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Narcodata, an In-Depth Data Journalism Project That Contextualizes the Drug War in Mexico


Screenshot from Narcodata's introduction video.

Mexico, a country where drug cartels and criminal organizations have permeated the everyday life of the country, it's hard to follow who is who among gangsters and how strong their influence is. An in-depth data journalism project by independent news site Animal Político and collaborative data journalism platform Poderopedia simplifies all this complex data behind the country’s failed drug war of the past four decades.

Using easy-to-comprehend, interactive visualizations, Narcodata tells the story of how the cartels were born, who their leaders are, the conflicts among them, their geographic expansion and their known crimes.

La idea de este sitio surgió hace un año, cuando Animal Político obtuvo el 21 de octubre de 2014, gracias la ley de transparencia, un documento de la Procuraduría General de la República que muestra todas las células delictivas que operan en México y el cártel al que obedecen. Ese documento, además, tumba varios “mitos” creados por funcionarios públicos, como que el Distrito Federal está libre de crimen organizado o que todas los grupos delictivos pierden poder con el actual gobierno federal […]

La experiencia de Poderopedia nos permitió mirar a los cárteles, hasta cierto punto, como poderosas organizaciones comerciales con influencia en los asuntos públicos del país.

The idea for this website arose a year ago, when on October 21, 2014, Animal Político obtained access — thanks to the country's transparency law — to a document from the attorney general that shows all the organized crime cells operating in Mexico and the cartel to which they report. Also, this document debunks several “myths” created by government officials like the one that says Mexico City is free from organized crime or like the one that claims gangs are losing power under the current federal administration.

[…] The experience of Poderopedia allowed us to see the cartels, to a certain point, as powerful commercial organizations with influence over the country's public affairs.

Narcodata also provides explanations of the context surrounding the situation to understand the dark history of organized crime in Mexico and the players who have taken part in its progression.

Their first article, “Siete presidentes, pocos resultados: 40 años de expansión del crimen organizado” (Seven presidents, few results: 40 years of organized crime expansion) highlights the role the United States has played in bolstering drug cartels in Mexico:

Las estrategias fallidas explican, en parte, la supervivencia y fortalecimiento del crimen organizado, pero su avance tampoco podría entenderse sin considerar la vecindad con Estados Unidos, el mercado de consumidores de sustancias ilícitas más grande del mundo y el proveedor más importante de armas para cualquier grupo delincuencial. […]

Pero no sólo es una cuestión de consumidores. Las organizaciones criminales mexicanas también han ganado fuerza gracias al fácil acceso a armas de fuego. Hace una década, el presidente George W. Bush derogó la disposición que prohíbe la venta de armas automáticas y de asalto en Estados Unidos. Para 2014, el 71.9% de las armas incautadas en México vinieron de Estados Unidos, según la propia Agencia de Alcohol, Tabaco, Armas de Fuego y Explosivos de Estados Unidos (ATF, por sus siglas en inglés).

The failed [government] strategies partially explain the survival and strengthening of organized crime, but its advance cannot be understood without considering the neighboring United States, the biggest market for illegal drug consumption in the world and the most important weapon supplier for any criminal group.

[…] Mexican criminal organizations have gained power thanks to easy access to weapons. A decade ago, President George W. Bush abolished the law that forbade the sale of automatic and assault weapons in the United States. In 2014, 71.9% of seized weapons in Mexico came from the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The piece includes an interview with Guillermo Valdés, the former director of the Mexican intelligence agency CISEN (Center for Research and National Security). He explained that for a long time the state's security strategy was focused on seizing drugs and weapons and arresting drug lords, when they should have been working on strengthening local institutions such as the police or courts to prevent corruption and ensure that justice is served.

Elaborating on how the government has failed to solve the problem, Alejandro Hope, security editor at news site El Daily Post, told Narcodata in an interview for their article titled “Con Peña Nieto, ‘El Chapo’ y Jalisco Nueva Generación dominan el negocio de la droga” (With Peña Nieto, ‘El Chapo’ and Jalisco Nueva Generación control the drug business):

Las fuerzas armadas pueden ser muy útiles para cazar a los grandes capos pero no lo son para prevenir la extorsión a taxistas y comerciantes que estén en manos de los grupos que quedaron de esas grandes organizaciones. Se necesitan policías locales fuertes, procuradurías estatales con mayor capacidad de armar casos en contra de esas mafias locales, un sistema penitenciario menos vulnerable y es ahí en dónde estamos atorados y en dónde no hay muestra de avance en este gobierno.

The armed forces can be useful to hunt big drug lords, but are not good at preventing the extortion of taxi drivers or businessmen and women, who are left in the hands of those groups that came out of the breakdown of the big organizations. Strong local police forces are needed, state attorneys with a greater capacity to present cases against local mafias, a less vulnerable penitentiary system, and this is where we are stuck and where the current government lacks results.

As for the extended violence that burdens the country, Narcodata explains how the armed groups that support drug cartels became powerful as their “side businesses” of kidnapping, extorting, human trafficking, and assaulting civilians thrived:

Los ataques contra la población se hicieron más comunes desde que, a finales de la década de 1990, las organizaciones criminales decidieron fortalecerse con el reclutamiento de brazos armados o células delictivas dedicadas a matar y utilizadas para atacar a grupos rivales y a cualquier ciudadano. […]

La expansión de los brazos armados también implicó un aumento en el saqueo a la sociedad civil, que se convirtió en una actividad cotidiana de esas células delictivas para autofinanciarse. […]

Attacks against civilians became common after the 1990s when the criminal organizations decided to toughen up by recruiting armed branches or crime cells dedicated to killing and used to strike rival groups and citizens. […]

The expansion of the armed branches also implied a surge in the looting of civil society. This became a daily activity for these cells to finance themselves. […]

The market for illicit drugs, calculated to bring in annual revenues between US $18 billion and 39 billion, have long been violently contested by criminal organizations in a bloody war that has resulted in tens of thousands of people killed, disappeared and displaced in Mexico.


  • malcolmkyle

    Prohibition has finally run its course; the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, users and non-users worldwide, have been destroyed or severely disrupted; many countries that were once shining beacons of liberty and prosperity have, through scientific ignorance and blind political fanaticism, become repressive smoldering heaps of toxic hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency. It is now the duty of every last one of us to insure that the people who are responsible for this shameful situation are not simply left in peace to enjoy the wealth and status that their despicable actions have, until now, afforded them. Former and present Prohibitionists should not be allowed to remain untainted or untouched by the unconscionable acts that they have viciously committed on their fellow human beings. They have provided us with neither safe communities nor safe streets. We should provide them with neither a safe haven to enjoy their ill-gotten gains nor the liberty to repeat such a similar atrocity.

  • […] Ara un gran projecte de periodisme de dades, Narcodata, s’ha imposat l’objectiu de posar al descobert tota la informació disponible sobre el narcotràfic mexicà, de la manera més visual i planera […]

  • […] Ara un gran projecte de periodisme de dades, Narcodata, s’ha imposat l’objectiu de posar al descobert tota la informació disponible sobre el narcotràfic mexicà, de la manera més visual i planera […]

  • […] journalism and drugs: Narcodata aims to contextualize Mexico’s organized crime data, and CMS maps opioid prescriptions by […]

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