Mexico's Cartel Map 2024
Who controls what turf at the dusk of AMLO's presidency?
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On front lines between Mexico’s warring cartels, gunmen can spray walls to claim territory like street gangs. I took this picture of a Jalisco New Generation Cartel marker on the bloodily-contested border of Michoacán and Jalisco state in 2022. A decade earlier, I had reported on the Gulf Cartel and Zetas fighting block by block over the city of Cadereyta and competing to paint “CDG” and “Z,” then conquering a few meters of turf to delete their rivals’ markers.
These crude tags are the exception rather than the rule however. Cartels are generally far bigger than street gangs and wield power over mayors, police forces and entire states. They don’t need to spray a wall for cowered residents to know they are in charge.
So which territories do they control? Below, I sketch a map of who, in my analysis, are the significant cartels and what turf they hold or contest as we begin 2024, the last year of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (and changes of Mexico’s presidents tend to lead to shifting cartel borders).
I don’t pretend this idea of a cartel map is original; strategic intel companies such as Strafor have long published them. But this is my take on what the divisions are and I add a level of nuance by classifying cartels onto three levels: major transnational cartels (I count two); powerful regional cartels (I have four); and local cartels (over a dozen). I also get into analysis on how the different cartels operate, how strong they are and who is running them.
I can hear some of your brains screaming about the problems with cartel maps, and I do throw in big caveats here. Cartels are not like top down companies, or tight armies, but are complex criminal networks. (I go into the debate about their nature here). They are made of up of semi-linked factions and plagued by infighting. Yet they wield real power and unleash painfully real violence that we are forced to make sense of.
Another nuance is that cartel control varies in its intensity. In extreme examples, such as in Comalapa, Chiapas, the cartel exerts brutal and visible control over many aspects of life. But in others places, such as Mexico City, cartels can be quietly operating to make deals with federal officials and launder money. I plan a more detailed graphic on the contrasting levels of violence to come, and have considered some of that here with a white area for “low intensity cartel activity.”
It’s not an exact science. Over the years, I have reported in every Mexican state, interviewed thousands of people, and scour all the sources I can. Yet the demarcation of territory I paint is shifting and open to debate - and that also goes for cartel maps by security companies or even by the DEA or Mexican army. There are complicating factors: a local cartel can have an alliance with a bigger cartel; a cartel can be dominant but there’s a small presence of another force.
With that in mind then, here is CrashOut’s “official” cartel map and list of significant cartels for 2024.