Gold plated guns. Pet cheetahs. Brand new pick-up trucks with custom paint jobs.
These are just some of the vivid images drug cartels in Mexico use to spread their message. Photographs with these and other blingy objects were recently sent to press outlets all over Mexico by La Linea drug cartel, stationed in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. Nathan Jones, security studies professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, says this is a propaganda effort on their part.
“You’ve seen a lot of the destabilization of Mexican cartels as the Mexican government has been targeting high-level leadership with kingpin strikes or decapitation strikes trying to break-up these larger cartels, better known as drug trafficking organizations, into smaller groups,” he says. “They may be trying to send a message to rivals that they’re still strong.”
In Mexico, some of the drug cartels label their vehicles based on what organization they belong to. This actually helps law enforcement in identifying who’s on whose side regarding friendly fire incidents within the cartel. In a way, the cartels market themselves with their own insignia.
“It’s not unusual, but it varies by cartel,” Jones says. “Every time you put yourself in a photo, or any of your equipment in a photo, you risk identification – Can they see the license plate of a vehicle? Are there attributes about the area that are identifiable in the landscape and therefore we can find your training camp? So what they’re deciding is that the propaganda value and getting their message out may be more valuable than any potential risk of U.S. intelligence or U.S. law enforcement and Mexican intelligence and Mexican law enforcement.”