Drug cartels control almost as much territory in Mexico as the Islamic State controlled in Syria at the height of its power, a key Republican senator said this week after returning from a trip through the region.
Sen. James Lankford, one of the Republicans looking to lead on an immigration bill this year, said the cartels’ production and trafficking of heroin and fentanyl has created new problems for U.S. border security.
Mr. Lankford told the Tulsa World newspaper that the cartels are wealthy enough to field sizable armies that do battle with each other and with government officials who try to constrain them.
“Forty to 45 percent of Mexico is ungoverned or run by the cartels,” the senator told the newspaper. “ISIS at its height in Syria controlled 50 to 60 percent. There are 15,000 fighters working for the cartels.”
Mexico just concluded its most violent year in records dating back two decades, according to InsightCrime.org. The country recorded more than 29,000 homicides, for a rate of 22.5 per 100,000 citizens — up sharply from the previous year’s rate of 16.2.
Cartels were responsible for about 75 percent of those murders, according to one report.
While still lower than other troubled Latin American nations, “the country is seeing the deepening of a long-running security crisis as the fragmentation of crime groups throws the underworld into disarray,” the website reported.