Narcos Are Fifth Biggest Employer in Mexico

Research published by the magazine ‘Science’ estimates that organized crime has 175,000 members, more than companies like Oxxo or Pemex. The only way to reduce their power, they point out, is to stop recruitment

Narcos are the fifth largest employer in Mexico, with between 160,000 and 185,000 people, and the only way to put an end to them is to avoid recruiting new members. Criminal groups recruit 350 people into their ranks every week. These are the conclusions of a study by the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna that was published this Thursday in the Science journal, one of the most ambitious approaches to the difficult task of quantifying in numbers the power that criminal groups have in Mexico.

The researcher in charge of the study and former Mexico City police officer, Rafael Prieto Curiel, has been clear: “Neither through the courts nor through prisons. The only way to reduce violence in Mexico is to cut off cartel recruitment.” Researchers have combined data on murders, disappearances, imprisonments and abandonments of criminal organizations between the years 2012 and 2022 to reach this conclusion.

One of the most relevant pieces of data from the study is that despite the imprisonment of thousands of criminals, the size of these organizations is greater than ten years ago. Mexican authorities imprison about 6,000 cartel members each year. However, criminal groups in Mexico will have 60,000 more members in 2022 than in 2012. In total there would be around 175,000 members, according to the study, which would place the cartels as the fifth employer in Mexico, above companies such as Pemex or Oxxo, and only surpassed by FEMSA (Coca Cola bottler), Walmart, Manpower and América Móvil.

The results also offer data on how many members each criminal group has: almost two out of every ten drug traffickers belong to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and one out of every ten belongs to the Sinaloa Cartel. These data only take into account people directly linked to violence, and not other people related to drug trafficking, such as financial managers in charge of laundering money.

Cartels are also losing many members to violence. The data obtained by the researchers reflects that in a period of ten years, 17% of the people recruited die. Prieto affirms that at this rate of loss of members, between arrests and murders, the cartels need to recruit 350 people each week to avoid their collapse. But many of those who join drug trafficking do not do so voluntarily. Forced recruitment is the system most used by the cartels, and one of the most painful for the families of the disappeared.

If cartel recruitment were halved, in 2027 their size would be 11% smaller. “Mathematically, therefore, a preventive strategy is much more successful than a traditional reactive strategy”, explained Prieto. This positive vision is counterbalanced by a much worse one. If the cartels continue at the same rate of recruitment and violence, in 2027 there could be 40% more deaths and the organizations would grow by 26%.

The study is defined as the first to estimate in figures “the black box” that drug trafficking represents, since it is very difficult to quantify its power and know its mechanisms due to its economic, social and political importance and its opacity throughout the Mexican territory. The director of the crime research company SciVortex, Eduardo Salcedo Albarán, explains that the mathematical model obtained by this study is “amazing”, and that it is a good starting point to achieve better systems to investigate cartels in the future. Additionally, he encourages governments at all levels in Mexico to try different strategies to combat drug trafficking. “The hardest part is bringing these ideas to the real world”, he said.

Original article at
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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