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Mexican Drug Cartels and the War on Drugs Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2019


This paper investigates the problem of Mexican drug cartels provoking a significant level of violence in the country and the consequences of the War on Drugs. The information used to analyze the topic of the paper includes peer-reviewed articles and books studying the main specifics of the problem. The paper presents a careful examination of the current research on the problem and the analysis of the findings gained during the process of studying the available sources presenting relevant information about the specifics of the issue.

The examination of the current research on Mexican drug cartels and the War on Drugs helps to understand the causes of the outburst of violence, define the major tendencies of the Mexican War on Drugs and its drawbacks, and suggest potential solutions able to change the course of events and reduce the unprecedented level of violence caused by the activity of drug cartels in the country.

The twentieth century brought an unprecedented development of drug business all over the world. As the United States is considered one of the biggest consumers of drugs, some of its neighboring countries are involved in continuous process of delivering marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, and other drugs to the US. Mexico witnessed the extension of drug-trafficking organizations and faced the problem of dealing with them in the twentieth century.

The proclaimed War on Drugs has gained some significant results but has not succeeded in stopping the growth of narco-business. Careful examination of current research on the problem of drug cartels, their violence in Mexico, and the mistakes of the War on Drugs helps to identify the main causes of the current situation, analyze them, and suggest potential solutions able to reduce the violence and correct the previous mistakes of the war.

Examination of Current Research of Mexican Drug War

The violence of Mexican drug cartels and the War on Drugs are one of the most urgent topics in Mexico and the United States as they directly influence both countries.

Therefore, the research on the causes of the war, its main specifics, the factors influencing the actions of drug cartels, and the possible solutions to the problem is of vital importance, as appropriate studies can help to identify major tendencies, propose the ways of dealing with current situation, and suggest the methods for avoiding the repeat of violent events.

The modern sources include various articles and books investigating the discussed issue. The examination of current research on Mexican drug cartels and the War on Drugs helps to determine certain contributions of the researchers to revealing the causes of the critical situation and possible ways out.

There are many articles shedding the light on the course of events in the Mexican War on Drugs. Articles exploring the history of the drug business in Mexico help to understand the origins of war in this country. Grillo (2013) presents a well-developed investigation on the relations between the development of drug cartels in Mexico and the United States policy. The author explores the history of drug cartels in Mexico through the prism of a hundred years of U.S. drug policy.

The author presents an analysis of the events starting from the beginning of the twentieth century when opium was banned in the United States, and numerous opium smugglers appeared in Mexico. The prohibition of alcohol is examined as another event that boosted Mexican smuggling networks.

The author also investigates the transition from marijuana to cocaine cartels. After providing the proper analysis of the historical background, Grillo (2013) presents numerous factors that can explain the explosion of violence leading to the Mexican War on Drugs. The author also emphasizes the importance of innovations in the United States policy for the success of struggle against narco-terrorism.

Another category of articles helps to discover the most influential events of the Mexican War on Drugs and their impact on different spheres of national and international communities. Kellner and Pipitone (2010) present a careful investigation of the events that shaped the course of the Mexican War on Drugs.

The authors start with the analysis of relations between Colombia’s successful war on the Cali and Medellin drug cartels and the escalation of drug cartels’ violence in Mexico. The examination of the events at 1990s and at the beginning of the new millennium helps to understand their potential contribution to the beginning of full-scale war between several drug cartels and further development of war between the members of drug business and the governmental forces.

Kellner and Pipitone (2010) give information about the country’s largest cartels – the Sinaloa gang and the Gulf Cartel, revealing the development of rivalry between them and the causes of the police’s attempts to stop the violence. The authors provide the analysis of the activities launched by Felipe Calderon to fight back the drug cartels and compare his strategy to the one that was used in Columbia. Besides, the authors emphasize the lack of help provided by the United States to assist the fight against narco-terrorism.

Studies analyzing the causes of the Mexican War on Drugs and the factors that helped narco-business to become one of the dominant powers in the country are also of vital importance as such research helps to define the barriers that should be eliminated to make the struggle against drug business successful. Campbell (2014) presents a detailed investigation of the narco-propaganda as one of the main factors promoting the strength of drug cartels’ domination in Mexico.

The author explores the specifics of the main types of narco-propaganda. He starts with analyzing the spectacles of violence for public view as the first tool used by the drug business. Narco-messages present another type of propaganda and include signs, graffiti, and manifestos in public places. Videos and narco-genres of music are examined as another group of methods used by drug cartels to provide effective propaganda.

Control and censorship of the mass media and information by drug cartels in Mexico is investigated by the author as the major threat to freedom of word in the country and the factor creating corresponding attitudes in the society. The author emphasizes the devastating effects of aggressive politics of drug cartels aimed at controlling all means of informing the public about their crimes. Campbell’s study on propaganda of drug cartels contributes to providing a clear view of the situation in Mexico and sheds the light on its origins.

