Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood
Aug 8, 2010
Nearly four years after President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led crackdown, the cartels are smuggling more narcotics into the U.S., amassing bigger fortunes and extending dominion at home.
The groups also are expanding their ambitions far beyond the drug trade, transforming themselves into broad criminal empires deeply involved in migrant smuggling, extortion, kidnapping and trafficking in contraband such as pirated DVDs.
Undeterred by the 80,000 troops and federal police officers arrayed against them, gunmen frequently take on Mexican forces in the open. Operatives of one group, the Zetas, did so in northern Mexico this spring when they blockaded army garrisons. In June a group believed to be linked to another organization, La Familia, ambushed federal police in the western state of Michoacan, killing 12 officers in early morning light.
Since Calderon announced the offensive when he took office in December 2006, more than 28,000 people have been killed. Most of them have been traffickers, dealers and associates. But innocent civilians account for a growing portion.