NarcoData: Contextualizing the Drug War in Mexico


In Mexico, a country where drug cartels and criminal organizations have permeated the everyday life of the country, it's hard to follow who is who among gangsters and how strong their influence is. An in-depth data journalism project by independent news site Animal Político and collaborative data journalism platform Poderopedia simplifies all this complex data behind the country’s failed drug war of the past four decades.

Using easy-to-comprehend, interactive visualizations, NarcoData tells the story of how the cartels were born, who their leaders are, the conflicts among them, their geographic expansion and their known crimes.

The idea for this website arose a year ago, when on October 21, 2014, Animal Político obtained access — thanks to the country's transparency law — to a document from the attorney general that shows all the organized crime cells operating in Mexico and the cartel to which they report. Also, this document debunks several “myths” created by government officials like the one that says Mexico City is free from organized crime or like the one that claims gangs are losing power under the current federal administration.

[…] The experience of Poderopedia allowed us to see the cartels, to a certain point, as powerful commercial organizations with influence over the country's public affairs.

NarcoData also provides explanations of the context surrounding the situation to understand the dark history of organized crime in Mexico and the players who have taken part in its progression.

Their first article, “Siete presidentes, pocos resultados: 40 años de expansión del crimen organizado” (Seven presidents, few results: 40 years of organized crime expansion) highlights the role the United States has played in bolstering drug cartels in Mexico:

The failed [government] strategies partially explain the survival and strengthening of organized crime, but its advance cannot be understood without considering the neighboring United States, the biggest market for illegal drug consumption in the world and the most important weapon supplier for any criminal group.

[…] Mexican criminal organizations have gained power thanks to easy access to weapons. A decade ago, President George W. Bush abolished the law that forbade the sale of automatic and assault weapons in the United States. In 2014, 71.9% of seized weapons in Mexico came from the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The piece includes an interview with Guillermo Valdés, the former director of the Mexican intelligence agency CISEN (Center for Research and National Security). He explained that for a long time the state's security strategy was focused on seizing drugs and weapons and arresting drug lords, when they should have been working on strengthening local institutions such as the police or courts to prevent corruption and ensure that justice is served.

Elaborating on how the government has failed to solve the problem, Alejandro Hope, security editor at news site El Daily Post, told Narcodata in an interview for their article titled “Con Peña Nieto, ‘El Chapo’ y Jalisco Nueva Generación dominan el negocio de la droga” (With Peña Nieto, ‘El Chapo’ and Jalisco Nueva Generación control the drug business):

The armed forces can be useful to hunt big drug lords, but are not good at preventing the extortion of taxi drivers or businessmen and women, who are left in the hands of those groups that came out of the breakdown of the big organizations. Strong local police forces are needed, state attorneys with a greater capacity to present cases against local mafias, a less vulnerable penitentiary system, and this is where we are stuck and where the current government lacks results.

As for the extended violence that burdens the country, NarcoData explains how the armed groups that support drug cartels became powerful as their “side businesses” of kidnapping, extorting, human trafficking, and assaulting civilians thrived:

Attacks against civilians became common after the 1990s when the criminal organizations decided to toughen up by recruiting armed branches or crime cells dedicated to killing and used to strike rival groups and citizens. […]

The expansion of the armed branches also implied a surge in the looting of civil society. This became a daily activity for these cells to finance themselves. […]

Explore the project here.‚Äč

This article was originally written by Elizabeth Rivera and published by Global Voices, republished here under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Read it here.