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Out of balance: Intelligence report breaks down Mexico narco war

Stratfor cartel map

Mexico's narco war is a "struggle for balance" among various large criminal organizations that control drug trafficking routes in certain regions of the country, and government efforts to decommission the cartels have made that balance "very elusive," says a recent private intelligence report on the security situation in Mexico.

The report, published online last month by the U.S.-based Stratfor intelligence firm, is open and free to the public, an unusual move in an industry where data are usually only available to clients. Stratfor analyst Scott Stewart describes in detail the make-up of the cartels' current geography and the rise of a new trafficking alliance he calls the New Federation.

"The laws of economics dictate that narcotics will continue to flow into the United States," the report says early on. Narco trafficking groups in Mexico have traditionally attempted to supply those narcotics as quietly as possible, like "businessmen." But when one organization is weakened, others attempt to wrest control of new territory, causing violence to erupt.

So who is fighting whom right now? And over which territories? It is a complicated trail to follow, but the report sheds light on the strategic conflict at play behind the daily headlines of carnage and bloodshed.

Many analysts trace the current narco warfare on efforts by the Sinaloa cartel early this decade to move into Juarez cartel territory, in Ciudad Juarez, and Arellano Felix cartel territory, in Tijuana.

The other strong trafficking group in Mexico, the Gulf cartel, has also battled the Sinaloa group for control of smuggling "plazas" along the U.S. border. Further complicating the picture, break-off groups like the Zetas (formerly under the Gulf cartel), and the Beltran Leyva organization and La Familia Michoacana (formed partly among former Sinaloa cartel agents) are seeking to secure their own smuggling territories.

Government strikes against major cartel figures result in temporary vacuums of power and can thus yield more violence.

"Indeed," the Stratfor report says, "the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have joined forces with La Familia Michoacana to form a new super cartel called the New Federation and are now allies in the struggle against Los Zetas and the [Beltran Leyva Organization], which have teamed up with the Juarez cartel to fight against the New Federation."

In a short-term outlook, the report says, "perhaps the only hope for striking a balance and reducing the violence is that the New Federation is strong enough to kill off organizations like Los Zetas, the BLO and the Juarez cartel and assert calm through sheer force."

So where is the government and military in all of this? The Stratfor report discusses lingering suspicions that consecutive governments headed by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) have "helped" the Sinaloa cartel. The Times has also noted the allegations, which President Felipe Calderon vigorously denies.

"Of course, it is highly possible that the Sinaloa cartel is just a superior cartel and is better at using the authorities as a weapon against its adversaries. On the other hand, perhaps the increasingly desperate government has decided to use Sinaloa and the New Federation as a fulcrum to restore balance to the narcotics trade and reduce the violence across Mexico," the report says.

For anyone who has grown weary of constant reports of violence in Mexico and a soaring tally of victims, such assessments on the current narco war could hardly be reassuring. Still, many Mexicans would welcome an end to the violence -- no matter who makes it stop.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: General drug smuggling routes in Mexico. Credit:

Comments () | Archives (6)

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Legalize marijuana and take that one commodity away from the cartels. Buy weed from licensed clubs instead of supporting cartel terrorism.

The war on MARIJUANA is a failure. Why? Because of the lies that the US Govt. has associated with marijuana since the reefer madness days. Now, you have confused a new generation of people; you lie and tell them that alcohol and cigarettes are legal and moral, when in fact, they cause suffering, pain and death. Same thing with the 'legal' pills you can get from a pharmacy: Viccodin, oxcycotin, xanax etc etc. And what do you have? You have people dying left and right from overdoses, numerous health problems including cancer, and people who actually think that marijuana is worst for you then 'legal' substances.

Here is the truth. Marijuana is NATURAL, it occurs NATURALLY from the ground and a seed, not a chemist and a lab! It has NUMEROUS benefits medically and is a safer choice relationally than any of the other substances I have stated.

The days of propaganda and myths about marijuana are OVER. And anyone who still preaches propaganda rhetoric is IGNORANT.


This is at least the third drug war I have lived through. It is also the longest and the worst. The past wars would calm down when someone won, and many of us here in El Paso and Juarez are wishing that would happen. Even then, the FBI rates El Paso as the second safest city in the US.

Little violence has spilled over to El Paso. Instead, we have become a refuge for fleeing Mexicans, many of whom move their businesses here and buy homes. I am not worried about these new residents; we have a very low crime rate and our law enforcement agencies crack down hard on anyone associated with cartel violence in Mexico.

We are the world's biggest consumers of illegal drugs by far. Until the US realizes that we have lost the drug war, Mexico will continue to suffer. Policies that have blocked the border have also increased social tensions in Mexico because young men cannot find jobs at home and cannot go to the US to work. That leaves them with few choices, and angry, unemployed young men are a dangerous social problem. Likewise, NAFTA has destroyed the Mexican farmer because we dump our subsidized corn at low prices in the Mexican market, creating millions more unemployed.

The US has created this problem, and only we can create solutions that start here. We are the illegal drug market the cartels are serving, and we have implemented trade and immigration policies that result in millions of unemployed living in Mexico. Then we turn around and blame the Mexicans!

Legalization will not make this problem go away, it will only make it worse. We see this today in the Netherlands where the whole of Europe is telling the Netherlands to close their marijuana coffee shops and stop the illegal grows of marijuana, and ecstasy labs. Europe has had enough and so have we......prevention and erradication is the only way to save our kids, our citizens, and our nation.

This war has been going on since the early 60s, and never has it been so dire.

Throw all the money and police they can and it wont change the social dilemma!
The US' love of narcotics, and the social economic disparity between Mexico and the US are the mainstays that need to be dealt with!

Asking Americans to quite drugs is like asking them to quite drinking alcohol,
it "aint" gonna happen!

The war is failure of puritan like politics rammed down the throats of societies that are anything else than. Please California vote November and show the conservative maniacs that there is another way to deal with drug use!

I have been following the articles about our neighbors to the south. I just hope for the sake of the L.A. Times reporters who cover these stories, and keep us all informed, that the Illegals from the south that are so prevalent in California don't adopt the same violent behaviors as the cartels. Reporters in Mexico covering this get killed. Who can tell us who all these migrants are? I don't feel like I can feel safe anywhere they are. Wouldn't it be nice to know where they live when they go back to their hidden getaways in south America? They know where I live. I have to have more documentation to work at my job than they have to have to enter the country. Unless their intent is criminal, why not get a passport?

Marijuana AND Meth traffic? They don't travel in the same circles and won't even share the same universe once marijuana is regulated and taxed in the US. Let's put the cartels out of business people.


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Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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