Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) – Founded by the four Beltran Leyva brothers, Arturo, Carlos, Alfredo and Hector. Formerly aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. All of the brothers have been killed or arrested, but the group continues to operate in parts of Mexico through “loose alliances” with larger cartels, according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). The subgroups rely on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, and Los Zetas.
Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) – Split from the Sinaloa Cartel in 2010, it is “one of the most powerful and fastest-growing in Mexico and the United States,” according to the DEA assessment. The US Department of Justice believes it is “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world,” and responsible for egregious violence, loss of life, and increasing volumes of polydrug trafficking. Rubén Oseguera Cervantes, known as “El Mencho,” is believed to be the group’s leader.
Guerreros Unidos (GU) – According to the 2020 NDTA, GU is a splinter group from the BLO and has a working relationship with the CJNG, using the same transport networks to smuggle drugs, which has increasingly become heroin, to the US.
Gulf Cartel – Based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, it started in 1920. It split with its enforcers, Los Zetas, by 2010, and the fallout between the two groups had been called the “most violent in the history of organized crime in Mexico,” according to a 2019 CRS report. The cartel is now splintered into small, competing gangs.
Juarez Cartel and La Linea – Formerly aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, then began fighting it for control of Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua. They still hold a stake in the major smuggling corridor between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.
La Familia Michoacana – Based in the Michoacan state. Possibly defunct as of 2011. It announced it would disband in 2010, but some cells are still active in Guerrero and Mexico states, according to a CRS report.
Los Zetas Cartel – Comprised of former elite members of the Mexican military. Initially, they worked as hitmen for the Gulf Cartel, before becoming independent. The group has a reputation for being particularly savage and is known for massacres, killing civilians, leaving body parts in public places, and posting killings on the internet. The group’s main asset is not drugs, but organized violence, including theft, extortion, human smuggling, and kidnapping, according to a CRS report.
Sinaloa Cartel – Considered to be the dominant drug trafficking organization in Mexico, some experts believe it may be in decline due to recent infighting between factions and the rise of CJNG. It was founded and led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was arrested in 2014, escaped in July 2015 and was rearrested in January 2016. He was convicted in a US federal court in February 2019. The cartel may now be operating “with a more horizontal leadership structure than previously thought.“
Tijuana/Arellano Felix Cartel – Based in Tijuana. Most of the Arellano Felix brothers have been apprehended or killed. May be regaining power due to an alignment with CJNG.