Initiatives Against Drug Cartels in Latin America
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, says that a global problem requires a global solution. One problem in need of a solution for more than 40 years is drug cartels in Latin America.

The Problem of Drug Cartels in Latin America

Because of drug cartels in Latin America, especially around South America, thousands have been killed in Colombia, Mexico and other areas where cartels are deep-rooted in society. Santos is urging countries to rethink their strategies because the human cost is too high, despite current efforts. The drug business also hurts consumers and the environment as land is deforested in order to plant cocoa, which supplies cocaine.

The largest drug cartels in Mexico — the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels — control most illegal drug trades from South America to the U.S. Usually, cocaine is imported from South America then smuggled to the U.S. Some groups also traffic marijuana and methamphetamines. Cartels are also involved with extorting local businesses, kidnapping for ransom, prostitution rings, intimidation and murder.

There is a shared responsibility among the international community to reduce both supply and demand for drugs. Some substantial initiatives have been employed to combat drug cartels in Latin America by Mexico, Guatemala and the European Union.

Cutting Drug Demand with Social Programs

Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico, promised in 2013 that $9.2 billion would be invested in social programs to alleviate crime by tackling its root causes, instead of following a policy of force. These initiatives consist of improving health and social services, roads, parks, lighting, and job opportunities for mothers. School hours also increased in an effort to keep the youth occupied and away from gang activity.

Waging War on Drugs

Mexico’s army has been deployed to arrest members of cartel kingpins. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is the ruling party, headed by Pena Nieto, and has rebranded itself into a modern force focusing on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling drug-related violence. Under the current governance, crime and violence are usually dealt with at a local level. Exceptional cases include the severe violence occurring in Michoacán, where the President resorted to sending troops to back up the federal police forces. Vigilante groups are allowed to keep their own weapons when they agree to integrate into the official security forces.

Decriminalizing Drugs

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, proposed the method of regional decriminalization on growing drug trades. This effort could slim down profits obtained by the cartels from illegal drug trades in the black market, therefore crippling the drug business for brutal cartels.

Colombia adopted a similar approach by switching from the usual hard-line policies to the softer decriminalization method. Colombia hosted the 2012 Cartagena Summit of the Americas, which focused on decriminalizing drugs and expanded coordination between countries in combating drug calamity.

International Cooperation on Crime

Crimjust, a joint initiative implemented by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, is funded by the European Union. It was established to counter organized crime and drug trafficking through international cooperation. In 2016, Central American and South American countries like Panama and Colombia became one of the first few countries to join Crimjust in order to enhance their own national capacities to counter drug and illicit trafficking. The 2016-2020 program is expected to specifically strengthen investigations and criminal justice cooperation along the cocaine route in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. Through Crimjust, the international efficacy in combating drug cartels in Latin America has been amplified.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Google

causes of poverty in Central America
Central America links North and South America and includes countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. Tropical and evergreen rainforests bring a wealth of biodiversity and beauty to the region; however, these countries face high infant mortality, low life expectancies and especially devastating poverty. Here is an analysis of the main causes of poverty in Central America.


Oppressive Histories

The Central American countries have histories which involve changes in power to those who wish to conquer them. This began with Columbus and the Spanish conquest of the region, where oppression was the norm as the years went on and the region was ruled by different European elites who put down the indigenous people.

This treatment and “status quo” continued until independence reached the region in the 19th Century. By this point, though, a classist system had already been put in place, and the effects of which can still be seen in modern times. Many attribute Costa Rica’s relative success to the fact that there was only a small indigenous population when the Spaniards conquered the region, the numbers allowing them to avoid the tiered class system that developed in neighboring countries.


Unequal Distribution of Wealth

Of the main causes of poverty in Central America, unequal distribution of wealth is by far the most consistent. The region has seen periods of boom and bust since the end of World War II, yet the vast difference in wealth distribution remained unchanged for decades. If wealth inequality remains the same, the only way to reduce poverty is by raising incomes.

In this region, industry remains limited due to a lack of mineral and energy resources making factory jobs scarce while agriculture still dominates. These factors make it increasingly difficult for citizens to gain increased incomes; however, an adjustment to wealth inequality may not increase incomes, but it does reduce poverty.

