloa cartel, 66 from the Juárez cartel, 15 from the Millennium cartel, 6 from the
Oaxaca cartel, and 2 from the Colima cartel. Some analysts speculate that the Gulf cartel lost more
of its enforcers because of greater exposure due to their mobility throughout Mexico defending Gulf
cartel territory and competing for new territory.
The Gulf and Sinaloa cartels also employ more disciplined groups respectively known as the
Zetas and Negros. In July 2006, the Mexican daily Reforma reported findings of a Mexican federal
investigation that the Gulf cartel is recruiting MS-13 gang members and Guatemalan Kaibiles.
Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials, however, deny that there are significant ties between
Mexican cartels and MS-13, indicating that the cartels will work with Central American gangs on
specific tasks, but that these gangs are not as disciplined as the cartels, so the cartels have not29
deepened ties with them.
The Zetas are unique among drug enforcer gangs in that they operate "as a private army under30
the orders of Cárdenas' Gulf cartel, the first time a drug lord has had his own paramilitary." Most
reports indicate that the Zetas were created by a group of 30 lieutenants and sublieutenants who
deserted from the Mexican military's Special Air Mobile Force Group (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas
Especiales, GAFES) to the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s. As such, the Zetas were able to carry out
more complex operations and use more sophisticated weaponry. The Zetas were instrumental in the
Gulf cartel's domination of the drug trade in Nuevo Laredo, and have fought to maintain the cartel's
influence in that city following the 2003 arrest of its leader Osiel Cárdenas. Press reports have
charged that these soldiers turned cartel enforcers were trained in the United States; however, the
Washington Office on Latin America was unable to confirm this claim while researching a June 20063132
special report on drug violence. Estimates on the number of Zetas range from 31 to up to 200.
Reports indicate that while the Zetas were initially comprised of members of special forces, they now
include federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel as well as civilians. In September 2005
testimony to the Mexican Congress, then-Defense Secretary Clemente Vega indicated that the Zetas
had also hired at least 30 former Guatemalan special forces (Kaibiles) to train new recruits because
29 "Mexico: Gunmen Taking over the Cartels," LatinNews Weekly Report, August 8, 2006;
Rolanda Herrera, "Retira PGR a Sicarios," Reforma, August 6, 2006; Rolanda Herrera,
"Atribuyen a Movilidad las Capturas de Narcos," El Norte, August 6, 2006; Martín Morita,
"Acechan 'Zetas' Sureste," Reforma, July 27, 2006; CRS interview with Mexican Federal
Preventative Police (PFP) official, November 14, 2006; CRS interview with FBI officials,
January 10, 2007; and, CRS interview with DEA officials, November 8, 2006.
30 Oscar Becerra, "New Traffickers Struggle for Control of Mexican Drug Trade," Jane's
Intelligence Review, September 1, 2004.
31 Freeman, June 2006.
32 LatinNews reports that the Mexican government estimates there are 31 members of the
Zetas based on rewards offered for military deserters in 2003. The U.S. government
estimates that there are 68 members of the Zetas. See "Violence Across Mexico-U.S.
Border: U.S. Sees Los Zetas as an 'Emerging Threat,'' Latin American Security and Strategic
Review, December 2005. Time Magazine and The Washington Times report that there are
as many as 200 Zetas. See, "The Killers Next Door," Time Magazine, April 18, 2005 and
"Mexican Mercenaries Expand Base into U.S.," The Washington Times, August 1, 2005.
"the number of former Mexican special forces men in their ranks had shrunk from 50 to no more than33
a dozen, and they were finding it hard to entice more members of the Mexican military to join."
