Things That Matter

A New Map Shows Where Cartels Have Control In The U.S. But Cartel Bosses Say It’s All Wrong

It’s long been known that international drug cartels operate within the United States. Cartels from across the world have setup shop in major cities across the country to help ensure they can move product from manufacturing bases in Latin America and Asia to consumer markets from Los Angeles to New York.

And now a new report from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allegedly shows the extent of these operations and where certain cartels have more authority. But not everyone is buying the data, including the cartels themselves who are disputing the report.

A DEA report on drugs and drug trafficking details what the agency calls cartel influence in the US.

The DEA recently released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment, in which it maps out the states where Mexican drug cartels have gained “influence.”

The DEA’s report said Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) “maintain great influence” in most US states, with the Sinaloa cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación showing the “biggest signs of expansion.”

A map included in the report labeled the Sinaloa cartel, Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, Cartel del Golfo, Organización de Beltran-Leyva, and Los Rojos as the most “influential” drug organizations, with presence in Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Chicago, New York, Florida, Kansas, Colorado, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

When they were asked about that depiction of cartel presence in the US, security experts and cartel sources told Insider “it’s bulls—.”

So where do these cartels allegedly have the most influence?

DEA map cartel influence in US

The report described the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación as “one of the fastest growing cartels” and said the organization “smuggles illicit drugs into the United States by accessing various trafficking corridors in northern Mexico along the SWB including Tijuana, Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.”

“The cartels dominate the drug trade influencing the United States market, with most cartels having a poly drug market approach that allows for maximum flexibility and resiliency of their operations,” the report said.

An operative for Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación said the organization had a large group of members in Mexico who are “mostly on the armed side of the operations,” while most contacts in the US were clients.

“Most of what we can call members of the Jalisco organization are on the arms, like sicarios and some producers that are on a payroll. But everyone else is either a client we are selling to or an association to have access to certain route” for distribution in the US, he said.

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This Indigenous Village In Mexico Trains Their Children As Soldiers To Combat Gang Violence

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This Indigenous Village In Mexico Trains Their Children As Soldiers To Combat Gang Violence

via Getty Images

In the town of Ayahualtempa, Mexico, in the state of Guerrero, reporters see a shocking image whenever they visit. Children armed with guns, trained to defend themselves. The disturbing scene is meant to be shocking. The village of Ayahualtempa is under constant attack. A prominent heroin “corridor”, they are the victims of violence and carnage at the hands of gangsters and the cartel.

In order to gain the Mexican government’s attention, the Ayahualtempa villagers dress their children up as soldiers. Then, they invite the media in.

Ayahualtempa
via Getty Images

When reporters arrive, the children of Ayahualtempa dutifully line up and put on a performance. They march, they show how they would shoot a gun from one knee, or from flat on their bellies. They tell reporters that their mock-violent performance is “so the president sees us and helps us,” as a 12-year-old child named Valentín told the Associated Press.

Because the Mexican government doesn’t protect Ayahualtempa, the display of child soldiers is a form of protest for the small indigenous village. The people of this remote region of Guerrero want protection from the National Guard, and financial help for widows and orphans who have been made so from organized crime.

The villagers don’t trust local authorities, and for good reason. Guerrera is the Mexican state in which 43 teaching students were abducted and killed in an event that is known as the “Iguala mass kidnapping”. Authorities arrested 80 suspects in connection to the event. 44 of them were police officers, working in conjunction with a network of cartels.

Although the demonstrations function largely as a publicity stunt, violence is very much a part of these children’s lives.

via Getty Images

Parents train their children to walk to school with loaded guns, ready to defend themselves against violent gangsters.

The attention-grabbing antics have, to some extent, worked. On one occasion, the government donated some housing material. On another, benefactors gave the community’s orphans and widows scholarships and houses. But as soon as the periodic media storms die down, the federal government continues pretending Ayahualtempa doesn’t exist.

The hypocrisy of the government’s response is frustrating to many. “We’ve normalized that these children don’t eat, are illiterate, are farm workers. We’re used to the Indians dying young, but, ‘How dare they arm them!’” said local human rights activist Abel Barrera to the AP, with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

As for now, until the government moves to protect the community, they say they will continue their demonstrations. “They see that the issue of the children is effective for making people take notice and they think: If that’s what works, we’ll have to keep doing it,” said Barrera.

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

WENDELL ESCOTO/AFP via Getty Images

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

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