Before we can begin to try and understand the situation in Mexico, we must first familiarize ourselves with what a Cártel is in the first place.
So, who and what are these organizations that have come to control the Mexican underworld?
Often in film we will see Cárteles treated in similar fashion to petty criminals and street gangs in that they are portrayed as having a singular leader whom wields absolute control over his subjects with wild and uncalculated brutality.
In reality, this is rarely if ever the case. A Cártel at it's heart is a collection of separate factions and gangs which fly under the banner of a single overarching 'brand' of sorts. In fact, in many cases in the Northeast of Mexico - this overarching brand is the only thing factions of an organization might have in common with one another.
To this extent we might consider a Cártel much more like a Mafia, with its separate families and clans all operating to meet their own individual ends and goals - even if it means confronting one another in order to gain territory and settle disputes.
This confrontation and infighting is especially true in instances of great governmental pressure, wherein the risk of operating begins to outweigh the rewards. Forcing members with any clout to break away from their parent faction and form their own in hopes of reaping greater returns. Naturally, these breakaway organizations will still fly the flag of whatever Cártel their parent organization was party to, because in a fashion similar to the Mafias of the United States and Italy, it is this 'branding' that leaves criminals most effective in sowing terror, which results in the power they require to extract rents.
How does it work?
Now that we have a basic understanding of 'what' a Cártel is, we can begin to try and understand how they work and the mechanisms through which they operate.
To do this, we will examine these organizations through sections such as: Estacas, Plaza, Claves & the means through which they make revenue.