Analysis of crime in Mexico

Mexico plays a crucial role in human trafficking, serving as a critical transit hub connecting Central America and North America. Victims, especially those from Central America, are often subjected to sexual and forced labor, with sex trafficking prevalent near the borders between the United States and Mexico, and Guatemala and Mexico. Forced agricultural labor is widespread in specific regions such as Guerrero and Oaxaca. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risks associated with human trafficking due to greater criminal territorial control, corruption, and institutional weaknesses in law enforcement. Simultaneously, poverty and insecurity in Central America have led to an active human smuggling market, exacerbating irregular migration to the U.S. through Mexico. Extortion is a significant source of income for criminal groups, affecting individuals, businesses, and the food industry, causing crises and supply chain disruptions. Addressing localized issues and dismantling criminal networks are necessary to create a safer environment.

Illicit Trade

The arms trafficking market in Mexico is a complex issue due to ineffective legislation and the influx of arms from the United States. The majority of illicitly seized weapons come from U.S. manufacturers, with Central America contributing grenades and RPG-7s. Legal firearm purchases by criminal entities and civilians in the U.S. fuel accessibility and violence in Mexico. Despite Mexican authorities’ efforts, the lack of comprehensive policy and coordination with their U.S. counterparts allows the arms trafficking market to expand nationally and regionally, causing bilateral tensions, with Mexico suing U.S. arms manufacturers. Seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border have not significantly reduced the supply to domestic criminal groups.

Furthermore, counterfeiting and piracy thrive in Mexico, making it a significant global producer and consumer of counterfeit goods. Over 10% of counterfeit products from the U.S. are sold in Mexican markets. Despite COVID-19’s impact, there has been an increased demand for counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Anti-counterfeiting efforts are hindered by criminal groups’ collaboration with customs authorities, and detecting label changes in illicit textiles is challenging.

Mexico has become a hub for the global illicit cigarette trade, with Chinese-manufactured cigarettes dominating non-national consumption. The pandemic has led to a decrease in legal cigarette sales, resulting in an increase in low-priced brands. This provides criminal groups with a source of income and a means to launder profits. The illicit trade also extends to alcoholic beverages, with over a third of consumption in Mexico being smuggled. These challenges highlight the importance of implementing comprehensive policies, promoting international collaboration, and improving security force coordination to address these interconnected issues threatening Mexico’s security and economy.


Mexico faces a significant challenge with its illegal timber trade, a profitable industry for criminal groups. The trafficking of rosewood, controlled by Chinese mafia groups with the help of local Mexican networks, generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits. Mexican authorities intercept numerous illicit shipments of rosewood destined for the Chinese furniture market, severely impacting local communities through extortions, kidnappings, and forced disappearances. Mexico’s legal timber industry is poorly regulated, leading to corrupt law enforcement agents resorting to violence against affected populations.

The country is an origin, transit, and destination for wildlife trafficking, closely linked to other criminal markets, particularly drug trafficking. While Mexico has traditionally been a transit country, its wildlife, including jaguars, golden eagles, totoaba fish, parrots, macaws, and reptiles, is increasingly trafficked globally. The illegal trade of totoaba fish, controlled by Chinese criminal organizations, generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Corrupt authorities exacerbate the problem by participating in trafficking operations and related violence.

The theft of non-renewable resources, such as oil and minerals, is widespread, involving criminal groups and corrupt officials from state-owned companies. Government efforts to combat illicit oil trade have had minimal success. Fuel theft remains a lucrative income source for criminal groups, linked to tax evasion and smuggling of foreign-origin fuel into Mexico. Fuel theft triggers violence, especially in states like Guanajuato and Puebla. Besides oil, criminal groups engage in illicit mineral extraction, causing territorial disputes, violence against legitimate mining companies, and disruptions for local communities. Mexican drug trafficking organizations are expanding their operations to include trafficking mercury of Mexican origin to South American countries where it is commonly used.