Many articles investigate the importance of the participation of the United States in the process of regulation of violence outburst caused by drug cartels in Mexico. Such studies are of vital importance for American society, as lack of effective actions taken by its government can be regarded as one of the contributors to the worsening of the situation in Mexico.

Morris (2013) presents an article aimed at demonstrating the effects of the rise of drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico on the security of the US and attempts to show the negative impact of the lack of attention paid by the American government to significant problems in Mexico. The author presents proofs of the fact that drug-trafficking organization are engaged in human trafficking related to illegal immigrants and sex workers.

Morris (2013) studies the relations between the War on Drugs in Mexico and the rise of criminality in particular cities in the US. The author presents the proofs of the negative impact of cartel activity in the US on domestic crime. The article presents relevant arguments proving that the US should search for efficacious solutions and take part in the struggle against drug cartels’ violence in Mexico.

The studies on ways of dealing with the problem of domination of drug cartels in Mexico are also of vital importance as they help to analyze the effectiveness of previous decisions and suggest potential future solutions. Besides a big number of books investigating the issue, there are also numerous articles covering this topic.

Wright (2010) presents an analysis of the connections between drug-related violence in Mexico and the revision of state and federal criminal codes. The author analyzes the efficacy of such decisions and demonstrates the importance of putting more effort in the struggle against criminal activity of drug cartels. Other studies analyze potential solutions, including legalization of marijuana, promoting the security of the border, supporting the official armed struggle against drug cartels, etc.

The examination of current research on Mexican drug cartels and the War on Drugs helps to understand the causes of the outburst of violence, define the major drawbacks of the Mexican War on Drugs, and suggest potential solutions.

Analyzing the Causes of the Violence of Drug Cartels and the War on Drugs in Mexico

Examining the studies on the difficult situation in Mexico helps to identify the main causes that led to the escalation of conflicts and the factors contributing to the domination of drug cartels in the country.

The first cause can be identified as the low economic development of the country. This factor appears to be the cornerstone of extensive interest to drug business among young people in Mexico, who present the social basis for drug cartels. Long-term economic instability has contributed to the high rates of unemployment and low job opportunities in the country (Shirk, 2014).

Such situation has motivated numerous young people to find their place in the drug business to be able to earn for living. The revenues of narco-business grow dramatically every year. Therefore, thousands and even millions of Mexicans are ready to commit crimes, including homicides, to stay in the business and do not lose the only source of income.

The historical background can be determined as the second cause of the current situation in Mexico. Multiple policies prohibiting certain substances in the United States stimulated the activity of drug business in Mexico. Tough situation in Columbia shifted the center of drug trafficking to Mexico.

Besides, growing demand for psychotropic substances in the United States in the 1970s stimulated the growth of the drug-related business. Numerous people became involved in the business, and the number of its members was growing every year. That led to the situation when this business became one of the main sources of employment in the country. Such state of affairs promoted the aggressiveness of drug cartels striving for winning the turf for their employees.

Political situations in Mexico and in the United States can be defined as other factors that contributed to the rise of violence. The Institutional Revolutionary Party managed to maintain careful control of the activities of drug cartels and establish a cooperation that kept the relations stable (Medel & Thoumi, 2014).

However, when the party lost governor’s race in northern states, territorial rivalries became more severe in certain regions and soon transformed into the outburst of violence. Therefore, the shift in domestic political power resulted in the loss of control over drug lords and led to growing violence. The change of power from the one-party rule to a multiparty system led to fragmentation of security forces and the competence between political groups, resulting in lower ability to oppose the enemy.

Certain steps made by the American Government can also be regarded as the factors that contributed to the rise of violence in Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement eliminated the barriers to both legal and illegal trade between the US and Mexico and increased shipments of drugs to the north. Therefore, the rivalry for turf grew. Besides, the United States did not provide appropriate control over the flow of weapons to Mexico.

The repeal of the assault weapons ban in the US in 2004 also made its contribution to the escalation of violence, as the members of drug cartels are heavily armed, and the main origin of the weapons is the United States. The neglectful attitude to the export of weapons gave the drug cartels in Mexico an opportunity to gather an abundant amount of weapons and be competitive with the official army of the country.

The growing number of former militants who joined the drug cartels also increased the levels of violence. Las Zetas gave an example of employing former soldiers and police officers and using them in terrorizing activities against competitive cartels. Similar strategies were employed by other cartels and led to the escalation of violence with the help of paramilitary tactics.