From 2008 to 2014, there was a period of decreasing wealth inequality due to a rise in minimum wage. This change led to an almost doubling of the middle class, and with formal employment, millions were able to ascend classes and overall statistics improved, including a 65 percent decrease in infant mortality. Yet, despite these promising changes, the region remains the most unequal region in the world for prohibiting the decline of poverty.


Gangs and Drug Violence

One of the largest setbacks faced by Central America is the success of gangs and the drug trade. Many of the Central American countries are referred to as “transit countries” as they transport cocaine and other drugs from South to North America. With the increase of drug trafficking, there has also been an increase in organized crime brought about by competition between trafficking groups as well as the governments of the countries they operate within.

Instead of putting money into social programs which could alleviate poverty, the government must use resources to fight against these illegal activities and violence. The effects of the drug trade and organized violence can be seen in the number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador found in Mexico attempting to flee their home countries. This number reached 16,000 in the first few months of 2016.

These main causes of poverty in Central America are certainly problematic, but all hope is not lost. These countries have made significant improvements in different areas in recent years and will continue to do so in the address of the most pressing problems. With foreign aid and government cooperation, these countries can move past these issues and put the lives of their citizens first.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in MontenegroMontenegro, which declared its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro on June 3, 2006, is classified as an upper middle-income economy by the World Bank. Overall, the state of human rights in Montenegro seems to be better than that of other countries in the developing world. This being said, there is also still work to be done.

One of the areas in which human rights in Montenegro are relatively well protected is political freedom. Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system, in which the voters elect both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. According to a preliminary report published by the observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the elections held on October 16, 2016 were conducted in a competitive environment, and the fundamental freedoms of voters were generally respected. The Montenegro Human Rights Report, published by the U.S. State Department in 2016, also stated that there were no reports of the government’s involvement in arbitrary or illicit killings, and no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

However, some problems still remain unresolved, especially those involving restrictions on the freedom of press. For example, On October 22, 2015, a freelance journalist named Jovo Martinovic was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a drug-trafficking scheme. Many have voiced concerns that the evidence against Martinovic offered by the deputy special prosecutor is weak at best. Moreover, the journalist has contended from the beginning of his detention that the only reason he spent time with the criminal group was to fulfill his duties as an investigative journalist. This incident has clearly illustrated the Montenegro authorities’ lack of respect for media freedom.

Other reported problems in human rights in Montenegro include corruption and lack of transparency in government, impunity for war crime, and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. Whether the country will be able to achieve noticeable improvement in these areas still remains to be seen.

Minh Joo Yi

Photo: Flickr

10 Disturbing and Terrible Facts About Mexican Drug Cartels
Continual and sensational news coverage of Mexican drug cartels may have desensitized people to the realities and sources of the violence. It is easy to forget how long the crisis imposed by the cartel has gone on and how far it is from over. To place the issue back into perspective, discussed below are 10 facts about Mexican drug cartels and the ways through which the government has attempted to deal with them.


