Last updated on 19 August 2017
A drug cartel is any criminal organization with the intention of supplying drug trafficking operations. They range from loosely managed agreements among various drug traffickers to formalized commercial enterprises. The term was applied when the largest trafficking organizations reached an agreement to coordinate the production and distribution of cocaine. Since that agreement was broken up, drug cartels are no longer actually cartels, but the term stuck and it is now popularly used to refer to any criminal narcotics related organization.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
It is worth noting that there are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers, although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financiers and money launderers. In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle, and are technically not considered part of the cartel’s logistics.
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 and other illegal drugs. This is a list of American criminal organizations involved in illegal drug traffic, drug trade and other related crimes in the United States:
Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 19th century formed various small-time gangs which gradually evolved into sophisticated crime syndicates which dominated organized crime in America for several decades. Although government crackdowns and a less-tightly knit Italian-American community have largely reduced their power, they remain an active force in the underworld.
Certain members of the Black Panther Party, particularly the Oakland chapter, also engaged in criminal activities such as drug dealing and extortion.
Mexican cartels (also known in Mexico as: La Mafia (the mafia or the mob), La Maña (the skill / the bad manners), Narcotraficantes (Narco-Traffickers), or simply as Narcos) is a generic term that usually refers to several, usually rival, criminal organizations that are combated by the Mexican government in the Mexican War on Drugs (List sorted by branches and heritage):
- Gulf Cartel (The oldest Mexican Criminal syndicate, started as prohibition-era bootlegging gang)
- Guadalajara Cartel (The first full-fledged Mexican Drug cartel, from which most of the big cartels spawned) (Disbanded in 1989)
- Sinaloa Cartel (Spawned from the Guadalajara Cartel)
- Milenio Cartel (First loyal to the Sinaloa Cartel federation, later independent) (Disbanded)
- Beltrán-Leyva Cartel (Formerly part of the Sinaloa Cartel federation, later independent) (Disbanded)
- Los Negros (Beltran-Leyva enforcement squad) (Disbanded)
- South Pacific Cartel (branch of the Beltran Leyva Cartel in Morelos)
- Cártel del Centro (cell of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel in Mexico City) (Disbanded)
- Cártel Independiente de Acapulco (Splinter from the Beltran-Leyva Cartel)
- La Barredora (gang)
- El Comando Del Diablo (gang) (Hitman squad of la Barredora) (Disbanded)
- La Mano Con Ojos (gang) (small cell of Beltran-Leyva members in the State of Mexico) (Disbanded)
Sinaloa Cartel Plaza Bosses as of May 2013
- La Nueva Administración (Splintered from the Beltran-Leyva Cartel) (Disbanded)
- La Oficina (gang) (cell of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel in Aguascalientes) (Disbanded)
- Cártel de la Sierra (cell in Guerrero)
- Cártel de La Calle (cell in Chiapas)
- Los Chachos (gang in Tamaulipas) (Disbanded)
- Tijuana Cartel (Spawned from the Guadalajara Cartel)
- Oaxaca Cartel (Was a branch of the disbanded Tijuana Cartel, its regional leader was captured in 2007)
- Juárez Cartel(Spawned from the Guadalajara Cartel)
- Lesser-known small-criminal organizations:
- Government officials: Other organizations that have been involved in drug trade or traffic in Mexico. (however this does not necessarily apply for the whole institutions):
- Mexican officials:
- United States officials:
Sinaloa Cartel Plaza Bosses as of May 2013
Until 2011 Colombia remained the world's largest cocaine producer, 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.
The current main actors in the drug trade are:
Historical actors in the drug trade were:
Historically Venezuela has been a path to the United States for illegal drugs originating in Colombia, through Central America and Mexico and Caribbean countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
According to the United Nations, there was an increase of cocaine trafficking through Venezuela since 2002. In 2005 Venezuela severed ties with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), accusing its representatives of spying. Following the departure of the DEA from Venezuela and the expansion of DEA's partnership with Colombia in 2005, Venezuela became more attractive to drug traffickers. Between 2008 and 2012, Venezuela's cocaine seizure ranking among other countries declined, going from being ranked fourth in the world for cocaine seizures in 2008 to sixth in the world in 2012. The cartel groups involved include:
- The Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan moved to Venezuela, which became an important hideout as the clan bought hotels and founded various businesses in Caracas and Valencia, as well as an extended ranch in Barinas, near the Colombian border. "Venezuela has its own Cosa Nostra family as if it is Sicilian territory," according to the Italian police. "The structure and hierarchy of the Mafia has been entirely reproduced in Venezuela." The Cuntrera-Caruana clan had direct links with the ruling Commission of the Sicilian Mafia, and are acknowledged by the American Cosa Nostra.
Pasquale, Paolo and Gaspare Cuntrera were expelled from Venezuela in 1992, "almost secretly smuggled out of the country, as if it concerned one of their own drug transports. It was imperative they could not contact people on the outside who could have used their political connections to stop the expulsion." Their expulsion was ordered by a commission of the Venezuelan Senate headed by Senator Cristobal Fernandez Dalo and his money laundering investigator, Thor Halvorssen Hellum. They were arrested in September 1992 at Fiumicino airport (Rome), and in 1996 were sentence to 13–20 years.
In May 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported from United States officials that drug trafficking in Venezuela increased significantly with Colombian drug traffickers moving from Colombia to Venezuela due to pressure from law enforcement. On United States Department of Justice official described the higher ranks of the Venezuelan government and military as "a criminal organization", with high ranking Venezuelan officials, such as National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, being accused of drug trafficking. Those involved with investigations stated that Venezuelan government defectors and former traffickers had given information to investigators and that details of those involved in government drug trafficking were increasing.
See also Kenji Doihara's criminal activities
The yakuza of Japan are similar to the Italian mafias in that they originated centuries ago and follow a rigid set of traditions, but have several aspects that make them unique, such as their full-body tattoos and their fairly open place in Japanese society. Many yakuza groups are umbrella organizations, smaller gangs reporting to a larger crime syndicate.
The Triads is a popular name for a number of Chinese criminal secret societies, which have existed in various forms over the centuries (see for example Tiandihui). However, not all Chinese gangs fall into line with these traditional groups, as many non-traditional criminal organizations have formed, both in China and the Chinese diaspora.
Vietnamese Xã Hội Đen
- Bình Xuyên
- Đại Cathay's mafia during the 60s
- Năm Cam's mafia of the 90s
- Khánh Trắng's "Đồng Xuân Labor Union", a crime syndicate under the guise of a legal entity
- Dung Hà's gang
- Vũ Xuân Trường's gang: a crime syndicate leaded by Vũ Xuân Trường, a government official and also a drug-lord.
Although organized crime existed in the Soviet era, the gangs really gained in power and international reach during the transition to capitalism. The term Russian Mafia, 'mafiya' or mob is a blanket (and somewhat inaccurate) term for the various organized crime groups that emerged in this period from the 15 former republics of the USSR and unlike their Italian counterparts does not mean members are necessarily of Russian ethnicity or uphold any ancient criminal traditions, although this is the case for some members.
See also Caucasus Emirate
Balkan organized crime gained prominence in the chaos following the communist era, notably the transition to capitalism and the wars in former Yugoslavia.
Other organized crime groups based in Europe
Other parts of the world
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