Mexican drug trafficking organizations significantly influence the U.S. heroin market, with almost all heroin seized in the United States originating from Mexico. The epicenter of heroin production and trafficking is in northwest Mexico, including states like Baja California, Sonora, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Michoacán, and Guerrero. There has been a shift towards fentanyl trafficking due to its profitability and lower labor requirements compared to heroin production.

These organizations also play a significant role in the global cocaine trade, acting as intermediaries and transporters of the drug worldwide. Mexico is a crucial transit country for cocaine from South America to the United States and increasingly to the EU. Territorial disputes among criminal groups over cocaine shipping routes northward to the United States have caused high levels of violence across Mexico, extending to Central American and Colombian trafficking markets.

Despite some U.S. states and Canada legalizing cannabis, Mexico remains the largest foreign supplier of cannabis to the United States. Mexican drug trafficking organizations are involved not only in cannabis but also in the production and transportation of synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine. Although fentanyl can be obtained directly from China, Mexican groups have increased domestic production. The growing demand for synthetic opioids among U.S. drug users has led to an increase in the importation of synthetic opioid components into Mexico, mainly through the seaports of Michoacán, Campeche, and Sinaloa. Additionally, Mexican cartels traffic methamphetamine to EU ports for further distribution.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are highly adaptable, shifting illicit substances and trafficking routes. This poses a significant challenge for Mexico’s security forces and their international partners.


Mexico is experiencing an increase in cybercrime. The national guard has detected numerous cyberattacks, often launched through malicious software programs. In recent years, federal institutions have fallen victim to cyberattacks, compromising their information systems and resulting in adverse reputational impacts. These incidents have led to the leakage of terabytes of confidential information. With the growing use of technology and the Internet, cybercrime is expected to continue rising in Mexico.

Financial Crimes

Financial crimes are a significant problem in Mexico, affecting state institutions, private companies, and citizens. State institutions have been accused of financial crimes, including tax evasion related to hydrocarbon exports and imports. Private companies suffer losses due to fraud and corruption. Finance-related cybercrime has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accusations of corruption regarding public contract appointments at the federal and local government levels increase the risk of embezzlement and other financial crimes, highlighting the widespread nature of this issue in Mexico.

Criminal Profiles

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are highly sophisticated, with substantial territorial control and the ability to influence state institutions through bribery and intimidation. In addition to drug trafficking, these groups engage in various criminal activities such as oil theft, human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion, amassing billions of dollars annually. They are armed with military-grade weaponry and fuel violence through territorial conflicts with rival organizations and state security forces. The state policy of avoiding confrontation and the perception of impunity contribute to the increase in attacks against law enforcement.

Internal fragmentation of these organizations leads to the formation of loosely structured criminal networks, complicating tracking efforts. State initiatives to capture criminal leaders have intensified, driven by community self-defense groups in Guerrero and Michoacán. Smaller criminal networks are responsible for local crimes such as extortion, car theft, oil theft, human trafficking, smuggling, illicit mining, and drug sales. These activities have contributed to an increase in disappearances. Additionally, these networks provide transportation and security services to larger organizations involved in transnational drug trafficking.

Mexico faces widespread corruption among state officials, facilitating organized crime activities at various levels. Collusion diverts illicit revenues to high-ranking officials, undermining law enforcement. Corruption persists in federal institutions combating organized crime, but local corruption is more concerning due to a deeper territorial knowledge. Drug trafficking organizations allegedly manipulate elections to support their political allies and resort to violence against perceived threats, exerting influence over Mexico’s democratic process.

In Mexico, both large and small private sector companies are involved in criminal activities such as tax fraud, money laundering, internal fraud, and environmental crimes. Corrupt practices within the private sector include obtaining services, permits, licenses, or evading sanctions. Although foreign criminal actors have a limited presence, this is due to the territorial dominance of Mexican criminal groups. Arrests of individuals from Eastern Europe, Italy, Asia, and leaders of the Salvadoran mafia seeking refuge highlight foreign involvement in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Criminality in Mexico – the organized crime index. (n.d.). Retrieved from