Mexican Drug Cartels: Facts and Figures


  1. In December of 2006, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon sent 6,500 troops into Michoacán to address the rampant gun battles, execution-style murders and police corruptions which cartel rivalry had unleashed on the community. In so doing, Calderon launched the Mexican war on drugs, a literal war which would involve more than 20,000 troops within the first two months.
  2. Since this war’s inception, 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderon’s most wanted list have been jailed, more than 100,000 tons of cocaine decommissioned and almost 450,000 acres of marijuana plants destroyed, but the violent loss of life remains on the rise. Smuggling routes spread into previously peaceful areas as military involvement increased.
  3. The United States, as home to tens of millions of users, comprises the world’s largest drug market. In fact, in 2013 about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 were recent users, and drug consumption remains on the rise. Mexican drug cartels are estimated to earn between 19 and 29 billion dollars annually from U.S. drug sales.
  4. As more of the United States decriminalizes marijuana, illegally-smuggled Mexican product cannot compete with the quality or price of U.S. production. Simultaneously, a prescription opioid epidemic across the U.S. has raised the demand for heroin. As a result, Mexican production of heroin rose by 170 percent between 2013 and 2015, while marijuana dealings have largely diminished.
  5. As part of the United States’ own war on drugs, the government has given at least $1.5 billion to support Mexico’s anti-drug efforts. Concerned critics believe this deluge of cash contributes to corruption in the Mexican military and among police on the frontlines.
  6. Ten years after the Mexican military was deployed to combat cartels, the nation’s top general, Salvador Cienfuegos, said the troops ought not to have been involved and were not trained to pursue criminals to begin with. On December 9, 2016, the Mexican defense secretary said troops surrogating for police was an insufficient, even damaging, solution.
  7. Violence surged across Mexico in 2016, with more than 17,000 homicides reported in the first 10 months. This is the highest death toll since 2012.
  8. Strategically, Mexico has waged its American-backed war by targeting the kingpins, assuming that annihilating cartel leadership would dissolve these criminal organizations. The recent rise in violence throughout Mexico suggests this approach is ineffective. For instance, since Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was recaptured by authorities in January, the gang has splintered and multiplied.
  9. Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs has cost about 200,000 lives to date and left 28,000 missing. Reciprocal violence from cartels, police and soldiers has violated human rights and ravaged Mexican communities.
  10. A 2015 poll on the efficacy of Mexican institutions revealed that the police, the president’s office, politicians and political parties rank among the least trusted establishments in Mexico, in large part due to the reign of violent cartels, which has cost so many lives.

By demilitarizing the war on drugs and reestablishing faith in the government, Mexico can begin to heal. The DEA recently emphasized the importance of coupling strategies: the targeting of high-profile cartel members by law enforcement and the provision of community outreach programs to end the opioid epidemic in Mexico and the United States. Long-term solutions must integrate security with social services to pursue prosperity.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

Violence Fuels Honduran Refugees
While many in the U.S. have begun focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis and the horrors committed by the Islamic State (IS) and the Assad regime, the U.S. still has a major refugee crisis along its southern border.

For decades, millions of migrants have traveled from South and Central America to the U.S. in search of better work opportunities and social benefits for themselves and their families. Recently, however, the migrant crisis has transformed into a refugee crisis, with many also traveling to the U.S. to escape the dangers of their home countries.

With the U.S. as the world’s biggest customer, a thriving drug market worth more than $300 billion has fueled the violence between gangs, each fighting for territory and the rights to sell drugs. In countries dictated by drug trades, government corruption also becomes inevitable, with police sometimes working hand in hand with gangs.

Especially in Honduras, these drug wars have displaced thousands, destroying neighborhoods and forcing their inhabitants to move north. Thousands of Honduran refugees have traveled to the U.S. in search of new lives.

In the past few years, however, U.S. investment in countries like Honduras has helped reduce violence. The American government has put money and resources into programs that dissuade youth from joining gangs and replenish impoverished neighborhoods.

Here are 10 facts about Honduras and Honduran refugees:

  1. One hundred and seventy-four thousand people, four percent of the country’s households, have been displaced because of violence.
  2. In 2011, Honduras was the murder capital of the world, with 91.6 murders per 100,000 people. In 2014, that number dropped to 66.
  3. In 2014, 18,000 unaccompanied Honduran children arrived at the U.S. border.
  4. This year, the U.S. has sent between $95 and $110 million in violence prevention funding to Honduras.
  5. In one pilot program, participants were deemed 77 percent less likely to commit crimes or abuse drugs and alcohol after a year of counseling, according to Creative Associates International.
  6. Because of fear and corruption, 96 percent of homicides do not end in a conviction in Honduras.
  7. There are about 23,000 gang members involved in police shootouts and turf wars daily.
  8. About 15,000 Hondurans applied for refugee status in 2015, double that of 2014.
  9. In 2014, 64.7 percent of unaccompanied minors received the asylum they applied for.
  10. For 2016, the U.S. has 3,000 refugee slots for applicants from Latin America and the Caribbean even though 9,000 people may be eligible.

While there is a lot of potential in the U.S. funded pilot programs, more money is necessary to enact change on a large scale. Although many may criticize the foreign aid the U.S. already gives as being too charitable, they must keep in mind the costs of receiving these refugees illegally and the cost of them making the journey north. By fixing the roots of the problem, the U.S. can prevent the symptoms from reaching its borders.