The Zetas act as assassins for the Gulf cartel. They also traffic arms, kidnap, and collect
payments for the cartel on its drug routes. Mexican law enforcement officials report that the Zetas
have become an increasingly sophisticated, three-tiered organization with leaders and middlemen who34
coordinate contracts with petty criminals to carry out street work. The Zetas have maintained the
territory of the Gulf cartel in the northern cities of Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo following the 2003
arrest of the Gulf cartel leader, Osiel Cárdenas. In addition to defending the cartel's terrain in northern
Mexico, Zetas are believed to control trafficking routes along the eastern half of the U.S.-Mexico35
border. Although initially found mainly along Mexico's northern border, the Zetas now have a
presence in southern Mexico, where the Gulf cartel is disputing territory previously controlled by the
Juárez and Sinaloa cartels. A recent federal investigation found that the Zetas also engage in36
kidnaping, drug dealing, and money laundering. In July 2006, local police in the southern state of
Tabasco unknowingly arrested Mateo Díaz López, believed to be a leader of the Zetas. The arrest
prompted an assault on the police station killing 4 people, including 2 police officers, but the assault
did not succeed in liberating Díaz López, who was subsequently transferred to a prison in37
The Zetas also trained the Michoacán-based "La Familia" enforcer gang which has carried out
numerous executions in that state. The Familia maintains close ties to the Zetas, but are a smaller38
In response to the Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel established its own heavily-armed enforcer gangs,
the Negros and Pelones. Both are less sophisticated than the Zetas, and focused on attacks against39
adversaries. Edgar "La Barbie" Valdés Villarreal is alleged to be the head of the Negros. The
Negros are believed to be "responsible for the recent rise in attacks against police officers in Nuevo40
Laredo, in an attempt to wrest control over the local police from the Zetas."
In recent turf wars in Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, and Tabasco, the Zetas
have alleged that the Sinaloa cartel and Negros leader "La Barbie," enjoy police protection. The
Mexican government dismissed these charges, noting that it has at varying times focused on
prosecutions of different cartels, and each time the affected cartel charges that the government is
33 "Violence Across Mexico-U.S. Border: U.S. Sees Los Zetas as an 'Emerging Threat,''
Latin American Security and Strategy Review, December 2005.
34 CRS interview with Federal Preventative Police, November 14, 2006.
35 Oscar Becerra, "New Traffickers Struggle for Control of Mexican Drug Trade," Jane's
Intelligence Review, September 1, 2004.
36 Martín Morita, "Desatan cárteles guerra en el sureste," Reforma, July 27, 2006.
37 Miguel Angel Granados Chapa, "Plaza Pública/ Peligroso Tabasco," Reforma, March 7,
2007; Martín Morita, "Desatan cárteles guerra en el sureste," Reforma, July 27, 2006; and
"Growing, but Distinct Elements, so Far," Mexico & NAFTA Report, August 2006.
38 CRS interview with the Federal Preventative Police (PFP), November 14, 2006.
40 Freeman, June 2006.
working on behalf of a rival organization.41 In May 2006, "La Barbie" made similar allegations of42
police protection of the Zetas in a full-page ad in a Mexico City daily.
Mexican cartels advance their operations, in part, by corrupting or intimidating law enforcement
officials. For example, Nuevo Laredo municipal police have reportedly been involved in the
kidnaping of Gulf cartel competitors to hand over to the Zetas. The Zetas then hold them for ransom43
or torture them for information about their drug operations. The International Narcotics Control44
Board (INCB) reports that although Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in45
recent years, it remains "a serious problem." Recent efforts to combat corruption include promoting
professionalism in law enforcement agencies and inclusion of rule of law lessons in training.46
Nevertheless, the INCB recommends that Mexico continue to promote efforts to combat corruption.
Some agents of Mexico's Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers
for the Sinaloa cartel, and the Attorney General's Office (PGR) reported in December 2005 that one-
fifth of its officers are under investigation for criminal activity. The PGR reported in late 2005 that
nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457
were facing charges. In November 2005, a video depicting the interrogation of four Zetas who
revealed their methods of torture, ties to Mexican law enforcement agencies, and recruitment
techniques, was given to the Dallas Morning News. The video ends with the murder of one of the
Zetas. The Mexican government sent mixed signals about the involvement of AFI agents in the
kidnaping of the Zetas, first announcing that eight agents were under investigation, and then47
announcing that AFI agents had no connection to the kidnaping and murder of the four Zetas.
However, a report from a non-governmental organization says that "subsequent U.S. and Mexican
press reports based on Mexican court files have concluded that AFI agents probably kidnaped the
Zetas in the resort city of Acapulco, then handed them over to members of the Sinaloa cartel to be48
interrogated and executed."
