Mexico has for at least four decades been among the most important producers and suppliers of heroin and marijuana to the US market.
|Drug-related killings 2007-2011|
The figures include the killings of gang members, police and troops, as well as innocent bystanders
A history of civil strife and instability, weak institutions, and staggering impunity make the region extremely vulnerable.
The northern triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in particular, already among the most violent nations in the world, have seen a marked rise in the operations of Mexican gangs and their affiliates.
In Guatemala, with a murder rate at least double that of Mexico’s, between 250 and 350 tonnes of cocaine are reported to pass through every year.
Almost five years since the government’s crackdown on drug gangs began the drug trafficking organisation’s have responded with escalating violence.
Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has deployed 80,000 troops to the streets to take on powerful drug traffickers shortly after taking office in December 2006.
In recent years, drug trafficking violence in Mexico has claimed thousands of lives and reached a level of intensity and ferocity that has exceeded previous periods of drug-related violence.
More than 35,000 people have been killed since Calderon launched a crackdown against drug gangs. However, human rights groups believe the actual number could be as high as 50,490.
At stake for the traffickers is an industry worth up to $39 billion a year, according to estimates by US officials, which is equivalent to almost 15 per cent of Mexico’s annual budge