Because Honduras is filled with human rights violations, many would see the funding completely cut. This summer, government officials tried to pass a bill in Congress that would do so.

However, responding to the human rights issue by cutting funding to violence prevention may be most impractical and harmful. Although expensive, the best solution may be to continue funding violence prevention programs while beginning separate programs that address government abuse and corruption.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

buenaventura_colombiaBuenaventura, Colombia, home to approximately 300,000 residents, has consistently been ranked one of Colombia’s (and South America’s) deadliest cities. It is home to the nation’s highest homicide rate at 144 murders per 100,000 people—more than seven times the rate of the nation’s capital, Bogota. In this seaside port town, fishermen and gang members have lived together in a fatal balance for years, contributing to the town’s notorious reputation. In recent months, however, the level of violence has exploded, leading many residents to leave the city in search of a safer life elsewhere.

Colombia has been described by some as a country with two faces: one face is the Colombia of the elite and wealthy, while the other is a Colombia marked by violence, gang lords and a vicious drug trade. Once considered too dangerous for visitors due to a brutal civil war between various factions of the government and paramilitary groups, which began in 1964, Colombia has since cleaned itself up, with major cities like Bogota and Medellin now considered hot-spots for tourism. Despite massive improvements that have benefitted the country in recent years, as of 2013 an astonishing 30.6 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Colombia also remains the world’s largest cocaine producer, supplying 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

Buenaventura, a port town located on the Pacific Coast, is a perfect example of the way in which these “two faces” can collide.

On the one hand, Buenaventura struggles with a legacy of violence that continues to characterize the culture of the city today. During the 1980s, the city was a battleground between leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, and right-wing paramilitary groups. When the FARC were driven out, paramilitary groups established themselves and began to engage in gang activity, helping to carve the city into rival gang territories and the port into an important regional focal point for the export of cocaine. According to a Human Rights Watch report, these groups have taken the lives of many Buenaventura residents, who are often dismembered in so-called “chop houses” for unwittingly crossing between gang territories.

On the other hand, due to its strategic location on the coast, Buenaventura has recently become the centerpiece of a government strategy to increase Colombian trade with Asian and Western countries on the Pacific, such as the United States, Chile, Mexico and Peru. To achieve this goal, the central government in Bogota has invested millions in development projects, such as the construction of a container port and industrial park, as well as the construction of a major waterfront development project that authorities hope will help attract tourism.

Residents, however, have argued that there is a link between the recent rise of violence in the city and the development projects. Locals, for instance, point to the fact that much of the violence has been concentrated in and has affected locals living in areas along the port. Residential habitation of the area obstructs government plans to turn the area into a tourist destination.

In response to protracted levels of violence in the town, which has recently received increased media attention, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos finally intervened last year, sending in an emergency infusion of cash as well as police officers from the capital.

According to Colonel Marcelo Russi, the police commander in Buenaventura, the added law enforcement has helped to dramatically reduce the murder rate and number of disappearances in the city. Alexander Micolta, the executive president of the Buenaventura Chamber of Commerce, however, has stated that not enough is being done to effectively eradicate violence from the city. “Here, everything that has to do with the port advances. But the city doesn’t advance,” Micolta said.

In order to save Buenaventura, it is evident that money invested in the city needs to be focused on protecting the people who actually live there instead of in efforts to attract foreign investment and tourist capital. Otherwise, the city’s long history of violence and gang activity will continue to perpetuate itself and invade every corner of the city once the police presence leaves. If that happens, then Colombia’s “two faces” will persist to rear their ugly heads in tandem in the country’s small, sea-side city of Buenaventura.

Ana Powell

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, World Bank
Photo: War on Want

HIV_PreventionIn 2006, the Brazilian government made attempts to crack down on the drug problem that has ravaged most of South America. The Brazilian Congress did this by passing a law, known simply as the Drug Law. The strategy depersonalized drug possession for personal consumption and attempted to address it as a healthcare issue.

The strategy meant that citizens who would be caught using drugs, such as crack, would be sent to health facilities to be rehabbed, thus allowing law enforcement to deal with more pressing concerns, such as drug trafficking cartels.

Brazil is known to be one of the most dangerous and captivating places in the world. It is also one of the most active drug trafficking countries in the world. According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, Brazil has become the largest cocaine market in South America.