In recent years, the Mexican federal government conducted purges and prosecution of police
forces in Nuevo Laredo; Apatzingan, Michoacán; and, Tijuana, Baja California. The Fox
administration launched Operation Secure Mexico in June 2005 to combat drug violence and police
corruption in cities with high incidences of drug violence. Federal officers arriving in Nuevo Laredo
were fired on by municipal police leading to the arrest of 41 municipal police and the suspension of
the entire 700-member Nuevo Laredo police force to investigate corruption. Less than one-half would
be cleared to return to duty. In late June 2005, federal police rescued 44 people, the majority of whom
claimed that they had been kidnaped by municipal police before being transferred to Gulf cartel safe
41 Rolando Herrera, "Pierde 105 sicarios el Cártel del Golfo," El Norte, August 6, 2006.
42 Freeman, June 2006.
44 The International Narcotics Control Board is an independent agency charged with
monitoring the implementation of United Nations international drug control conventions.
45 International Narcotics Control Board, Report of the International Narcotics Control
Board for 2006, March 1, 2007.
47 "Crime-torn Mexican 'FBI' Investigates 1,500 Agents," Reuters, December 4, 2005; Tim
Gaynor and Monica Medel, "Drug Gangs Corrupt Mexico's Elite 'FBI,'" Reuters, December
48 Freeman, June 2006.
houses.49 In spite of these efforts, reports indicate that the Zetas continue to have influence over
Nuevo Laredo's municipal police, and that warring cartels are gaining influence in all law enforcement
present in the city. In 2006, Mexico launched the Northern Border (Frontera Norte) initiative, a
federal-state effort to fight violence that included the deployment of 800 Federal Protective Police
(PFP) officers to Nuevo Laredo. These 800 officers are in addition to the 300 federal officers
deployed in Nuevo Laredo under Operation Secure Mexico. In March 2006, four PFP officers were
killed after locating a cartel safe house. Federal officials announced that initial evidence indicated that50
municipal police officers were responsible for the killings.
The anti-cartel operations begun by President Calderón in December 2006 included ballistic
checks of police weapons in places such as Tijuana where there is concern that police are also working
for the cartels. In April 2007 over 100 state police officers in the northern state of Nuevo León were
suspended due to corruption concerns. In June 2007, President Calderón purged 284 federal police
commanders, including federal commanders of all 31 states and the federal district. These
commanders were suspended and subjected to drug and polygraph tests. The Mexican government
immediately named replacements for the 284 dismissed commanders. The new commanders all
successfully passed an array of examinations designed to weed out corrupt officers, including financial
checks, drug testing, and psychological and medical screening. These tests are to be repeated on a51
The 2002 arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix, head of the Tijuana cartel, and the 2003 arrest of
Gulf cartel head Osiel Cárdenas, led to a realignment of Mexican cartels and increased turf wars.
While in prison, Arellano Felix and Cárdenas forged an alliance against the Sinaloa cartel and its ally
the Juárez cartel. Cartels are now largely aligned into two blocks in support of the Gulf and Sinaloa
cartels. Below is a description of three turf wars: Nuevo Laredo (across the border from Laredo,
Texas), Guerrero (in southern Mexico), and Michoacán (in central Mexico). These examples are
illustrative but not exhaustive descriptions of cartel violence in Mexico.
The border city of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas, has been particularly hard hit by
drug violence since the Sinaloa cartel began to contest the Gulf cartel's domination of Nuevo Laredo
following the 2003 arrest of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas. This has led to the most publicized of
Mexico's turf wars due to the intensity of the violence and its proximity to the United States. Over 60
U.S. citizens have been kidnaped in Nuevo Laredo since the beginning of the turf war, at least 20 are
still missing. Press reports indicate that hundreds of Mexicans have been kidnaped in Nuevo Laredo.
Murders are on the increase in this city of 350,000, with 600 murders since 2003. Nuevo Laredo has
not had a police chief in nearly a year due to the violence. The most recent chief resigned, but his52
predecessor was murdered. On February 19, 2007, the day after President Calderón announced the
expansion of his counternarcotics operation into Nuevo Laredo, gunmen wounded Mexican
49 James Pinkerton, "Freed Captives in Mexico Say Police Abducted Them," Houston
Chronicle, June 29, 2005 and Freeman, June 2006.
50 "Mexico: New Border 'Offensive' Met with Escalation of Violence," Latin American
Security & Strategic Review, March 2006 and Freeman, June 2006.
