The Context

The daily drumbeat of bad news about crime and violence in Mexico is both terrifying and overwhelming. The numbers are themselves stunning – nearly 35,000 killed in drug-related violence since 2007, more than 15,000 in 2010 alone. While the vast majority of these deaths (maybe as many as 85%) are believed to involve persons connected in some fashion to criminal organizations, the increasing gruesomeness and senseless nature of the violence is particularly disturbing. And there is little comfort in the fact that the most extreme violence is concentrated in seven of Mexico’s thirty-two states. Regardless of the geographic concentration of the violence, all Mexicans have felt the economic, social, political and even cultural impact resulting from the violence. Furthermore, the violence has created new tensions and fissures in vital U.S. - Mexico relations.

The question that emerges most often is who is behind the violence and what is driving it? The answers are many and complex. To better understand the underlying causes, both in Mexico and the U.S., we invite you to read the numerous research papers and analysis compiled in Shared Responsibility: U.S.-Mexico Policy Options for Confronting Organized Crime. This volume is the product of work conducted by the Mexico Institute and the Trans-Border Institute that can be found on our Security Cooperation portal here.

The purpose of this fact sheet is to shed light on the structure of the criminal organizations operating in Mexico and the United States, as well as to provide background information and analysis on the rapidly evolving nature of organized crime. The following builds on a chapter by David Shirk and Luis Astorga in Shared Responsibility, a joint publication by the Mexico Institute and the Trans-Border Institute. The chapter entitled, “Drug Trafficking Organizations and Counter-Drug Strategies in the U.S. Mexico Context” can be found here.