In 2014, the Brazilian government allocated over $2 billion on the “Crack: É Possível Vencer” law, which literally translates to “Crack: It Can Be Overcome.” The law is supposed to be managed by the healthcare, education and social justice ministry, but also includes funds for drug interdiction along Brazil’s borders.

Providing drug users with treatment would allow them to rejuvenate their life and help strengthen their communities. Unfortunately, standards such as the crack law have led to blurred policies that are crippling the healthcare system, specifically in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Police raids have led to many youths being incarcerated in the two cities. Most of these children are petty users or traffickers for bigger cartels. The police remove them off the streets and pressure them to feel that they need rehabilitation and treatment.

In turn, pressure from politicians in the city forces medical personnel to give these children medical treatment, even when it is unnecessary. Although it is campaigned as a successful and strategic method to clean up the city, it is in fact wasting precious resources that could be used to successfully fight problematic drug abuse or other diseases, such as HIV.

Brazil has one of the highest HIV rates in Latin America. This is troubling especially in light of the fact that it is considered to be one of the most developed countries in all of South and Central America. According to UNAIDS, Brazil, whose total population was about 200 million, had an HIV/AIDS population of 730,000 in 2013. Compare this to India, a country whose population is five times the size of Brazil’s but whose HIV/AIDS population is only 2.1 million.

HIV prevention and testing have suffered greatly due to these policies. There was a 32% increase in HIV testing between 2004 and 2013. By 2014, that progress had decreased by almost 13%. This is because resources are being strained by the drug prevention laws.

A shift in policies and implementation is needed in order to combat the real health issues in Brazil, which are diseases such as HIV. If the Brazilian government does not allocate resources correctly, the war on drugs will have failed on both fronts: Brazil will have failed to prevent both drugs from entering the country and HIV populations from increasing.

Adnan Khalid

Sources: UNAIDS 1, UNAIDS 2, UNAIDS 3, UNODC, Washington Office of Latin America
Photo: WBUR

Colombia is known to have one of the biggest illegal drug industries in the entire world, grossing around $10 billion every year. This huge sum is largely due to the existence of a rebel army called the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which is a guerilla group that has combated the government of Columbia for decades.

The FARC thrives off of the lower class, a group of individuals that have become enraged with the injustices being committed against them every day. While much of their money comes from ransoms, a large portion of it is also drawn from drug trade.

Since Columbia is a more tropical climate, farmers who are mostly lower class citizens, can easily grow cocaine between their crop rows without it being noticed by officials. This cocaine is then purified and packaged and sent through airports by drug mules who often do not get caught due to ingenious methods of hiding. But this is beginning to come apart.

Airport security is at an all-time high in Columbia, leading drug traffickers to become more ingenious with their methods. One example of this was using a mule posing as a hiker and filling his rope with liquid cocaine. Airport security is onto such tricks and has been able to cut down the amount of cocaine that is being trafficked. A shift in management is also called for as many officials could have connections with illegal groups such as the FARC. There has been a long standing war between the FARC and the government and it does not look like it will be ending anytime soon. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the blanket of darkness that envelops this country.

The long years of struggle between the FARC and the government has come to a standstill as government officials begin to accept their fates as prisoners in their own nation, but various NGOs have begun to step in to make a difference. NGOs have taken up the job of accounting for dead or lost individuals, monitoring violence, investigating links between the FARC and government officials, providing aid to individuals who have been displaces due to violence and providing education to those who search for it.

This education will eventually become key to decreasing the overall transactions of illegal drugs in Columbia. By providing education for the young children, NGOs are creating a brighter future for entire families. An educated individual can go on to travel overseas or to create innovation and business in their own hometowns. This education can also be spread through generations allowing entire families to rise in social standing.

When a family no longer relies on the production of drugs as their main source of income, the FARC may begin to lose supporters. It is a daring venture and one that will inevitably prove to be very dangerous, but for those bold few that seek out the education they deserve, it can make a world of a difference.

