"I only tell you this one time. Don't fuck me, Tony. Don't you ever try to fuck me."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 Latin 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◊, who ran most of the cocaine trade in the Americas during the 80's and 90's, until he 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'. Even today, when most people think of Colombia, they think "Cocaine Land" (or should we say, ''País de la Cocaína?" Because "cocaína" is a really common word when discussing these people). 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. With all the recent news about the Mexican cartels' graphic executions (mostly the Zetas), expect to see these guys as popular antagonists in the near future. 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. Not to be confused with literal cartels in the sense of small groups of large companies conspiring to manipulate the market.
— Alejandro Sosa, Scarface (1983)
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Anime and Manga
- 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.
- The Professional's first major job is taking out a cartel leader.
- Franz Sanchez' cocaine business in Licence to Kill is described as an "invisible empire from Chile to Alaska".
- Traffic features a Mexican cartel as the antagonist.
- Clear and Present Danger, with Ernesto Escobedo.
- In Act of Valor, the terrorist Big Bad is being aided by a Ukrainian crime lord who controls a drug-running cartel stretching from Central America to Mexico. The SEAL team first has to rescue a CIA agent being tortured by the cartel in Central America before tracking their operations across the globe and raiding the Ukranian leader's boat. The final battle is between the combined US Navy SEAL/Mexican SOF team and the cartel soldiers and terrorists, the former of whom are trying to smuggle the latter's suicide bombers into the United States.
- In the 2000 remake Bedazzled, Elliot wishes to be "very very rich and very very powerful and married to Alison" (his crush). How does the Devil grant his wish? By making him a rich Colombian drug lord (a clear Expy of Escobar). Oh, and his wife is not only having an affair, she hates his guts. Well, he never said she had to love him.
- Mexican drug cartels are among the antagonists in Machete.
- Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy features the Medellin Cartel as the primary antagonists of the novel, in a conflict that escalates into something of an unofficial war between them and the United States.
- Richard Morgan's Black Man prominently features a cartel comprised of Quechua-speaking indigenous Andeans.
- Pavlovs Dogs has one of these as one of the few bastions of civilization left After the End.
- Breaking Bad features the Mexican Salamanca cartel. The New Mexico branch is initially headed by Tuco Salamanca; his cousins Leonel and Marco run the main operation; all three were raised by their uncle, Don Hector. Unlike most other fictional Cartels, their primary business is crystal meth. Their relationship with Gus Fring (and therefore Walter White) is...complicated.
- 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 (which is Truth in Television, as most papers in Mexico are too scared to publish any stories speaking negatively towards the Zetas; hence why Reporters Without Borders don't consider their press truly free, even though they legally have the right to print what they want), 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.
- The second season finale of Law & Order featured Colombian cartels on the rampage. Aside from the large number of people directly killed by the gangsters in order to silence them, Det. Cereta was shot by a scuzzy witness, ending his career on the beat.
- 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..
- The Cartel—of various ethnic flavors—shows up fairly frequently on Burn Notice, in various roles: sometimes as the enemy, sometimes as the Man Behind the Man, and sometimes as an unwitting ally.
- JAG: In the second season episode "The Game of Go", a US Marine is captured by a drug baron in Colombia while on joint operation with the Colombian authorities.
- The Cartel was regularly in the background in Miami Vice.
- One of the subplots of The Bridge US involves a cartel operating out of Juarez and using a tunnel on the property of a recently-widowed woman to move their products into the United States. The second season reveals that the cartel is managed by the CIA to a certain extent, in order to control it
- The Cartel is involved in one of the major subplots of Killer Women.
- Gang Related is about a cop who's actually The Mole for a Mexican mob. He starts to enjoy being the good guy, which causes problems when the police start investigating his gang.
- A couple of episodes of The West Wing revolve around an international crisis triggered when a group of undercover D.E.A agents are exposed and held hostage by a cartel in Colombia who demand the release of their imprisoned leader (a thinly-veiled version of Pablo Escobar) as a ransom. President Bartlet instead orders a daring covert military operation to rescue them. Unfortunately the rescuers are led into a trap, several are killed, and the hostages moved to a location so remote and well-defended that the only military option would be to essentially launch a Vietnam-like war to defeat the cartels, leaving Bartlet no option but to negotiate the cartel leader's release via back channels.
- Rapper Nas once adopted the stage name "Nas Escobar" as a reference to the aforementioned Pablo.
- One of the traditional factions in the Grand Theft Auto series since III.
- Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Guess what it's about.
- Hitman features these as enemies at different points. One mission is a Shout-Out to Scarface (1983).
- In Scarface: The World is Yours, Tony breaks the cartel's hold on Miami and takes Sosa down.
- While the Colombian Cartel is a separate group, they are connected with one of the rival gangs from Saints Row called Los Carnales
- Freelancer: The Outcasts are this trope 'IN SPACE'.
- Raul Menendez, the Big Bad of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, started off as a drug runner who controlled a very powerful cartel in Nicaragua in the 1980's. He used the money he gained from that operation to finance other operations around the world, up until the CIA tried to kill him, and in the process killed his blind, crippled sister. That led him to use the money invested in his cartel to set up the Cordis Die network, which became a full-on N.G.O. Superpower capable of threatening the entire First World.
- Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel has you fighting one such Mexican cartel.
- In Saints Row 2 one of the enemy gangs is the Sons of Samedi. A Haitian drug cartel mostly made up of college students and hippies. They embrace reggae, 420, and Haitian voodoo culture and most of their business is selling their trademark drug: "Loa Dust."
- The first game featured a Colombian cartel supporting the Carnales gang. They eventually switch allegiance to the Saints.
- Surprisingly they don't make many if any appearances in the Tropico games, although they are mentioned several times (such as when your main "general" complains the Tropico army is smaller than most Colombian drug barons).
- South American drug cartels are a source of Crime.net contracts in Payday 2; Hector, specifically, offers several involving the rival Mendoza group. Watchdogs involves protecting and moving a batch of Hector's cocaine out of the city, stopping the FBI and DEA from intervening. Firestarter sees you stealing or destroying weapons meant to arm the Mendoza's soldiers, then destroying their money so the Mendoza operations grind to a halt. Rats finishes the Mendoza presence in D.C., with the eradication of a bus-load of Mendoza lieutenants as they attempt to flee the city under FBI protection.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Araña de la Noche is an influential drug cartel which operates in the city of Paraiso in Aison.
- In The Boondocks, one of Riley's many "street names" is Riley Escobar.
- 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.note Los Zetas took this to the opposite extreme: running protection rackets 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 horribly killing victims even when the ransom is paid, among other atrocities to a nationwide extent. And we have yet to get to the nasty parts.
- And to make manners worse? They are one of the VERY few people who ever got on the bad side of Anonymous and got away with it nearly scott-free. They did this by threatening to kill innocent civilians if the hackers tried to retaliate against them.