Mexican drug cartels: Where things stand

Nearly five years into an increasingly bloody war against the drug cartels that has killed 35,000 people and shaken the entire population, there is certainly little to cheer about. Nevertheless, the government's strategy of targeting the "kingpins" has had some success. The goal is to nab or kill the big guys and hope their organizations crumble without them. Certainly, every time a powerful drug boss is hauled before cameras in chains, there's a psychological effect on the public.

This week, the government was able to boast of one of its most significant victories so far with the arrest of Jesus Mendez (or "The Monkey"), who headed the powerful La Familia organization, which analysts say is one of the most violent in the country.

President Felipe Calderón tweeted that Mendez's capture is a "great blow by the Federal Police against organized crime."

La Familia, one of six major cartels in Mexico, was known for the almost pseudo-religious devotion of its followers.

"This is a huge deal," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "There's a lot of reason to believe the cartel will splinter at this point."

Selee said that could mean more violence in the short term, as people fight over what remains of the cartel.

Here's where things stand with some of the other major drug kingpins.

Arrested/ Killed:

Nazario Moreno, also known as "The Craziest one."

Killed in a shoot out with police last December.

The founder of La Familia. His death splintered the group. With Mendez's arrest this week, the cartel is all but finished, analysts say. "The cartel was basically run by two guys, and they have both been taken out," Selee said.

Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel

Killed by police last July.

Coronel was one of three leaders in the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and most powerful cartel in Mexico. He was credited with introducing Meth into the Mexican drug trade. Given the cartel's power and scope, his death didn't have a major impact on its operations, but it was a big boost for Calderón's strategy.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as "La Barbie"

Arrested in August, 2010. 

La Barbie was an enforcer with the Beltran Leyva Cartel, who rose quickly through the ranks to become one of its leaders. He was born in Texas and was a high school football star. One of the only Mexican Americans to take a leadership role in the cartels, La Barbie was a notorious killer.

"In the cartels, there are businessmen and then there are warriors. La Barbie was a warrior," said Scott Stewart, VP of Tactical Intelligence at Stratfor, a risk analysis and geopolitics website and publisher.

Still at large:

Joaqin Guzman, also known as "El Chapo" or Shorty

Probably the most powerful drug lord in Mexico. He's head of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's largest, which controls most of the territory between El Paso and Juarez and is responsible for almost a quarter of the illegal drugs trafficked into the United States from Mexico. With a net worth of about $1 billion, Forbes Magazine last year named him the 60th most powerful person in the world. According to Stewart, the cartel is at war with its main rival, the Zetas. Other cartels are mainly lining up on one side of the fight or the other.

Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano

El Chapo's main rival and the head of the Zetas Cartel. There were reports over the weekend that he might have been killed in a firefight with another group, the Gulf Cartel, but they have yet to be confirmed. Even if he were dead, analysts say, the Zetas would remain a major force, due to Lazcano's powerful second-in-command. The Zetas were former commandos in the Mexican army who went rogue and became the enforcers for other cartels. Eventually, they formed their own crime syndicate. According to CNN, the U.S. government says it is "the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico." 


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist outs himself as an illegal immigrant

It isn't often that an undocumented immigrant in the United States outs himself to the world, risking the wrath of the justice system. And rarer too is it for that person to be an award-winning journalist.

So Jose Antonio Vargas's compelling essay in the New York Times Magazine today is worth noting. The former Washington Post reporter shared a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

When he was 12 and living in the Philippines, his mother put him on an airplane to go live with his grandparents in California, he writes. He didn't realize he was living in the United States illegally until he tried to get a driver's license when he turned 16. The DMV told him his documents were fake.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I've tried. Over the past 14 years, I've graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I've created a good life. I've lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don't ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

What's going to happen to Vargas now that he's made his story public? The Atlantic spoke to an immigration lawyer who said he could be detained and put through deportation procedures, but the very public nature of his revelation might actually work in his favor.

"He's outspoken in The New York Times, he's drawn considerable attention to his story. It's very difficult for the immigration machinery to operate in front of someone that's that public,"  David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Atlantic.

The more immediate ramifications could be on his career. Vargas -- who has also written for the Huffington Post and the New Yorker -- might have trouble getting publications to pay him, now that he has outed himself as illegal.

"You can't hire an independent contractor knowing he's undocumented," Leopold told the Atlantic.