By: Rachel Panichella, Americas Section
Analytical Question: Which is the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico?
Intensifying violence along Mexico’s Caribbean coast has led the United States to prohibit government personnel from traveling to Playa del Carmen. The increase in violence is supportive of the concept that Mexican drug cartels are battling for territory, and while it would be premature to attribute the most recent security threat to a particular cartel, it is with high confidence we believe the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to be the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico.
Since the influence of Colombian cartels on the evolution of Mexican cartels, there has been a constant battle for power and territorial domination. While the Sinaloa, Los Zetas, and Gulf cartels are modern key players, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has continued to seize opportunities for expansion. The US Department of State ranks Mexico’s travel advisory as a level 2: exercise increased caution. Although Mexico as a country is classified as a level 2, many states throughout the country range from level 3 (reconsider travel) to level 4 (do not travel). Of the 31 states in
Mexico, 16 are ranked as a level 3 or level 4 travel advisory. Of the high-risk 16 states, nine are under the control of Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The remaining seven states are disseminated amongst the Sinaloa, Los Zetas, and Gulf cartels.
On February 21, 2018, in Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo (a level 2 state), explosives were detonated on the Cozumel – Playa del Carmen passenger ferry. Located a mere 40 miles south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist destination; therefore, the ferry was transporting over 100 passengers. Only 25 passengers reported injuries attributed to the explosion, but no fatalities were recorded. On March 1, 2018, three undetonated devices were found on another ferry, owned by the same company. On March 2, the US Department of State released the following statement: “Effective immediately, US Government employees are prohibited from traveling to Playa del Carmen until further notice. The US Consular Agency in Playa del Carmen will be closed until further notice.” As of March 9, the US Consular Agency announced it would reopen Monday, March 12, but US government personnel were still prohibited from utilizing Playa del Carmen ferry services.
Authorities have yet to accuse a specific organized crime group. But the Los Zetas, Gulf, and Jalisco cartels are active in the Playa del Carmen region. This tourist location has been a hotspot for cartel activity, as the three cartels battle for control of the territory. The fight for power between the cartels in Quintana Roo contributed to the increased homicide rates from 156 murders in 2016 to 359 in 2017. The 118% increase in homicides over the course of the year has affected the US risk assessment of the area, which could potentially derail the Mexican economy. In 2017, the Mexican economy generated $21.3 billion dollars in revenue attributed to tourist destinations.
As tensions continue to intensify and homicide rates continue to climb, much of the mayhem can be accredited to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel has strategically capitalized on the weaknesses of its adversaries in order to progress. Particularly, the Los Zetas once controlled the Quintana Roo region, which closely bordered Gulf Cartel territory. Once José Valencia, also known as Z-43, leader of the Los Zetas, was captured, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel began moving south east, in hopes of claiming more territory. If the Jalisco New Generation Cartel continues this policy against its weakened enemies, we could potentially see another historically violent year in 2018, as Jalisco proceeds to infiltrate the nation. It is with high confidence we believe the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to be the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico.
The United States Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs. (2018, March 9). Mexico Travel Advisory. US Embassy Mexico City, Mexico.
The United States Department of State: US Embassy and Consulates in Mexico. (2018, March 7). Security Alert. US Embassy Mexico City, Mexico.
The United States Department of State: US Embassy and Consulates in Mexico. (2018, March 9). Security Alert. US Embassy Mexico City, Mexico.
Woody, C. (2018, March 10). Mexico’s surging narco violence is intensifying at the edges of one of the biggest tourist hotspots. Business Insider.
Woody, C. (2018, March 8). The US has barred government works from traveling to a popular tourist area after a bombing – but the investigation is getting more complicated. Business Insider.