51 CRS interview with Mexican Embassy officials, October 27, 2006; "Mexico: Congress
Summons Defense Minister," Latin American Weekly Report, April 19, 2007; "Mexico
Shakes Up Federal Police," EFE News Service, June 25, 2007; and, Sam Enriquez, "Mexico
Purges Federal Police Chiefs," Financial Times, June 26, 2007.
52 Alfredo Corchado, "Nuevo Laredo Handcuffed by Drug Trade," Dallas Morning News,
February 22, 2007.
Congressman Horacio Garza and killed his driver in Nuevo Laredo.53 The Gulf cartel is believed to
be responsible for the attack. In July 2007 drug cartels reportedly threatened to kill an unnamed
American journalist in Laredo for writing reports on the cartels. Both the Dallas Morning News and54
San Antonio Express-News took measures to protect their journalists working in the area.
The warring cartels are thought to compete for influence over law enforcement and the media,
and use intimidation and murder as they see fit. In February 2006, gunmen suspected of ties with drug
traffickers attacked offices of the daily El Mañana after it published a picture of a federal police
officer and linking him to the Sinaloa cartel, critically injuring a reporter. The paper subsequently
announced that it would scale back coverage of drug violence. The Committee to Protect Journalists
has noted a high level of self-censorship among media in Nuevo Laredo and other parts of northern
Mexico. U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo from July 29 to
August 8, 2005 due to safety concerns and submitted a diplomatic note to the Mexican government
in January 2006 expressing U.S. concern over violence in this border city. In April 2007, the State
Department advised Americans to use caution when traveling in Mexico due to drug violence, though55
it noted that no Americans are known to have been targeted.
In 2007, the epicenter of the turf war appeared to shift from Nuevo Laredo, just across from
Laredo, Texas, to the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, long considered to be one of Mexico's
most prosperous and stable states. There are two possible explanations for the shift in the turf war:
(1) the Gulf cartel and its enforcer gang, the Zetas, succeeded in maintaining control of the Nuevo
Laredo corridor and (2) the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels reached a truce to reduce violence in Nuevo56
Laredo in response to the government crackdown in the area.
The cities of Zihuatenejo and Acapulco have witnessed increased drug violence due to the Gulf
cartel's challenge to the Sinaloa cartel's control of Guerrero. A state police chief was murdered in
Acapulco on April 28, 2006, days after the attempted murder of a former state attorney general in the
resort city. The Zetas interrogated in the video described above were allegedly abducted in Acapulco.
There were several beheadings in 2006, including that of a police officer in retribution for a shootout.
In March 2007 the torture and beheading of a man with a Z on his chest, apparently for the Zetas, was57
video taped and briefly circulated on the internet.
Four cartels are engaged in a turf war in Michoacán– the Juárez, Gulf, Millennium, and Colima
cartels. The Colima cartel, headed by the Amezcua brothers (who are known as "the Kings of
Methamphetamine") controlled the drug trade in Michoacán, but was weakened following the 1998
arrest of José de Jesús Amezcua and the 2001 arrest of Adán Amezcua. While the Colima cartel
continues to operate, the Millennium cartel now controls the state. Michoacán authorities have noted
53 Mark Stevenson, "Mexico's President Announces Anti-Crime Plan after Police Chief
Shot," Associated Press, March 7, 2007.
54 Mariano Castillo, "Ambush Views Run Wild," San Antonio Express News, February 21,
55 Department of State, "Mexico," April 19, 2007; Committee to Protect Journalists, "Dread
on the Border," February 24, 2006; "Mexico: Gang-related Killings Reported to be Up by
56 Mariano Castillo, "Laredo Was a Battleground in Dope Cartels' War on Border," San
Antonio Express-News, August 19, 2007 and Laurence Iliff, "Mexico, U.S. Step up Efforts
to Combat Zetas," McClatchy-Tribune News Services, January 9, 2008.
57 Freeman, June 2006; Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, "Drug Related Violence Moves into
Acapulco; Area's $2.3B Tourist Industry may be at Risk," Boston Globe, July 30, 2006; and,
Hector Tobar, "A Cartel Army's Struggle Within," Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2007.
the presence of the Gulf cartel's Zetas and the "Familia," a Gulf Cartel enforcer gang trained by the
Zetas that operates in Michoacán. Three shootouts between July 21 and July 23, 2006 left eight dead.
