Abstract for: Mexico’s Cartel Problem: A Systems Thinking Perspective

The unprecedented increase in recent years of cartel-related violence has presented growing challenges both to Mexico’s socio-political stability and to the United States’ (US) National interests. Current efforts to address Mexican cartels treat these organizations as only drug-trafficking networks and focus on law enforcement measures to interdict their operations. In this paper, we approach the cartel problem from a systems thinking perspective and present a holistic assessment of these complex criminal networks operating in multiple domains. By highlighting the dynamic relationships and complex feedbacks between critical variables involved in different domains of cartel operations, we identify the inherently systemic causal factors contributing to the problem situation. We argue that the efforts that rely on law enforcement measures and technological assistance alone will fail to produce lasting change. Instead they need to be coupled with high leverage strategies that address the socio-economic root causes that foster weak public institutions perpetuating illicit activities in Mexico.