Drug cartel

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A drug cartel is any criminal organization developed with the primary purpose of promoting and controlling drug trafficking operations. They range from loosely managed agreements among various drug traffickers to formalized commercial enterprises. The term was applied[when?] when the largest trafficking organizations reached an agreement to coordinate the production and distribution of cocaine. Since that agreement was broken up,[vague][when?] drug cartels are no longer[when?] actually cartels, but the term stuck and it is now[when?] popularly used to refer to any criminal narcotics related organization, such as those in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Japan, Italy, France, United States, Colombia, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The basic structure of a drug cartel is as follows:

  • Falcons (Spanish: Halcones): Considered the "eyes and ears" of the streets, the 'falcons' are the lowest rank in any drug cartel. They are responsible for supervising and reporting the activities of the police, the military and their rival groups.[1]
  • Hitmen (Spanish: Sicarios): The armed group within the drug cartel that are responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, thefts, extortions, operating protection rackets, and defending their 'plaza' (turf) from rival groups and the military.[2][3]
  • Lieutenants (Spanish: Lugartenientes): The second highest position in the drug cartel organization that are responsible for supervising the hitmen and falcons within their own territory. They are allowed to carry out low-profile executions without permission from their bosses.[4]
  • Drug lords (Spanish: Capos): The highest position in any drug cartel that are responsible for supervising the entire drug industry, appointing territorial leaders, making alliances, and planning high-profile executions.[5]

It is worth noting that there are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers,[6] although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financiers and money launderers.[7][8][9] In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle,[10] and are technically not considered part of the cartel’s logistics.


United States[edit]

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the USA by state in 2004

The United States of America is the world's largest consumer of cocaine[11] and other illegal drugs.[12][13][14][15] This is a list of American criminal organizations involved in illegal drug traffic, drug trade and other related crimes in the United States:

Other American organizations involved (or that have been involved) in drug trade or traffic. It is worth mentioning, however, that this does not imply for the whole institutions mentioned below, just a selected few within it:


The Mérida Initiative, a U.S. Counter-Narcotics Assistance to Mexico

Mexican cartels (also known in Mexico as: La Mafia (the mafia or the mob), La Maña (the skill / the bad manners),[26] Narcotraficantes (Narco-Traffickers), or simply as Narcos) is a generic term that usually refers to several, usually rival, criminal organizations involved in the Mexican Drug War:[27]

Several other are lesser-known small-criminal organizations:

Other organizations involved (or have been involved) in the drug trade in Mexico. It is worth mentioning, however, that this does not necessarily imply for the whole institutions mentioned below, just a selected few within it:


Until 2011 Colombia remained the world's largest cocaine producer,[66] however with a strong anti-narcotic strategy in 2012 the country achieved a great decrease in cocaine production, felling to the 3rd position, behind Peru and Bolivia.[67]

The current main actors in the drug trade are:

Historical actors in the drug trade were:

Central America[edit]








Golden Triangle[edit]






United Kingdom[edit]



Other parts of the world[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]