Just a few years ago, drug-related violence in Mexico had reached such alarming levels that some experts worried the country was on the brink of becoming a failed state. The decision by President Felipe Calder&oacuten (2006-2012) to launch a full-scale military offensive against the drug cartels backfired badly. Violence soared, and in portions of Mexico, one or more drug cartels challenged the legal government for preeminence. By the time Calder&oacuten left office, more than 60,000 Mexicans were dead from the fighting and another 25,000 were missing.

The situation stabilized somewhat after that time. Calder&oacuten’s successor, Enrique Pe&ntildea Nieto, modestly de-emphasized the strategy of confronting the cartels militarily. And the turf fights among the trafficking organizations became less intense. Indeed, one of the dirty little secrets of the drug war is that the decline in violence coincided almost precisely with the rise of the Sinaloa cartel to barely disputed preeminence in Mexico’s drug trade. In any case, the number of drug-related fatalities peaked in 2011 and then declined steadily. In 2013 there were 18, 331 homicides—a 15 percent decline from 2012. And 2012 had already witnessed a small drop from 2011. In 2014, the number of killings fell even further, to 17,342.
But in 2015 that trend abruptly reversed, and that development has ominous implications. The turf wars that so plagued Mexico earlier in the twenty-first century show signs of returning, as existing cartels, and some new entries, seek to gain control over the trafficking routes to the multi-billion-dollar U.S. consumer market. That possibility has increased with the arrest of “El Chapo” Guzman, the long-time leader of the Sinaloa cartel.