All of the factors mentioned above have contributed to the rise of violence in Mexico. Drug cartels started using an enormous amount of homicides to gain the ultimate power over the drug business. Such a frightful situation encouraged the Mexican government to start a serious struggle against drug cartels and resulted in the War on Drugs.

Mistakes of the Mexican War on Drugs and Potential Solutions

When Felipe Calderon was elected as a president, he proclaimed the War on Drugs. With the help of the United States, the government managed to achieve certain strategic goals by arresting the important figures in narco-business and confiscating weapons and monetary assets. However, the counternarcotics efforts intensified the violence of drug-trafficking organizations and contributed to the escalation of conflicts between them.

After the arrests of the heads of several drug cartels, leaders that are more violent came to power. New leaders organized terrific massacres and used various methods of terror. The war caused numerous deaths among civilians and made the ordinary people lose the feeling of safety. Though causing numerous deaths, Calderon’s offensive did not have a significant impact on drug trafficking. The multi-billion dollar industry continued to grow and use violent methods for fighting for turf.

The drawbacks of Calderon’s War on Drugs illustrates the importance of employing a comprehensive approach to dealing with narco-industry, as military actions appeared to provoke even more violence and have no impact on the growth of the business. Therefore, alternative solutions to the problem should be considered.

Legalization of marijuana is one of the solutions often regarded as an effective method for decreasing the growth of drug cartels in Mexico. Legal regulation of marijuana distribution in the United States will cut one of the main sources of income of drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico. However, there is also a dangerous possibility that if one of the most commonly sold drugs will be removed from illegal business, drug cartels will be pushed to search for new sources of income, which can cause the escalation of violence.

Besides, they can turn their attention to human trafficking or providing a bigger supply of cocaine or heroin. Such tendencies will bring more terror, as these sources of revenue involve more violent actions than marijuana does. Therefore, legalization of marijuana should be considered as one of the solutions, but must be accompanied by ensuring preventing other more dangerous activities.

Another potential solution that is based on the analysis of the causes of the lack of success of previous actions of Mexican government can include eliminating mid-level bosses in cartels. Targeting kingpins appeared to be ineffective as it caused more violence and destabilizing succession wars.

Targeting low-level members of cartels also seems to be an unsuccessful solution, as they can be easily replaced. Mid-level leaders present the category of members of drug cartels who are relatively easy to be found and arrested. They are influential enough, and their elimination will cause potential harm to drug cartels. However, such strategy will not provoke violent succession battles.

Financial targeting appears to be one of the most effective solutions as it directly affects the ultimate purpose of drug-trafficking organizations – profit. Influencing the financial system of drug cartels is the key to controlling their development. This aspect can be controlled by ensuring severe penalties for any financial institution cooperating with the members of these illegal organizations.

Such strategy will help to cut off the ways of receiving revenues by imposing strict regulations on banks, which are currently involved in providing necessary financial operation for drug cartels. High-intensity law enforcement can stop further extension of narco-business in Mexico (Kan, 2012).

Putting effort in strengthening economics of the country and promoting the development of civil society are also of vital importance for dealing with drug cartels in Mexico. An economically stable country has more power to oppose drug business than the one with poor economics, as income factor is the one that motivates the population to engage in the activities of drug cartels. Ensuring efficient job opportunities and social security in the country is the key to attracting the attention of the youth to the spheres able to boost the economy.

Searching for peaceful ways of dealing with drug cartels and the outburst of violence they provoke is the cornerstone of successful outcomes, as militarization of the struggle against narco-business turned out to give few positive results while taking thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians.


There are many relevant articles and books studying different aspects of the domination of drug cartels in Mexico and investigating the benefits and drawbacks of the War on Drugs. Careful examination of such sources helps to identify the main causes of the destructive processes, analyze previous decisions made in the course of struggle against drug cartels, and propose solutions able to change the situation and reduce the unprecedented level of violence in Mexico.


Campbell, H. (2014). Narco-propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An anthropological perspective. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 60-77.

Grillo, I. (2013). Mexican cartels: A century of defying U.S. drug policy. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 20(1), 253-265.

Kan, P. R. (2012). Cartels at war: Mexico’s drug-fueled violence and the threat to U.S. national security. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, Inc.

Kellner, T., & Pipitone, F. (2010). Inside Mexico’s Drug War. World Policy Journal, 27(1), 29-37.

Medel, M., & Thoumi, F. E. (2014). Mexican drug “cartels”. In L. Paoli (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of organized crime (pp. 196-219). New York: Oxford University Press.

Morris, E. K. (2013). Think again: Mexican drug cartels. Foreign Policy, 203, 30-33.

Shirk, D. A. (2011). The Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a shared threat. New York: Council of Foreign Relations.

Wright, R. (2010). Mexican drug violence and adversarial experiments. North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation, 35, 363-385.

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