Tracking Mexico’s Cartels in 2018

(STRATFOR) — By Scott Stewart, VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

Highlights

Factional competition resulting from the breakup of large organized crime organizations continues to drive violence in Mexico.
The lucrative fentanyl trade, built on the backbone of methamphetamine and opiate smuggling networks, is furthering the expansion of criminal groups in Tierra Caliente.
While most cartel violence is directed at other cartels and the government, the widespread use of military-grade weapons raises the risk of collateral damage.

Since 2006, Stratfor has chronicled the dynamics of the organizations that make up the complex mosaic of organized crime in Mexico in the form of an annual cartel report. Back when this process began, the cartel landscape was much simpler, with only a handful of major groups to track. But by 2013, the splintering of the cartels into smaller factions had made it difficult to analyze them the same way. Indeed, many of the once-dominant umbrella groups, such as the Gulf cartel, have fragmented into several, often competing, organizations. In response, the focus of the analysis shifted to the clusters of smaller groups that emanate from a specific geographic area. Nevertheless, the organizations that arose in the Tierra Caliente region and in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa remain on the radar.
2017 in Review

The dynamics outlined in last year’s cartel forecast have changed little over the past year. Organized crime organizations in Mexico remain heavily fragmented, and this fragmentation is driving most of the violence in the country. As noted, there really is no Gulf cartel anymore. Instead, localized gangs that arose from the remnants of that once powerful cartel are now at war with one another over control of the smuggling routes, retail drug sales and other criminal activity formerly monopolized by the group. This drove the heavy violence in Reynosa during 2017 and in other parts of the state of Tamaulipas. The violence spawned by the fractionalization also led to a record number of murders last year: 29,168, which surpassed the previous record of 27,213, set in 2011.

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