– Sumita Tellakat

Sources: Freedom House, Stratfor Global Intelligence,
Photo: Sekuritaci

Cocaine in Colombia Poison
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, a research arm of the World Health Organization, published a report on March 20, 2015 categorizing glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world by volume, so its new label has created turbulence across science and industry. While experts, governments and industry groups debate the study’s merits, poor farmers in Colombia may experience the most drastic fallout from the IARC report. Meanwhile, cocaine in Colombia receives a break from U.S. production curbing strategy.

Quickly following IARC’s declaration, the Colombian government suspended the aerial spraying of glyphosate. Since 1994, aerial spraying has been part of the U.S. strategy for curbing the production of cocaine in Colombia. In the last 20 years, 4.34 million acres have been sprayed, costing U.S. taxpayers roughly $2 billion.

Although defying U.S. interests, the U.S. Department of State is recognizing Colombia’s sovereignty to implement its decision. How this will affect anti-drug campaigns in the country remains to be seen.


Glyphosate Spraying and Cocaine in Colombia


Vanda Felbab-Brown, a global security specialist with the Brookings Institution, believes “Aerial spraying is politically controversial, costly and causes a tremendous amount of counterproductive side effects such as destroying legal crops, negative environmental effects as the chemical washes into streams, and alienating coca farmers from government authorities.”

A large cost has also been borne by farmers in regions where coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, is grown. From 2001 to 2012, the Colombian government processed 7,800 claims of crop damage as a result from aerial spraying. For the moment, the department handling these claims will have a break, and poor farmers in Colombia’s rural regions will experience less crop damage and a healthier environment.

Colombia’s decision to change tactics will open the door for alternative drug fighting policies and development strategies. These must fill the void that experts believe will be created by the termination of the spraying program. The incentives to grow coca are still strongly in place: the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime figured that cocaine was fetching roughly $2,500 per kilo back in 2013.

Alternative drug policies exist and are effective. The Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, has outlined factors that need to complement an anti-drug campaign. Among these factors, the existence of alternative livelihoods plays a central role. Without other options, eradication programs will push farmers deeper into poverty. Implementing alternative and sustainable income generating activities makes coca production less attractive to farmers and shields them from a business decision that is subject to the whims of global drug policy.

The moratorium on glyphosate spraying comes as a relief to those living in targeted areas and provides an opportunity for sustainable development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Brookings Institution, International Agency for Research on Cancer, LA Times, Nature, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, US Embassy, Washington Office on Latin America, Washington Office on Latin America
Photo: MercoPress

crime in mexico
On October 1, one of the biggest names of drug trafficking in Mexico was captured. His name Hector Beltran Leyva. Leyva is one of the sole survivors of his gang of brothers; the others either dead or locked up. He was 49 at the day of capture.

For the country of Mexico, this represents a great feat in both ending drug connections and allowing for an intensified concentration on the economic system.

Unfortunately, gang related issues have not stopped at drug distribution. On September 28, gang-related violence resulted in the deaths of 11 men. This area of Northern Mexico is deemed a rival area for drug smuggling and thus one of the most dangerous areas of the country.

According to Reuters, since 2007 gang violence has taken the lives of over 90,000 people. Despite this alarming number, rates over the past year and a half have declined since president Enrique Pena Nieto took office.

The gang involvement affects much more than the lives of Mexicans. As Mexico’s neighbor to the north, the United States is hit hard by Mexico’s drug cartel. This drug war directly affects the U.S., who is the primary recipient of so many of these illegal drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin.

A Huffington Post article from April of 2013 pinpoints the extent of the drug cartel’s influence in the U.S. No longer have the drugs been found primarily in areas like New Mexico and Texas, states bordering Mexico, but the cartel has embedded itself into lands as deep into the country as Chicago.

In fact, one of Mexico’s leading drug lords was named Public Enemy No.1. In Chicago, this name was given only once, to the infamous Al Capone. This modern-day Mexican drug lord has never even visited Chicago, yet his presence has clearly been felt.

Despite the disheartening facts and figures, Mexico needs to continue to capitalize on triumphs like Leyva’s arrest. Arresting those highest in power on the cartel ladder is the only way crime can truly be eradicated in certain areas of Mexico. And with a fall in drug production and distribution, the U.S. will also see major improvements to safety and declining crime rates.

Kathleen Lee

Sources: New York Times, Reuters, Reuters 2, Huffington Post CNN
Photo: Flickr