On July 28, 2006, a man presumed to work for the Sinaloa cartel was shot 100 times in what was
believed to be a warning to the Sinaloa cartel. The town of Apatzingan, a center of drug cartel
activity, has been a key area in the federal effort against cartels launched in December 2006. Violent
deaths have increased in Michoacan in 2007, perhaps as a result of the pressure put on the cartels.
There have also been allegations of human rights violations by the federal military and police forces58
in the area.
Mexican Government Response
Since taking office in December 2006, President Calderón has made combating drug cartels and
drug violence a top priority of his administration. He has called increasing drug violence in Mexico
a threat to the Mexican state, and has sent 24,000 soldiers and federal police to nine states to combat
the cartels. Mexico's Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, indicated in April 2007 that the
government's anti-cartel initiative will expand beyond counter-cartel police and military operations
to include institutional and operational reforms. He also stated that the only way Mexico can
successfully defeat the cartels unless it gets more cooperation from the United States in combating
arms trafficking and money laundering from the United States to Mexico. In October 2007 the White
House Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that the Mexican government's increased
pressure on cartels coincided with cocaine shortages in 37 U.S. cities and a 24% increase in the retail59
price of cocaine during the second quarter of 2007.
President Calderón maintains that his administration will stand up to threats of violence by the
cartels and that it will take at least two years to take back control of Mexico. While many support the
government's plan, critics note that drug violence continues. According to press reports, a Mexican
government report from early 2007 charged that "the cartels remain intact and executions have spread60
to previously violence-free areas." Press reports indicate that between 1,800 and 1,900 Mexicans
were killed in cartel related violence in the first nine months of 2007; the Mexican government does
not maintain statistics on cartel murders. In addition to the anti-drug operations, President Calderón
has increased salaries of troops involved in counter-cartel operations by nearly 50%; placed the
Federal Preventative Police (PFP) and the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) under one commander
as part of his plans to create a unified federal police force; and announced the "Platform Mexico"
initiative to improve federal, state, and local law enforcement capacity to exchange information on61
drug cartels, including the creation of a database that will cover 5,000 police stations by 2009.
58 "Asedian a Michoacán cárteles de la droga," Reforma, September 18, 2005; Adán García,
"Dejan 'mensaje' a cártel," Mural, July 29, 2006; Adán García, "Matan en Michoacán a ocho
en 48 horas," Mural, July 23, 2006; and, "Calderón Fights Gangs with Little Success,"
National Public Radio, May 16, 2007.
59 White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, "White House Drug Czar Releases
Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy," October 2, 2007; "Mexico: Medina Mora
Admits Country at Crisis Point," Latinnews Daily, April 11, 2007; and Luis Méndez, "Debe
EU Cooperar – PGR," Mural, April 10, 2007.
60 Jeremy Schwartz, "Mexico Faces its Demons; Drug War Ever More Violent," Cox News
Service, March 4, 2007 and "Mexico: A Bad Week for Calderón's 'Offensives'," Latin
American Weekly Report, February 22, 2007.
61 University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute, Justice In Mexico, October 2007; Patty
Reinert and Dudley Althaus, "U.S. Issues Mexico Travel Alert," Houston Chronicle, April
21, 2007; Julie Watson, "Mexican President Gives Soldiers Pay Hike as Drug War
Intensifies," Associated Press, February 19, 2007; Mark Stevenson, "Mexico's President
Announces Anti-Crime Plan after Police Chief Shot," Associated Press, March 7, 2007; and,
"¿100 Acciones?," Reforma, March 10, 2007.
President Calderón has indicated that he will use extradition as a major tool to combat drug
traffickers. In January 2007, Mexico extradited 15 persons wanted for prosecution in the United
States, including four senior drug traffickers: Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the alleged head of the powerful
Gulf cartel; Ismael Higuera Guerrero and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero of the Tijuana cartel led by the
Arellano Felix family; and, Hector Palma Salazar of the Sinaloa cartel. From January through August
2007 Mexico extradited 64 suspected criminals to the United States, compared to the record 63 alleged
criminals extradited to the United States in 2006.
U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance to Mexico
Mexico is one of the largest recipients of U.S. counternarcotics assistance, though it receives
significantly less assistance than larger counterdrug programs in Afghanistan or Colombia. The
United States provides counternarcotics assistance to Mexico through the International Narcotics
Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account. Annual figures on INCLE assistance to Mexico are
shown in the table below. The Administration's budget request for FY2008, $27.8 million, cuts U.S.
counternarcotics assistance to Mexico by 22% compared to FY2007 levels. In its Congressional
Budget Justification, the State Department contends that these cuts are appropriate because Mexico
is the thirteenth largest economy in the world. Since FY2002, border security programs have typically
accounted for about 35% of INCLE assistance to Mexico. Other major components of INCLE
assistance include aviation support; operational support for Mexico's drug interdiction and eradication
programs; and, professionalization and training of Mexican law enforcement personnel.
Table 1: INCLE Assistance to Mexico, FY2002 to FY2008
(in millions of U.S. $)
37.0 12.0 37.0 39.7 39.6 36.7 27.8
Mérida Initiative. On October 22, 2007, the United States and Mexico issued a joint statement
announcing a multi-year plan for $1.4 billion in U.S. assistance to Mexico and Central America to
combat drug trafficking and other criminal organizations. The Administration requested $500 million
for Mexico and $50 million for Central America in the FY2008 Supplemental Appropriations request.
The joint statement highlights current efforts of both countries, including Mexico's 24% increase in
security spending in 2007. The stated objective of the Mérida Initiative is "to maximize the
effectiveness of our efforts to fight criminal organizations -- so as to disrupt drug-trafficking (including
precursor chemicals); weapons trafficking, illicit financial activities and currency smuggling, and62
All of the proposed FY2008 funding for the Merida Initiative is through the INCLE account,
administered by the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs. The proposed $500 million in funding for Mexico is largely in the form of equipment and
training. The funding would provide helicopters, surveillance aircraft, scanners, training, and
information technology improvements for Mexican federal law enforcement and intelligence63
62 U.S. Department of State and Government of Mexico, "Joint Statement on the Merida
Initiative," October 22, 2007.
63 For more detail on proposed Merida Initiative assistance to Mexico, see CRS Report
RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, by Colleen W. Cook.
Congress did not provide funding for the Mérida Initiative in the FY2008 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) and as of February 2008 there is no legislative vehicle to fund the
Mérida Initiative. The FY2008 Consolidation Appropriations report expressed congressional
disappointment that the Administration did not consult with Congress prior to the publication of the
$550 million request. Congressional interest in the proposed supplemental funding for the Méridath
Initiative is likely to continue in the second session of the 110 Congress, as Congress may consider
the FY2008 Supplemental request in addition to the FY2009 Budget request. In February 2008, the
Administration requested $450 million in funding for the Mérida Initiative in Mexico. For additional
information on the Mérida Initiative, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for
Congress, by Colleen W. Cook and CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America, by Clare
Policy Approaches and Debates
Current U.S. counternarcotics policy toward Mexico focuses on the interdiction and eradication
of drug shipments, primarily through border security screening efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Supporters of U.S. counternarcotics policy maintain these efforts have disrupted drug shipments and
decreased rates of drug use among American youth. Some critics of current policy call for an
expansion of U.S. counternarcotics efforts beyond the conventional law enforcement approach. The
Calderón administration has also called for increased U.S. efforts in areas it considers critical in
combating drug trafficking and cartel violence.
The President's National Drug Control Strategy for 2007 asserts that the Administration is
following a balanced drug strategy that focuses on: prevention of drug use; treatment; and disrupting
the illicit drug market. In the last five years significant achievements have been made in reducing
youth use of LSD, Ecstasy, and methamphetamine. The Administration maintains that domestic and
international law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking not only disrupt the drug supply but are
key to combating the corrosive impact of the drug trade on societies and governments. By countering
the influence of drug trafficking organizations, U.S. assistance helps countries improve security;
increase economic development; and improve the rule of law. Enforcement efforts against drug cartels
are also a key element of protecting U.S. national security. The Government Accountability Office
(GAO) recently determined that U.S. assistance has successfully improved Mexico's capacity to
combat drug trafficking. The GAO noted that cooperation between the countries has improved
significantly in recent years, but that there is room for further cooperation. GAO pointed to the need
for an agreement to allow U.S. law enforcement to board Mexican vessels at high seas when those
vessels are suspected of carrying drugs. GAO also called for increased surveillance cooperation and64
for the United States to coordinate its border narcotics strategy with Mexico.
