About the Cartel Project

Since 2000, 119 journalists have been killed in Mexico, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making the country the most dangerous place in the world for members of the press. This year, 60 journalists from 25 international media outlets came together to pursue the stories of their murdered colleagues. 

An unprecedented collaboration, “The Cartel Project” was coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a global network of investigative journalists whose mission is to continue the work of reporters who are threatened, censored or killed.  Working together across 18 different countries over the course of 10 months, the journalists behind “The Cartel Project” investigated the global networks of Mexican drug cartels and their political connections around the world

The consortium of journalists took up the work of Regina Martínez, a journalist for the magazine Proceso whose 2012 murder was seen as a new low for impunity in crimes against the press. Eight years after her death, they followed Martinez’s leads about the links between politicians and drug traffickers in the state of Veracruz. They discovered that in the months before her untimely death, Martinez had been preparing to publish an explosive report about thousands of individuals who had mysteriously disappeared. They interviewed sources who had never spoken on-the-record before, revealing how local authorities sabotaged the investigation into her death and put a scapegoat behind bars without any tangible proof. 

Regina Martínez, in Xalapa (Veracruz, Mexico).
Credit: Alberto Morales/Agencia Multigráfica

Around the world, journalists partnering with Forbidden Stories tracked the international associates of Mexican criminal groups, revealing their connections to organized crime. In China and India, they exposed drug cartels’ expanding supply chain for precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, a deadly drug that’s ravaging the United States. In Europe, they investigated the rise of Mexican “cooks” in underground meth labs in The Netherlands and Belgium. They also looked into the highly opaque business of cyber surveillance companies selling Mexico increasingly invasive surveillance technologies that are being turned against journalists. Finally, they were given access to exclusive documents showing firearms sales to Mexico, finding that in Germany, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere multinational weapons manufacturers are selling hundreds of millions of euros of weapons and ammunition to Mexican states with a history of collusion with criminal groups and human rights violations

The Cartel Project was officially launched in Paris with our partners, after 5 months of investigation led by Forbidden Stories team. The collaborative investigation lasted 10 months.

“The Cartel Project” is a series of five investigations published simultaneously by 25 international media around the world starting on December 6, 2020. By publishing their stories at the same time, the members of “The Cartel Project” mean to send a powerful message to enemies of the free press: “Killing the journalist won’t kill the story.” 

Some front covers of media partners of the Cartel Project.

Media partners: Le Monde, France TV, Radio France, The Star, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Proceso, OCCRP, Le Soir, Knack, South China Morning Post, Süddeutsche Zeitung, WDR, NDR, Die Zeit, Lede, Haaretz, TheMarker, IRPI, Daraj, Proceso, El Pais, Prensa, Expresso, Radio Télévision Suisse, SVT, De Volkskrant