4The Cartels Have an Advanced PR Campaign
Once I was in [a town whose name is withheld because beheadings], and I saw a billboard that read, "Mexican soldier! You get as little as $800 per month. You're fed with junk food. Join with us and earn a minimum of $1,000-2,000 a month. You'll get more free time!" You see these cartel signs in various parts of the country, offering soldiers hard cash for their weapons or loyalty.
They also have their own form of news. Spread mainly through Facebook, cartel news is less about informing people than it is about scaring the sopaipillas out of them with pictures and videos of gruesome beheadings. And also selfies -- yes, even murderous cartel gunmen feel the need to take sweet-ass profile pics whenever possible. Take this one, from the drug trade's answer to Medieval Times:
You'll want to stay at least 200 yards back during the "joust."
But hey, no good PR campaign ends with the Internet. The cartels also do their best to spread propaganda to the people who live in and around the place where they operate. If there's a hurricane or a flood or some sort of disaster, you can bet cartel trucks loaded with aid supplies will start flooding into the region, and that cartel men with cameras will be there to videotape it for YouTube. Because a few trucks loaded with food and water totally make up for all those murders:
3For Many Mexicans, Cartels Are the Government
The most successful cartels don't rule through fear alone. Cartels have been known to hand out presents at Christmas, like Santa Claus (if his beard was white from all the cocaine). Also, they give out money. Just straight up money.
All of Santa Cartel's reindeer have red noses.
Since the Mexican government is nonexistent in some parts of the country, cartels have taken to establishing schools and hospitals. But it's not out of the goodness of their hearts -- they recruit from these schools. We're talking poor kids in rural areas with not much else in the way of opportunity. Imagine if your dad worked his ass off all week for 20 bucks, and then the cool kid in school with an iPad and designer jeans starts saying, "You know what, you could earn $800 or $900 a month, I know some people ..."
That kid is going to listen real intently to what his "friend" has to say. It's not even a matter of greed; most of us would do the same if faced with a choice between "starvation wages" and "smuggling." It's the same with the police; you might earn as little as $11,000 per year as a local cop. If you go crooked, you can make three times that much. Integrity disappears fast when it's standing between you and things like antibiotics for your kids or plain ol' liquor money.
And for those who don't join ...