Drug cartel

Drug cartels are criminal organizations developed with the primary purpose of promoting and controlling 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 in the proper sense of the word, but the term stuck and is now popularly used to refer to any criminal narcotics related organization, including Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Afghanistan and South Asia. Some cartels are even establishing themselves in U.S. cities like New York, Miami, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Houston, Atlanta, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Brownsville, Laredo, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Below is basic structure of the drug cartels; in this case, the ones in Mexico:

  • Falcons (Halcones): Considered the “eyes and ears” of the streets, the 'falcons' are the lowest rank position in any drug cartel. They are responsible for supervising and reporting on the activities of the military and of their rival groups.[1]
  • Hitmen (Sicarios): They are the armed group within the drug cartel; they are responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, thefts, extortions, operating protection rackets, and defending their 'plaza' from the rival groups and the military.[2][3]
  • Lieutenants (Lugartenientes): The second highest position in the drug cartel organization; they are responsible for supervising the sicarios and halcones within their own territory. They are allowed to carry low-profile executions without permission from their bosses.[4]
  • Drug lords (Capos): This is the highest position in any drug cartel; they are responsible for supervising the entire drug industry, appointing territorial leaders, making alliances, and planning high-profile executions.[5]

It's worth noting that there are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers,[6] although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financers and money launderers.[7][8][9] In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle,[10] and are technically not considered part of the cartel’s logistics.



Colombian Cartels is a generic term that usually refers to three, usually rival, criminal organizations involved in Illegal drug trade in Colombia:

It sometimes also refers to other, lesser-known criminal organizations:

Other organizations in Colombia involved in drug trafficking include:


The Mérida Initiative, a U.S. Counter-Narcotics Assistance to Mexico

Mexican cartels (also known in Mexico as: La Mafia, Mañosos,[18] Narcotraficantes, or simply as Narcos ') is a generic term that usually refers to several, usually rival, criminal organizations involved in the Mexican Drug War:[19]

Several other are lesser-known criminal organizations:

Other organizations involved (or have been involved) in the drug trade in Mexico. It is worth mentioning, however, that this does not necessarily imply for the whole institutions mentioned below, just a selected few within it:

United States




Other parts of the world


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