By Kennedy Smith, Deputy Head, Latin America Desk
Analytical Question: The Mexican government’s war on the drug cartels
The coronavirus pandemic has created economic and territorial challenges for Mexican drug cartels. These challenges are likely to hinder the growth of Mexican drug cartels and continue to raise tensions within the illicit drug markets, as the virus continues to affect cartel profits.
The Mexican government has been fighting the war against the drug cartels for the past several decades. The emergence of the coronavirus is presenting new and unexpected complications in narcotics sales, causing economic impediments for the cartels. Mexico is being hit with the pandemic much later than most countries across the world, causing United States exports to be limited and closely monitored. The border and trade restrictions are affecting the Mexican drug cartels both financially and territorially, as production and distribution have drastically plummeted. As a result of the economic hardships, many cartels have shifted their focus on territorial battles within Mexico. Specifically, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel have been working to increase their territory in regions with direct routes to the border.
The CJNG has shifted its focus on the Mexican State of Guanajuato. The current group in charge of this state is a local gang called Santa Rosa de Lima; the gang is known for selling meth in this region . Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the CJNG has looked to take over the state and the established meth market. However, when the CJNG began to fight for territory in this state, the Sinaloa cartel formed an alliance with the Santa Rosa de Lima gang . This battle has been ongoing since February, and is far from over .
The state of Guanajuato is the sixth most populous in Mexico. Since the beginning of this year, the state has seen over 3,400 homicides –more than any other state in Mexico . The lucrative meth market in the state has caught the attention of the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel, but the main attraction to this territory is that Guanajuato is an industrial and farming hub with road and rail networks that lead straight to the United States border. Both cartels have been selling meth in the state, marking their packages with symbols unique to each cartel . Being caught with the wrong color product is said to be a death sentence, and the increasing number of homicides reflects this. Essentially, this battle pits the two most powerful drug cartels against each other. The outcome of this conflict is essential to maintaining the position as the most powerful Mexican drug cartel, making this territorial dispute critical for counter-narcotics efforts in both the United States and Mexico.
The outcome of the Sinaloa and the CJNG cartels competing over territory in Guanajuato will likely determine which cartel will stand as the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico. As long as this dispute continues, the state of Guanajuato will continue to experience significant bloodshed. We estimate with high confidence that the CJNG cartel will eventually gain an advantage over the Sinaloa cartel in Guanajuato, where it is likely to take over the territory before the end of 2021. This cartel, although new, has shown rapid expansion and new methods to gain power, making it a major threat to the Sinaloa cartel. It can be stated with high confidence that the Mexican government will not gain any advantage over the cartels in 2020. The government has yet to interfere in a successful and effective manner since the start of the pandemic.
 Anonymous. (2020, June 29). The fight for Guanajuato: getting drugs to market at the heart of dispute. Mexico News Daily. Retrieved October
22, 2020, from https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/the-fight-for- guanajuato-getting-drugs-to-market-at-the-heart-of-dispute/
 Stevenson, Mark. (2020, October 22). Cartels’ Meth War Bloodying Once-Peaceful State in Mexico. U.S. News & World Report: World News. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/ world/articles/2020-10-22/cartel-battles-stun-once-peaceful-state-in- central-mexico