Forced Labor Accounts for Thousands Missing in Mexico’s Drug War

A recent report indicates that civilians caught in the crossfire between drug cartels and the Mexican government may be also serving as human chattel, forced to perform labor in gang-run camps.

Over the last six years, a bloody stalemate has been in place between the Mexican federal government and the cartels, with an estimated 70,000 civilians killed in the process. At least 1,000 murders linked to organized crime have taken place each month since President Enrique Pena Nieto took over in December. Beyond the death, however, another facet to the conflict lurks just out of sight. In an article whose title translates to “Captives in Hell,” Spanish-language magazine Proceso features interviews with victims’ relatives and members of civil society, all of whom tell of a vast system of forced labor throughout Mexico.

These laborers are counted among the 26,000 “disappeared” in Mexico — civilians who have vanished without a trace — of whom many are assumed to be dead. In their interviews, civil society groups tell of some of these captives being alive but forced to perform “jobs” on behalf of the cartels. These can include “forced killings, preparing marijuana, constructing tunnels, cleaning safe houses, preparing food, installing communications equipment and acting as lookouts or sex slaves.”

The idea of cartels kidnapping individuals to perform specialized tasks is also well-documented, lending credibility to Procesco’s report. The Zetas — one of the deadliest gangs in Mexico — reportedly caused the forced disappearances of engineers in the recent past, forced to service the cartel’s sophisticated communications equipment. At one point, the Zetas’ infrastructure, supported through this forced labor, was enough to completely bypass the rest of the country’s communications’ systems entirely.

InSight Crime notes, however, that some of the claims Proceso make could still be inflated. “The idea that up to a third of Mexico’s disappeared victims may in fact be working in slave-like conditions is a horrifying proposition, although it seems unlikely given the huge profit margins of criminal organizations — why would they would need to resort to large-scale slave labor when they can pay willing recruits?” Miriam Wells asks in her analysis. “Isolated cases however, are certainly plausible,” she notes, given the rarity of being able to interview those who escape from captivity.

Disappearances go far beyond the issue of forced labor as well. According to a National Commission of Human Rights report, between 2009 and 2013, government officials freed 2,352 captives, 855 of whom were migrants. Both sides in the war have been blamed for these disappearances, with a report from Human Rights Watch earlier this year accusing the Mexican government of cooperating with many of the vanishing acts.

There are some glimmers of hope in the ongoing conflict, though. The Mexican Navy on Monday managed to capture Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the Zetas, taking him into custody without firing a shot. Morales’ capture means that three of the four top leaders in the Zetas have been killed or captured in the last year, likely weakening the group’s position. Despite that, other syndicates like the Sinaloa cartel, remain in place, ready to take over any ground the Zetas cede to the Mexican government.


Photo from Thinkstock


Richard A
Richard A1 years ago

I doubt much has changed in the time since this article was written; Slightly less demand in the illegal marijuana market, perhaps, and the names of the corrupt officials on both sides of the border might be different. Still corrupt, though.

Jav R.
Jav R4 years ago

Gracias por publicar

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Aud Nordby
Aud nordby4 years ago


Ravenna C.
Ravenna C4 years ago

It is very simple really. Decriminalize Drugs. Legalization won't create more drug users. People who use drugs will use them whether they are legal or not, for the very same reasons they use them now...escape from reality, addiction and self medication. Those reasons won't change. What will change is the profit for two specific organizations...Government (specifically politicians and their cronies who profit greatly from the "War on Drugs") and Illegal Drug Manufacturers.
Of course neither of these groups gives a damn about the devastation that addiction causes in the lives of people. They don't care that they are literally profiting from the misery of sick people. This is about what everything else is about these days...$GREED$..Low Level street dealers aren't getting rich, they are getting by, and they are desperate just like the addicts they sell to.
The War on Drugs is a SCAM!

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Kay Redmon
Kay Redmon4 years ago

Unless there are radical changes world wide, the problem of drugs will never go away. There is always someone willing to buy therefore someone willing to sell. It's been a social problem for many years & it won't go away until the drugs are legalized or all the cartels are put out of business !!! As far as using slave labour, why not ?? do you think they are stupid enough to pay people to do their bidding, even if they are willing, when they can force these peopleto work for nothing. Money makes money & will always be the case, & it speaks all languages, why are there so many corrupt officials ?? the lure of becoming rich quick will certainly change their minds. As far as Mexico goes, they know these people are listed as missing, mostly from the US, and once they cross the border they have to do as they are told, not what they would like to do. You don't have a dog & bark yourself. They use everyone they can for whatever reason they wish. The Proceso report does highlight what is going on there & even if it is "inflated" as suggested, there would still be a lot of truth written. Granted, some people do go missing, never to be seen again, but not in the masses as in Mexico...It's high time Governments around the world, put their heads together, even TRIAL legalizing drugs & see what the result will be..Things cannot get any worse & it may save lives in the process. Anti-drug campaigners will throw up their hands in horror, but it won't affect peopl

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

Unbelievably sad

Alexandra Hayward

Supply and demand. If there wasn't a demand for the drugs then they wouldn't supply it! Drugs make lots of money and in an area where ther is little else people will do whatever it takes to put food on the table. How about coming up with something else we want that they can grow, farm, or make to get the money they need? And while we do that, how about cleaning up our own streets so that the demand for the drugs is no longer there? And all those people in Mexico? Where do you think they are going to go when these drug gangs really take over? Yep the USA! This is not a Mexican problem! This is everyone's problem! And unless everyone pulls together it will get a lot worse!