How Narco Data seeks to x-ray Mexico’s drug cartels

Mexican media is saturated with drug war coverage, from gruesome images of people hanging from bridges to the video of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán pacing in his cell moments before his escape. But what ties all these narratives together and how did Mexico get here? Mexican data journalism is now trying to shed some light on that question by analyzing 40 years of drug cartel evolution.

“The government has failed to offer citizens information that’s transparent, accessible and easy to understand,” says Dulce Ramos, General Coordinator of Narco Data, a new online platform that wants to connect the dots of the drug war. “Our platform fills that vacuum.”

The digital project is heavy on graphs and visual explainers that breakdown cartels into criminal family trees, highlighting ties between organizations and their rise to power.

By looking at drug war numbers, government documents and conducting independent research, Narco Data’s journalists and analysts are building a digital platform to develop narratives and hopefully reach conclusions to help Mexicans better understand the complexities of Mexican organized crime.

Drug cartel evolution by president.Narco Data

How cartels evolved during each presidential term.

And they’ve come up with a few already.

“No president has had an effective strategy,” Ramos told Fusion, explaining the data analyzed so far shows how during the 1970s there were two cartels operating in Mexico, and today there are nine.

There’s also information that can help explain a surge in violence.

“When the Gulf Cartel created The Zetas as their armed wing, other cartels followed suit creating dozens of splinter cells that are responsible for some of the most gruesome massacres we’ve witnessed in the last decade,” she says. The government not only has to face big organizations but also smaller factions that often become mini-cartels in their own right.

Number of cartel splinter cells during each presidential term.Narco Data

Number of cartel splinter cells during each presidential term.

The platform also analyzes how cartels have reacted to different presidents and their anti-drug policies.

Ramos believes the insights can eventually lead to better strategies and also help people better understand the dynamics of the drug war. “We aspire to be the go to website for citizens and those abroad to consult and understand narcos in Mexico,” she said.

The site intends to periodically release new interactives explaining different drug war facets, from a breakdown of turf disputes between cartels to how some groups have shifted from trafficking drugs to kidnapping and extortion.

Narco Data could ultimately become a much-needed Wikipedia of Mexican organized crime that explains how these complex criminal empires split, morph and remain as presidents come and go.


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