Mexico is creating a 'monster' by using the US counterterrorism strategy on drug cartels

In the nearly nine years since the start of the Mexican Drug War, the cartels have been battered and decapitated through a series of high profile arrests and the deaths of high ranking drug kingpins.

But despite these successes, the drug war continues to intensify and become even more brutal as new organisations form to fill the void.

Since the start of the drug war, the Mexican authorities followed a kingpin strategy. The strategy believed that the decapitation of cartels would render the organisations leaderless and ineffective, thereby limiting the group’s dangers.

“In Mexico, this has been a copy of the American antiterrorism strategy of high-value targets,” Raúl Benítez Manaut, a professor specializing in security issues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told The New York Times.

“What we have seen with the strategy of high-value targets is that Al Qaeda has been diminished, but a monster appeared called the Islamic State. With the cartels, it has been similar.”

While no singular group has emerged in Mexico to take complete advantage of the vacuum that the decapitation strikes against cartel leaders has wrought in a similar way as ISIS has done throughout Iraq and Syria, the result in Mexico has been chaotic..

The implosion and fracturing of cartels throughout Mexico following decapitation strikes has led to brutal and bloody turf battles between smaller regional gangs as well as one new rising cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

According to Insight Crime, the CJNG rose to power since 2010 thanks to a convergence of factors. The group’s originated within the Sinaloa, the single largest cartel in the Western hemisphere. This origin offered the CJNG business connections and practical knowledge of Mexico’s illicit drug market.

Screenshot 2015 08 13 12.07.50StratforA map showing where CJNG operates.

And the relative stability of Jalisco state, their home territory, enabled the group to expand and consolidate without having to engage in costly turf battles to establish initial control. The relative weakness of cartels in neighbouring states also allowed the CJNG to expand outwards without much resistance.

The CJNG has proven more than willing to use extreme violence to further its goals: In April, the group killed 15 elite police officers in an ambush outside of the western city of Guadalajara in one of the drug war’s deadliest single incidents for the Mexican government. In the past, cartels generally avoided direct military confrontations with Mexico’s security apparatus.

This violence is closely linked to the overall breakdown of order in areas throughout Mexico and the proliferation of smaller gangs out of the ruins of much larger former cartels. The new gangs have started to compete with each other for turf, while the Sinaloa and the CJNG have tried to take advantage of the larger chaos to spread and solidify their hold on profitable stretches of territory.

“These are cells that are trying to seek power for survival, and that’s why right now we are seeing the homicides among them,” Tomas Zeron, the director of the Criminal Investigation Agency in Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, told the Mexican newspaper Proceso.

This fragmentation of the cartels has led to untold violence and unrest throughout Mexico, in addition to the corruption of Mexican institutions.

At least 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed between 2006 and 2012 as a result of the drug war as cartels, vigilante groups, and the Mexican army and police have battled one another.

The overwhelming majority of these deaths haven’t been adequately investigated by the Mexican authorities, contributing to an atmosphere of lawlessness in many parts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council estimates that only 1-2% of homicides committed between 2006 and 2012 were investigated to conviction. Approximately 70% 0f these crimes were in some way drug related.

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