The cartels of Mexico are still operating, but with a new and sophisticated tool.
A map that shows where drugs are produced and where they go has become something of a meme.
A map of the cartels’ manufacturing and distribution network was created by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University at Buffalo.
It shows where the cartels manufacture drugs, where they sell them, and where the money for the drugs comes from.
The map also shows where they get the drugs, how they can buy them, how the money is laundered, and what kinds of regulations they have.
“We wanted to see how we can make maps of a system that’s largely invisible to us,” says David J. Shaver, an assistant professor of information science at the university and the author of the map.
“It’s hard to see that in real-time.”
The map is a collaboration between the Texas A&M University and the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology at the Buffalo Institute for Advanced Studies.
They used data from Google Earth to create a 3D map of Mexican drug production and distribution.
The researchers took data from more than 100,000 photos of Mexican streets, and then extracted information about the locations of drug factories, the drugs they made, and how the cartels obtained the drugs.
“The map shows the cartels in the most detail, with their main hubs, their warehouses, and their distribution centers,” Shaver says.
“We can actually visualize the entire structure.”
Shaver and his colleagues created the map using Google Earth.
They also downloaded hundreds of images of the cartel’s manufacturing and distributing sites, and compared them to images of locations in Mexico City and other cities in the U.S. “If you look at the city maps, we could easily tell the cartel headquarters is in San Diego, but the main facility is in Nuevo Laredo,” he says.
The researchers created the 3D maps by stitching together the topographic map of Mexico and the topographical map of California, then combining the two into a map of cartel-controlled territory.
“There’s a lot of overlap in the way we did it, because we also used a model from geography to estimate the distance between different areas,” Shiver says.
For example, the map of drug production in Mexico is similar to the map that is produced in the states of California and Washington, which is where most of the drugs are grown and distributed.
But in both states, the cartels produce most of their drugs from the same location, with the exception of Los Angeles, which has a large concentration of Mexican production.
“These areas, like the desert and the cities, are the most densely populated and concentrated of the Mexican states,” Shivers says.
The map also demonstrates that cartels in Mexico have very few neighbors.
In both states the cartels control most of Mexico’s interior.
In contrast, the cartel in the United States has a network of more than 150 cities and towns, many of which are located in faraway places like Canada, Canada, Mexico, and other countries.
“In Mexico, the Mexican cartels have no neighbors, and they have no other neighbors in the world,” Shive says.
In Canada, where cartels control almost all of the territory, “there’s no way to have any kind of network to connect with a cartel in Mexico, because the cartels are already integrated into Canadian society.”
The researchers have been using the map to identify cartel production sites for more than a decade.
“Our goal was to try to help the authorities understand what happens in Mexico and how they should respond to it,” Shver says.
“The Map of the Cartel” will be published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.