Membership in Mexico’s deadly drug cartels is experiencing a significant surge, with dozens of people joining these crime groups daily, as revealed by research published in the academic journal Science. The study also estimates that drug cartels rank as the fifth-largest employers in Mexico.
This research is the result of tracking information on homicides, incarcerations, and related data over the past decade. Using this data, the researchers developed a mathematical model to analyze cartel recruitment numbers. The findings indicate that the cumulative estimated membership of approximately 150 drug cartels is around 175,000 individuals, surpassing the workforce of most major employers in Mexico.
The authors of the study emphasize that their objective is to provide analysts and lawmakers with a better understanding of cartels and offer insights into finding a way to break the cycle of violence. They also propose that targeting cartel recruitment methods, rather than solely imprisoning members, is the most effective approach to addressing the issue.
The study emphasizes that simply adding more individuals to already overcrowded jails will not solve Mexico’s insecurity problem. It points out that more than 1.7 million people are incarcerated in Latin America, underscoring the need for alternative strategies to address criminal activity and violence.
Furthermore, the research reveals that drug cartels recruit around 20,000 new members each year to sustain their growth. This recruitment is seen as essential as approximately 37% of known cartel members have either been killed or incarcerated over the past decade.
Valentin Pereda, a researcher from the University of Montreal involved in the study, explains that preventing cartels from recruiting is crucial in diminishing their power and ability to engage in violence. He emphasizes that controlling the weaponry available to cartels is also essential, as these groups possess paramilitary units equipped with military-grade weapons, rather than mere small-scale violence.
According to a DEA estimate from July, two of the most notorious Mexican cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation, employ approximately 45,000 individuals. However, the study cautions that the DEA’s figures may not fully capture the extent of organized crime group influence, as the model used in the research focuses only on those individuals directly involved in high-risk activities. It does not include auxiliary members such as bankers who facilitate money laundering.
Data from the Mexican Statistical Agency (INEGI) indicates that there were 32,223 homicides in Mexico in 2022, averaging 25 murders per 100,000 people. This high rate of violence underscores the urgency of finding effective solutions to curb cartel activity and reduce the overall crime rates in the country.
To successfully address the issue of cartels in Mexico, the research suggests adopting a multipronged approach that tackles recruitment, addresses the availability of weaponry, and focuses on broader efforts to combat organized crime. By addressing these factors comprehensively, there is a greater chance of breaking the cycle of violence and creating a safer environment for Mexican citizens.