When it comes to combating Mexican drug cartels, law enforcement agencies have aimed at the head, aiming to weakening them by eliminate the groups’ leadership. According to the Congressional Research Service, Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan think tank, 107 of Mexico’s 122 most violent criminals have been removed from cartels. The results? Violence has surged, with media outlets reporting that death tolls have hit 20 year highs. So how did this explosion of violence happen and what’s coming next?
Nathan Jones, a professor at Sam Houston State University and an expert in cartel violence, says violence in Mexico began ticking up in 2016, after decreasing each year since 2011. In 2017, the trend continued, putting Mexican violence on track to return to 2011 levels.
Jones says removing Mexican cartel leaders mirrored the successful strategy used in Colombia in the 1990s. But it hasn’t worked out.
“The lieutenants working under the cap that’s been removed start fighting with each other,” Jones says. “Other cartels smell weakness, and say ‘hey, we can take over that trafficking territory.’ Then you end up getting these large-scale wars.”
Jones says a new cartel, known by its Spanish acronym, CJNT, has been on the rise recently. As other groups fragment, CJNT has used its significant financial resources to target other cartels and the government.
“They’ve been really good at adopting the orphans,” Jones says.
The new cartel has not only been aggressive, but also blatant – flying banners announcing its presence in several Mexican states that threaten other cartels in the area.
“This is a group that has directly confronted the government,” Jones says. “In 2015, they downed a Mexican Army helicopter.”
Jones says he thinks the strategy of going after cartel kingpins will continue. He says he would prefer to see more “rule of law” work from government entities.
“What really needs to happen is we need to get Mexican institutions working in terms of the rule of law,” Jones says. “Because what good is it to arrest a capo if he can run his operations from the prison system.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.