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The Five Most Famous Drug Cartels

It should come as little surprise that the five most famous drug cartels are centered in Mexico. After all, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, known as “The Godfather” for controlling all drug trafficking in Mexico as well as that along the country’s border with the United States, started it all with the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s. Along with the Guadalajara Cartel, the Sinoloa Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Juárez Cartel and Gulf Cartel are among the largest and most famous drug cartels in the world.

1. Guadalajara Cartel

Founded by Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, the Guadalajara Cartel is one of the five most famous drug cartels in history as it was among the first to work with and significantly prosper from the cocaine trade started in Colombia. Though his colleagues were arrested early on, Félix Gallardo was smart enough to privatize the Mexican drug trade by having it run by lesser-known bosses-yet top drug leaders-whom he had convene at “the plazas,” a house in Acapulco. He was eventually arrested and the Guadalajara Cartel split into two other powerful cartels, both mentioned below.

2. Sinoloa Cartel

One half of the Guadalajara Cartel’s split, the Sinoloa Cartel is led by the most-wanted drug trafficker in Mexico, Joaquín Guzmán. With an estimated net worth of $1 billion, Guzmán is extremely powerful—there is no doubt why the Sinoloa Cartel won a bloody battle against its former partner, the Juarez Cartel. Resulting in possibly as many as 12,000 casualties, the Sinoloa Cartel employed gangs such as the Artist Assassins, Genre Nueva and Los Mexicles to attack the Juarez Cartel in its attempt to gain control over drug trafficking routes.

3. Tijuana Cartel

The Tijuana Cartel was considered by the police in the 1990s and early 2000s to be one of “the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico,” according to the Arizona Daily Star. Alongside the Sinoloa Cartel, it was the other half when the Guadalajara Cartel split and was led by Félix Gallardo’s nephews, the Arellano Felix brothers. Although it is now much smaller due to deaths and arrests of its members—the results of an internal war—the Arellano Felix brothers’ nephew Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano has helped it continue.

4. Juárez Cartel

Despite being involved in a bloody battle since 2007 with the Sinoloa Cartel—its former partner—for control over drug trafficking routes to Juárez, the Juárez Cartel still controls the three main drug entry points into El Paso, Texas. Worth billions of dollars, it works with two gangs—La Linea and the Barrio Azteca—to power one of the primary illegal drug shipment transportation routes into America. Despite its casualties resulting from the ongoing battle with the Sinoloa Cartel, the Juárez Cartel continues to be feared, especially for the way it decapitates its rivals and then mutilates and publically discards of their corpses.

5. Gulf Cartel

Based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel is perhaps one of the oldest organized crime groups in Mexico. With an international network, the Gulf Cartel serves more than just the drug trafficking scene. The group has been involved in assassinations and kidnappings worldwide and is known for its extreme widespread violence. This cartel’s most prominent period was in the late 1990s when it hired a private army, now Los Zetas; when the pair’s partnership dissolved in 2010, ending in a chaotic battle, the result was several ghost towns. Despite many of the Cartel’s leaders—including Mario Alberto Cardenas Guillen, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez and Antonio Cardenas Guillen—recently being captured and incarcerated, the group’s smuggling routes into the States remain intact.

With drug trafficking at the heart of Mexico’s crime scene as one of the most profitable illegal trade schemes in the world, it is not hard to understand why these cartels have continued on, under their own names or others, despite casualties, captures and incarcerations. With strong leaders backed by an internal criminal network of the world’s most violent leaders, the Guadalajara Cartel, Sinoloa Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Juárez Cartel and Gulf Cartel remain and will be known for a long time as five of the most famous drug cartels in the world.

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