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 Afghanistan, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Laos, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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 rival groups.[1]
  • Hitmen (Spanish: Sicarios): The armed group within the drug cartel, 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, 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, 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.





Golden Triangle[edit]











  • Basilischi Mafia[14]
  • Remo Lecce Libera,[17]
  • Rosa dei Venti[18]


United Kingdom[edit]

Other organized crime groups based in Europe[edit]

Middle East[edit]


North America[edit]


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),[21] 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:[22]

Beltrán-Leyva Cartel[edit]

(Formerly part of the Sinaloa Cartel federation, later independent) (Disbanded)

  • Cártel del Centro[23] (cell of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel in Mexico City) (Disbanded)
  • Cártel Independiente de Acapulco[24] (Splinter from the Beltran-Leyva Cartel)
  • El Comando Del Diablo (gang)[25] (Hitman squad of la Baredora)[26] (Disbanded)
  • La Barredora (gang)[27]
  • La Mano Con Ojos (gang)[28] (small cell of Beltran-Leyva members in the State of Mexico) (Disbanded)
  • La Nueva Administración[29] (Splintered from the Beltran-Leyva Cartel) (Disbanded)
  • La Oficina (gang)[30] (cell of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel in Aguascalientes) (Disbanded)
  • Los Negros (Beltran-Leyva enforcement squad) (Disbanded)
  • South Pacific Cartel (branch of the Beltran Leyva Cartel in Morelos)[31][32][33]

Gulf Cartel[edit]

Juárez Cartel[edit]

Several other are lesser-known small-criminal organizations:

Milenio Cartel[edit]

(First loyal to the Sinaloa Cartel federation, later independent) (Disbanded)

Sinaloa Cartel[edit]

Tijuana Cartel[edit]

  • Oaxaca Cartel (Was a branch of the Disbanded Tijuana Cartel, its regional leader was captured in 2007)

Anti-crime organizations[edit]

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

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[64] and other illegal drugs.[65][66][67][68] This is a list of American criminal organizations involved in illegal drug traffic, drug trade and other related crimes in the United States:

Anti-crime organizations[edit]

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

Central America[edit]

South America[edit]


Brazilian cartels such as:


Until 2011 Colombia remained the world's largest cocaine producer,[75] however with a strong anti-narcotic strategy in 2012 the country achieved a great decrease in cocaine production and fell to the third position, behind Peru and Bolivia.[76]

The current main actors in the drug trade are:

Historical actors in the drug trade were:

Other parts of the world[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]