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File:The cartel2 884.jpg

Meet the Face of Cocaine Kingpins

In the underworld, there are several factions, usually based on location and ethnicity. The Cartel is an umbrella term for many mafia-like groups based in South America. In real life, these cartels are behind trafficking cocaine, and occasionally arming and supporting various armed groups, both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. Cocaine supplied to the US is refined to Crack and sold by Gang-Bangers.

One of the most infamous cartels was the Medellin cartel, and its leader Pablo Escobar (pictured), who ran most of the cocaine trade in the Americas during the 80's and 90's, until Escobar was taken down by the Colombian Search Bloc with the assistance of the United States. Escobar's power and reach was so big during his heyday that he was (and still is) referred to as the "world's greatest outlaw." Additionally, the financial magazine Forbes described him as the 'world's richest criminal'.

The Cartel was a popular villain in fiction during the 80's and the 90's, when the drug trade made the headlines big time.

For their adversaries and affiliates, see The Mafia and Gang-Bangers. See also The Syndicate. Usually the Ruthless Foreign Gangsters in works set during the 80's, and occasionally engaged in a Mob War with another organized crime group.

Examples of The Cartel include:

Anime and Manga

  • Black Lagoon has a Columbian drug cartel as one of the four criminal organisations in Roanapur, who were the focus of one Story Arc.


  • Scarface, the 1980s remake, under the command of the Bolivia-stationed Alejandro Sosa.
  • Blow is about a white American dealer who deals with the cartels, including Pablo Escobar.
  • Robert Rodriguez's Mariachi trilogy pits the protagonist against the Cartels.
  • Léon: The Professional's first major job is taking out a cartel leader.
  • Sanhez's cocaine business in Licence to Kill.
  • Traffic features a Mexican cartel as the antagonist.


Live-Action TV

  • Breaking Bad
  • The Cartel (usually either Colombian or Mexican) has made many appearances in various shows in the Law & Order franchise, usually portrayed as being untouchable due to their ruthless and violent nature. Any episode showcasing The Cartel has a high probability of ending with all witnesses either dead or too scared to testify, thus allowing the Smug Snake defendant to walk free. In one instance, on the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Loss", this resulted in the show's ADA being forced to fake her own death and enter Witness Protection to avoid a contract on her life.
  • On Caprica, the Ha'la'tha is a bizarre merging of this with the more Italian-oriented Mafia as well as, of all things, Ancient Greek culture.
  • The characters in Entourage at one point work on a biopic of Pablo Escobar titled "Medellin".
  • Season 3 of 24 prominently featured one run by Ramon and Hector Salazar, the main antagonists of the season's first half. As well as the usual drug smuggling, they're trying to diversify by planning to obtain a deadly virus, though unknown to them this is actually part of a sting operation being run by Jack and Tony.


  • Rapper Nas once adopted the stage name "Nas Escobar" as a reference to the aforementioned Pablo.

Video Games

Western Animation

  • In The Boondocks, one of Riley's many "street names" is Riley Escobar.

Real Life

  • Mexico has many, but perhaps the most infamous cartel is Los Zetas. Their founders were Mexican special forces who went rogue and started doing work for the Gulf Cartel. Nowadays, they are an autonomous cartel as well as enemies of the Gulf Cartel, and many of their founding members are either arrested or dead, meaning they aren't as deadly as they used to be, but they are still known for their brutality. Just how feared are these guys? Well, one day, they threatened to kill the inhabitants of the small city Ciudad Mier. All 4,000 inhabitants left the town, leaving it completely abandoned.
    • Usually Mexican Cartels are business-like and exude a Pragmatic Villainy aura: they usually look for profit and if you don't mess with them, they don't mess with you. Los Zetas took this to extreme levels: running extortions against anyone regardless of economic level or profit, attacking and killing civilians for little to no reason, killing the entire family of an enemy instead of only the enemy, kidnapping and killing horribly the victims even when the ransom is paid, among other atrocities to a nationwide extent. And we have yet to get to the nasty parts.