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Mexico's ruthless drug lords protect themselves, their territories, and their criminal and drug trades, with horrifying brutality.
Beltran Leyva Organization
(Soldiers escort drug kingpin Hector Huerta Rios of the Beltran Leyva cartel on March 24, 2009. Tomas Bravo/Reuters)
City Base: Culiacan
Leader: Arturo Beltran Leyva, alias “The Beard"
States in sphere of influence: Sinaloa, Sonora, Nuevo Leon, Morelos
History: The Beltran Leyva brothers were long-standing members of the Sinaloa Cartel. But in 2008 they broke with the other bosses, unleashing a bloody civil war in the state capital Culiacan. Since then they have become a powerful independent organization with a vast network of corrupt officials on their payroll and foot soldiers fighting in paramilitary units known as FEDA, a Spanish acronym for the Special Forces of Arturo.
La Familia Michoacana
(Mexican soldiers talk with a child during a raid on a poor neighborhood in the drug-violence plagued town of Apatzingan May 9, 2007. Daniel Aguilar/Reuters)
City base: Apatzingan (Central Mexico)
States in sphere of influence: Michoacan, Guerrero, Mexico State, Morelos, Nuevo Leon
History: The shadowy Familia Michoacana appeared in 2006, unleashing violence in central Mexico in alliance with Los Zetas. They have since broken away to form a separate cartel that has expanded rapidly into surrounding states. They are notorious for trafficking crystal meth, but have also moved into kidnapping and extortion rackets.