Drug cartel

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A drug cartel is any criminal organization with the intention of supplying drug trafficking operations. They range from loosely managed agreements among various drug traffickers to formalized commercial enterprises. The term was applied when the largest trafficking organizations reached an agreement to coordinate the production and distribution of cocaine. Since that agreement was broken up, drug cartels are no longer actually cartels, but the term stuck and it is now popularly used to refer to any criminal narcotics related organization.

Organized crime groupings of highly centralized criminal enterprises

Organized crime is a category of transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals who intend to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for profit. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist groups, are politically motivated. Sometimes criminal organizations force people to do business with them, such as when a gang extorts money from shopkeepers for "protection". Gangs may become disciplined enough to be considered organized. A criminal organization or gang can also be referred to as a mafia, mob, or crime syndicate; the network, subculture and community of criminals may be referred to as the underworld. European sociologists define the mafia as a type of organized crime group that specializes in the supply of extra-legal protection and quasi law enforcement. Gambetta's classic work on the Sicilian Mafia generates an economic study of the mafia, which exerts great influence on studies of the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, Hong Kong Triads and the Japanese Yakuza.

Illegal drug trade global black market

The illegal drug trade or drug trafficking is a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs that are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs through the use of drug prohibition laws.

A cartel is a group of apparently independent producers whose goal is to increase their collective profits by means of price fixing, limiting supply, or other restrictive practices. Cartels typically control selling prices, but some are organized to control the prices of purchased inputs. Antitrust laws attempt to deter or forbid cartels. A single entity that holds a monopoly by this definition cannot be a cartel, though it may be guilty of abusing said monopoly in other ways. Cartels usually occur in oligopolies, where there are a small number of sellers and usually involve homogeneous products.


The basic structure of a drug cartel is as follows:

A drug lord, drug baron, kingpin, or narcotrafficker is a high ranking crime boss who controls a sizable network of people involved in the illegal drug trade. Such figures are often difficult to bring to justice, as they are normally not directly in possession of something illegal, but are insulated from the actual trade in drugs by several layers of underlings. The prosecution of drug lords is therefore usually the result of carefully planned infiltration into their networks, often using informants from within the organization.

There are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers, [6] although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financiers and money launderers. [7] [8] [9] In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle, [10] and are technically not considered part of the cartel's logistics.


Cape Verdean organized crime refers to the various criminal organizations that are active in Cape Verdean diaspora communities. The Cape Verdean Islands themselves are not main centres for criminal activities, but Cape Verde's increased importance as a transshipment point in the West African cocaine trade and the existence of sizeable Cape Verdean communities in New England, the Dutch port city of Rotterdam as well as in several cities in Portugal, France and Switzerland led to the formation of criminal gangs in the community active in the international drug trade supplemented with other criminal activities. Cape Verdean organized crime primarily comes in the form of street gangs, with varying levels of organization and sophistication.

Mungiki is a banned ethnic organisation in Kenya. The name means "a united people" or "multitude" in the Kikuyu language. The religion, which apparently originated in the late 1980s, is secretive and bears some similarity to mystery religions. Specifics of their origin and doctrines are unclear. What is clear is that they favour a return to indigenous African traditions.

Confraternities in Nigeria Abuja

Confraternities in Nigeria are secret-society like student groups within higher education that have recently been involved in illegal and violent activities. The exact death toll of confraternity activities is unclear. One estimate in 2002 was that 250 people had been killed in campus cult-related murders in the previous decade, while the Exam Ethics Project lobby group estimated that 115 students and teachers had been killed between 1993 and 2003.


North America


Lucien Rivard was a Quebec criminal known for a sensational prison escape in 1965.

The Red Scorpions is a gang based in British Columbia, Canada. It was originally formed in 2005 by Quang Vinh Thang Le, Konaam Shirzad, Matthew Johnston and two other un-named young offenders. Michael Le testified at the Surrey Six trial that he and Shirzad initially formed the Red Scorpions after meeting in a youth detention centre facility. Le said the name Scorpions was a tribute to his "older brother who was killed and his nickname used to be Scorpion". The gang "used the word Red to symbolize blood" he said. Le said Jamie Bacon and his brothers were not founders but joined the gang a few years later.

The Bacon Brothers, Jonathan, Jarrod, and Jamie, are a trio of gangsters born in Abbotsford, British Columbia, suspected of multiple firearms and drug trafficking charges and implicated in a rash of homicides that have occurred in the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver area. Jonathan, the eldest brother, was murdered in Kelowna on August 14, 2011.

United States

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the US by state in 2016 Map of US Violent Crime.svg
Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the US by state in 2016

The United States of America is the world's largest consumer of cocaine [21] and other illegal drugs. [22] [23] [24] This is a list of American criminal organizations involved in illegal drug traffic, drug trade and other related crimes in the United States:

American Mafia

Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 19th century formed various small-time gangs which gradually evolved into sophisticated crime syndicates which dominated organized crime in America for several decades. Although government crackdowns and a less-tightly knit Italian-American community have largely reduced their power, they remain an active force in the underworld.