Non-governmental groups and individuals have advocated alternative strategies. For example,
in his recent book High Society, Joseph Califano, the president of the National Center on Addiction
and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, argues for more assertive international
counternarcotics efforts. He maintains that counternarcotics has long taken a back seat to other foreign
policy concerns, be it the Cold War or terrorism. Califano contends that this has resulted in reduced
diplomatic pressure on drug producing countries that are needed as allies in other endeavors. He has
stated that prevention of illicit drug flows into the United States should be a foreign policy priority and
that United Nations drug treaties should be strengthened. He also calls for increased penalties for drug
traffickers and stronger banking laws to prevent money laundering.
The non-governmental organization Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called for
a combination of U.S. domestic programs and targeted foreign aid to Mexico in its June 2006 report
on cartel violence in Mexico, State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico.
WOLA suggested cutting cartel revenue by reducing U.S. demand for illicit drugs through improved
drug prevention education and increasing access to addiction treatment. Drug prevention and
treatment programs (including research) currently account for 35% of U.S. federal counterdrug
64 Government Accountability Office, "Drug Control: U.S. Assistance Has Helped Mexican
Counternarcotics Efforts," August 2007.
spending.65 Yet, WOLA reports that only one-third of U.S. schools offer drug prevention curricula
shown to effectively reduce drug use and calls for increased funding to guarantee that schools are
using effective drug prevention curricula. WOLA also calls for reducing arms trafficking into Mexico
by requiring background checks for all U.S. gun purchases and limiting the number of weapon and
ammunition purchases to prevent the re-sale and trafficking of weapons legally purchased in the
United States to Mexican cartels. In Mexico, WOLA calls for restoration of public order and support
of judicial and police reforms to create effective oversight mechanisms to detect and deter police
corruption. Finally, WOLA notes that Mexican authorities currently lack the investigative capacity
to solve drug crimes, including murder of police officers, and calls on Mexico to extradite major
criminals to the United States, which has the institutional capacity to successfully prosecute major drug
Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue, also calls for renewed focus on demand
reduction and reduction in arms trafficking from the United States. He notes that many Latin
American nations resent what they consider to be the United States' unilateral approach to
counternarcotics policy and calls for increased multilateral efforts. Shifter maintains that weak
institutions, poverty, and social exclusion in Latin America, make Latin American nations, including
Mexico, more vulnerable to drug trafficking and cartel violence. He suggests that counternarcotics
efforts may be more successful if they address these systemic problems which enable drug cartels to66
gain power and influence.
The Mexican government urges the U.S. Congress to approve the Administration's request for
$1 billion in funding to support the Mérida Initiative in FY2008 and FY2009. Mexico maintains that
its counternarcotics efforts will fail without more U.S. support to: reduce arms trafficking into Mexico;
stop the trafficking of drug earnings into Mexico; and reduce Americans' demand for illicit drugs.
Requesting assistance from the United States is a sensitive issue in Mexico, a country that traditionally
has been wary of U.S. intervention. In February 2008, the Director of the White House Office on
National Drug Control Policy, John P. Walters, reportedly urged Congress to approve funding for the
Mérida Initiative to take advantage of an "historic opportunity" to assist Mexico. He also called for
more awareness among U.S. marijuana users about how their consumption of the drug is funding
Mexican drug cartels. Walters maintained that over 60% of Mexican drug cartel profits from the67
United States are from marijuana.
Other U.S. counternarcotics efforts, most notably the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, include
funds for alternative development programs to encourage drug crop farmers to switch to production
of licit crops. The United States does not fund alternative development programs in Mexico. Mexican
officials interviewed for this report indicated that Mexico also does not fund alternative development
programs in marijuana and opium poppy growing regions of the country. These officials suggested
that there is a weaker correlation between poverty and drug crop cultivation in Mexico than in other68
countries in the region.
65 Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Stategy – FY2008 Budget
66 Michael Shifter, "Latin America's Drug Problem," Current History, February 2007.
67 Alfredo Corchado, "U.S. Users Bankroll Cartels," Dallas Morning News, February 22,
2008 and Oscar Avila, "Mexico Leader: No Retreat on Drugs," Chicago Tribune, February
68 CRS interview with Mexican Embassy officials, November 14, 2006.