NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mexican Drug Gangs Diversify Into Human Smuggling

August 27, 2010

Gunmen from a drug cartel appear to have massacred 72 migrants from Central and South America who were on their way to the United States, a grisly event that marks the single biggest killing in Mexico's war on organized crime.  Mexican drug gangs, which used to focus exclusively on ferrying narcotics such as cocaine to the United States, have diversified into other lucrative criminal activities such as human smuggling and extortion.  At the going rate of $5,000 to $7,000 charged by smugglers to cross the U.S. border, the 72 people represented about $500,000 to the drug gang, said Alberto Islas, a Mexico City-based security consultant.  

According to a study by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission published last year: 

  • 9,758 migrants from Central and South America had been kidnapped by presumed drug gangs between September 2008 and February 2009.
  • The commission found that in many cases, government officials and police worked with criminal gangs in carrying out the abductions.
  • The commission said that the number of migrant kidnappings could be as high as 18,000 a year.
  • It estimated the average ransom at $2,500 -- making the business worth an estimated $50 million a year. 

Some 28,000 people have died in Mexico's war on organized crime since President Felipe Calderón took power in December 2006 and declared an all-out battle against powerful drug-trafficking gangs that were gaining immense power and challenging the Mexican state.  The death toll is rising fast, including more frequent discoveries of mass graves, says the Wall Street Journal: 

  • In May, authorities discovered 55 bodies in an abandoned mine near Taxco, a colonial-era city south of Mexico City known for its silver.
  • Last month, another 51 bodies were found near a trash dump outside the northern city of Monterrey. 

Both of those mass graves were sites where drug gangs disposed of rivals killed during a period of weeks or months.  This latest incident could be the single biggest instance of bloodshed from a Mexican cartel to date, say experts. 

Source: David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba, "Mexican Military Finds 72 Bodies Near Border," Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2010. 


Browse more articles on Government Issues