Active crime families
Defunct mafia families
Jewish mafia
African-American organized crime

Certain members of the Black Panther Party, particularly the Oakland chapter, also engaged in criminal activities such as drug dealing and extortion.

Irish Mob


The Merida Initiative, a U.S. Counter-Narcotics Assistance to Mexico Mexican drug cartels 2008.jpg
The Mérida Initiative, a U.S. Counter-Narcotics Assistance to Mexico

Mexican cartels (also known in Mexico as: La Mafia (the mafia or the mob), La Maña (the skill / the bad manners), [43] Narcotraficantes (Narco-Traffickers), or simply as Narcos) usually refers to several, rival, criminal organizations that are combated by the Mexican government in the Mexican War on Drugs (List sorted by branches and heritage): [44]


South America




Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, also known as "Rasguno", arrest performed by the National Police of Colombia Gomez-Bustamante extradited from Colombia to the United States 2007.jpg
Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, also known as "Rasguño", arrest performed by the National Police of Colombia

Until 2011 Colombia remained the world's largest cocaine producer, [93] however with a strong anti-narcotic strategy in 2012 the country achieved a great decrease in cocaine production and fell to the third position, behind Peru and Bolivia. [94] Cocaine production in Colombia reached an all-time high in 2017. [95]

The current main actors in the drug trade are:

Historical actors in the drug trade were:



Historically Venezuela has been a path to the United States for illegal drugs originating in Colombia, through Central America and Mexico and Caribbean countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

According to the United Nations, there has been an increase of cocaine trafficking through Venezuela since 2002. [97] In 2005 Venezuela severed ties with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), accusing its representatives of spying. [98] Following the departure of the DEA from Venezuela and the expansion of DEA's partnership with Colombia in 2005, Venezuela became more attractive to drug traffickers. [99] Between 2008 and 2012, Venezuela's cocaine seizure ranking among other countries declined, going from being ranked fourth in the world for cocaine seizures in 2008 [100] to sixth in the world in 2012. [101] The cartel groups involved include:

  • The Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan moved to Venezuela, [102] which became an important hideout as the clan bought hotels and founded various businesses in Caracas and Valencia, as well as an extended ranch in Barinas, near the Colombian border. "Venezuela has its own Cosa Nostra family as if it is Sicilian territory," according to the Italian police. "The structure and hierarchy of the Mafia has been entirely reproduced in Venezuela." The Cuntrera-Caruana clan had direct links with the ruling Commission of the Sicilian Mafia, and are acknowledged by the American Cosa Nostra. [102]

Pasquale, Paolo and Gaspare Cuntrera were expelled from Venezuela in 1992, "almost secretly smuggled out of the country, as if it concerned one of their own drug transports. It was imperative they could not contact people on the outside who could have used their political connections to stop the expulsion." Their expulsion was ordered by a commission of the Venezuelan Senate headed by Senator Cristobal Fernandez Dalo and his money laundering investigator, Thor Halvorssen Hellum. They were arrested in September 1992 at Fiumicino airport (Rome), [103] [104] and in 1996 were sentenced to 13–20 years. [102]

In May 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported from United States officials that drug trafficking in Venezuela increased significantly with Colombian drug traffickers moving from Colombia to Venezuela due to pressure from law enforcement. [108] One United States Department of Justice official described the higher ranks of the Venezuelan government and military as "a criminal organization", with high ranking Venezuelan officials, such as National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, being accused of drug trafficking. [108] Those involved with investigations stated that Venezuelan government defectors and former traffickers had given information to investigators and that details of those involved in government drug trafficking were increasing. [108]

Central America


El Salvador



East Asia



Japanese criminal organizations

See also Kenji Doihara's criminal activities

The yakuza of Japan are similar to the Italian mafias in that they originated centuries ago and follow a rigid set of traditions, but have several aspects that make them unique, such as their full-body tattoos and their fairly open place in Japanese society. Many yakuza groups are umbrella organizations, smaller gangs reporting to a larger crime syndicate.

Active yakuza groups
Defunct yakuza groups


The Triads is a popular name for a number of Chinese criminal secret societies, which have existed in various forms over the centuries (see for example Tiandihui). However, not all Chinese gangs fall into line with these traditional groups, as many non-traditional criminal organizations have formed, both in China and the Chinese diaspora.

Southeast Asia

Vietnamese Xã Hội Đen

South Asia

Middle East

[119] [120]


Central Asia



Although organized crime existed in the Soviet era, the gangs really gained in power and international reach during the transition to capitalism. The term Russian Mafia, 'mafiya' or mob is a blanket (and somewhat inaccurate) term for the various organized crime groups that emerged in this period from the 15 former republics of the USSR and unlike their Italian counterparts does not mean members are necessarily of Russian ethnicity or uphold any ancient criminal traditions, although this is the case for some members.


See also Caucasus Emirate











Czech Republic




Balkan organized crime gained prominence in the chaos following the communist era, notably the transition to capitalism and the wars in former Yugoslavia.

Great Britain





Other organized crime groups based in Europe


Other parts of the world

Related Research Articles

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