It’s been over eight years since former Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared an offensive on the country’s drug trafficking organizations that left over an estimated 100,000 people dead on both sides.
In the coinciding years, a slew of drug cartels have risen to prominence to fill power vacuums left following the death or capture of their counterparts. But now, according to a high-ranking Mexican official, there are two cartels operating in the country: the stalwart Sinaloa cartel and the newer Jalisco-New Generation cartel.
Tomás Zerón, the director of the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) within Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR), said in an interview with Mexican newspaper Proceso that these two crime groups are the only two "operating and functioning" in Mexico, as the death and capture of other high-ranking cartel figures have severely splinted or completely disintegrated various other drug-trafficking organizations.
While the Sinaloa cartel has not been immune to attacks from the Mexican government – Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the most wanted drug trafficker in the world, was arrested in 2014 – the cartel has maintained a more organized, almost corporate structure that has kept it running even as one or another of its leaders is either arrested or killed.
The Jalisco-New Generation cartel is one of the new breeds of organized crime groups cropping up across Mexico in the wake of the government's war against the old guard of cartels – the Zetas, the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels, to name the largest. New Generation, which formed in 2010 following the splintering of the Milenio Cartel, was first established with the express purpose of countering the Zetas, Now, it has begun targeting Mexican security forces and many observers say that this dicey tactic could lead to its quick demise.
"This is not a smart tactic," Christopher Wilson, the deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, told Fox News Latino. "It’s a hallmark of a quick burner. In Jalisco, this is not a place where you push the military and they will just roll over."
Zerón added that only three major cartel bosses now remain in Mexico, and two of them – Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo," and Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias "Chapo Isidro" – are leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. The third, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho," leads the Jalisco-New Generation cartel.
In the interview, the director also warns that despite the fact that there are allegedly only two major cartels operating in Mexico now, there are various other splinter groups that have cropped in the wake of the demise of groups such as Gulf, Juárez, Tijuana, Knights Templar, and the Beltrán Leyva organization.
"Dismantling them was a necessary step, but that does not end the problem of insecurity," said Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City-based security analyst. "The next part is more complicated. There are still small groups, remnants, which will be extorting, robbing and perhaps even producing methamphetamine."
The breakdown of the big groups has in turn led to a diversification of revenue sources for these small groups – from human trafficking to extortion – as well as a spike in violent crime as they battle with each other for control of small markets and turf.
"These are cells that are trying to seek power for survival, and that’s why right now we are seeing the homicides among them," Zerón said.
Also, despite the arrests and breakdown of cartels, little has stopped the flow of drugs into the U.S. Seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border have fluctuated since 2010, when 2.7 million pounds were seized overall, to a high of 3.1 million in 2011 and down to 2.3 million pounds in 2014, according to U.S. government figures, the only way to estimate flows of drugs.