Drug cartels are criminal organizations developed with the primary purpose of promoting and controlling 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, such as those in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Japan, Italy, United States, Colombia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Below is the basic structure of the drug cartels in Mexico:
Falcons (Halcones): Considered the "eyes and ears" of the streets, the 'falcons' are the lowest rank in any drug cartel. They are responsible for supervising and reporting the activities of the military and their rival groups.
Hitmen (Sicarios): The armed group within the drug cartel that are responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, thefts, extortions, operating protection rackets, and defending their 'plaza' from rival groups and the military.
Lieutenants (Lugartenientes): The second highest position in the drug cartel organization that are responsible for supervising the hitmen and falcons within their own territory. They are allowed to carry out low-profile executions without permission from their bosses.
Drug lords (Capos): The highest position in any drug cartel that are responsible for supervising the entire drug industry, appointing territorial leaders, making alliances, and planning high-profile executions.
It is worth noting that there are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers, although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financers and money launderers. In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle, and are technically not considered part of the cartel's logistics.
Colombia, with a strong anti-narcotic strategy, has fought against groups responsible for the production of cocaine, achieving a great decrease in cocaine production. Thanks to this, White House drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske announced that Colombia is no longer the world's biggest producer of cocaine. The production of cocaine continues to decline in this country.
Colombian Cartels is a generic term that usually refers to various criminal organizations involved in Illegal drug trade in Colombia:
The Black Eagles
The Office of Envigado
Ejército Popular de Liberación (Formerly considered a guerrilla movement, as of 2013 considered a drug cartel.)
Libertadores del Vichada
Other organizations in Colombia involved in drug trafficking include:
ELN (Weakened by a US-backed counter-insurgency plan)
FARC (Weakened by a US-backed counter-insurgency plan)
Historical actors in the drug trade were:
Cali Cartel (dissolved)
Medellín Cartel (dismantled)
North Coast Cartel (unclear status since 2007)
Norte del Valle Cartel (dissolved)
Image By Martin St-Amant (S23678) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons