Mexican Drug Cartels Expand Criminal Empire Beyond Narcotics

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Recent government reports and investigations have revealed that Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, including the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, have expanded their criminal operations beyond the illegal drug trade. The cartels have diversified their activities to include internet services, fuel theft, and extortion in various industries.

In Michoacán state, authorities uncovered a scheme in which criminal groups forced residents to purchase high-cost internet services under the threat of death. A raid on three properties yielded antennas and internet repeater equipment, demonstrating the cartels’ reach into unexpected sectors.

Fuel theft, known as “huachicoleo,” has become a lucrative venture for the cartels, causing billions of dollars in losses during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration. The cartels employ sophisticated methods, including bribing employees of state-owned oil company Pemex and using modified tanker trucks.

The Mexican avocado industry, the world’s largest, has also become a prime target for the cartels. In Michoacán, cartels demand monthly protection fees ranging from $135 to $500 per hectare. The U.S. briefly suspended avocado imports from Mexico in 2022 and 2024 after U.S. officials received death threats.

Cartels have also targeted tortilla businesses, a staple of Mexican cuisine. The National Tortilla Council reports that 14-15% of tortillerías face extortion, with weekly fees ranging from $135 to $190.

In the chicken industry, cartels like La Familia Michoacana have forced vendors to buy poultry at inflated prices. A Mexican investigation revealed that some seized chicken contained harmful additives.

Despite this diversification, drug trafficking remains the cartels’ most profitable venture, albeit with slower returns compared to their other criminal activities.

Jorge Ventura
Jorge Ventura
Formerly with the Daily Caller, Ventura’s coverage of civil unrest in the Summer of 2020 gained him a national following. He has also been covering and breaking news on the border crisis since 2021. Ventura has produced a number of investigative documentaries including Cartelville, USA and Narcofornia.

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