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Small Victories in the Mexican Drug War: What they Mean for Peace

By Meghan FlykePublished October 24, 2014

Though cartel leader Hector Beltran Leyva was recently arrested in Central Mexico, his violent organization may be responsible for the disappearance of 43 student protestors at the beginning of October. The simultaneous events pose a new outlook on the future of drug wars in Mexico.
By Meghan Flyke, 10/24/14

On the morning of October 1st, an 11-month-long manhunt culminated in the nonviolent arrest of Hector Beltran Leyva in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Beltran Leyva was the leader of a powerful, family-run cartel in the Guanajuato and Guerrero states of Central Mexico. Beltran's group is a violent organization that has consistently warred with other families in the region, and his cartel is largely thought responsible for the criminal penetration of police forces in Guanajuato cities. 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration praised the recent apprehension of Beltran Levya, his elder brother, and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the boss of a rival cartel. The U.S. government even offered 5 million dollars in reward for Beltran's capture. The cartel's share of the market will diminish with this arrest. 

Despite his capture, however, the town of Iguala, Guerrero, recently suffered the tragic disappearance of 43 teenage students who clashed with police during a protest. Local law enforcement have inflicted grave damage on civilians in recent weeks, causing six shooting deaths and twenty-five injuries after opening fire on school buses in early October. The missing students themselves were last seen being aggressively escorted to an unknown location by Iguala police, where they are now presumed dead.

The Wall Street Journal reported on October 2nd that twenty-two police officers, including the Iguala chief, have been charged in the case. At least three of the detained are wanted fugitives. Cartel members, especially those of Beltran Leyva's organization, infiltrate the police force and administer according to their own self-interest. Cartels instill fear in rival groups and warrant the compliance of local communities through violent acts of terror and coercion. With several major cartel leaders now imprisoned, it is likely that the intense power structure of Beltran's family may, in some ways, be dismantled. In the meantime, however, riots over the missing students have caused mass destruction in Guerrero.   

U.S. and Mexican foreign policy both play a critical role in deciding the future of this conflict. According to CNN, seventy percent of weapons seized in Mexican criminal arrests are traced back to sales in the United States. Along the border, 6,700 retailers are licensed to sell firearms, while there is only one location to legally purchase firearms in all of Mexico. Thus, in the discussion of gun violence and regulation in the United States, it is critical to note that the access to deadly materials has also sustained the cartel wars in Mexico, promoting the trafficking of heavy narcotics and mass civilian death. 

In addition to the incarceration of cartel leaders, Mexico should turn to political and economic reform to limit its criminal drug activity. Reducing the poverty rate, utilizing intelligence, and implementing security reform could reduce corruption in local police forces. 

After analysis of both the recent cartel arrests and the outbreak of violence against students, it is evident that the situation in Mexico is not yet hopeful. In continuing to remove cartel leaders from the drug market, however, there is certain potential for progress.