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Mexico's Drug Cartels: Which Groups Are Running The Show?

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In this Oct. 9, 2009, file photo, the body of an unidentified beaten and mutilated man hangs from his neck under a bridge on the old Rosarito Highway as authorities stand by in Tijuana, Mexico.  (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)
In this Oct. 9, 2009, file photo, the body of an unidentified beaten and mutilated man hangs from his neck under a bridge on the old Rosarito Highway as authorities stand by in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)

Hair-raising reports of grisly murders, often carried out in plain sight, offer chilling reminders to rival drug cartels and intervening authorities in Mexico's drug war. As the government scrambles to assert its control, who is responsible for the bloodshed?

Leaders with colorful nicknames and eccentric habits are trotted out before the media alongside seized drugs and weapons. The presentations are intended to show off the government's successes in stymying violence, yet the death toll continues to climb.

The various gangs terrorizing Mexico control different swathes of territory, trafficking illegal drugs up to the United States via several routes. The government's failed response to the trafficking, most notably President Felipe Calderon's crackdown beginning in December 2006, has resulted in the deaths of about 50,000 people. The recent election of Enrique Pena Nieto from Mexico's old ruling party, the PRI, suggests little will change.

Much of the violence is attributable to violent clashes between the two main cartels, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel, and their allies. The Los Angeles Times explains:

In Mexico's eight most violent states, the battle has essentially boiled down to a no-holds-barred fight between two cartels: the Sinaloa network, Mexico's oldest and traditionally most powerful gang, and the newer and exceedingly vicious Zetas.

Mexico's network of drug cartels is vast and complex, with recent power struggles driving wedges between former allies and disbanding other groups entirely. Below, check out a few of the most notorious groups operating in the country:

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