Pictured is a thematic map representing the flow of illegal narcotics smuggling through Mexico and the presence of the major drug cartels operating in the country. This map was posted on January 24, 2012 on the website of STRATFOR, an intelligence-gathering agency concerned with analyzing geopolitical affairs.
The area of interest of this particular map, the nation of Mexico, is divided according to the reported dominance of the cartels in any given area of the country, marked by shading in the colors assigned to each cartel. Seeing as color and shading is the means of choice to represent differences among regions, I feel that the choice of colors used throughout the map can be improved upon. The countries bordering Mexico attract too much attention with their coloring, in my opinion, and may be better left greyed out or with a single neutral color in order not to draw focus away from the subject country. As for the colors used in the legend, the shade of blue used to represent the Sinaloa Federation seems too similar to the color used for bodies of water.
Text formatting is adequate, with colors, shadows and halos used effectively to prevent labels from being lost in the background. Label positioning doesn’t follow the convention of being on the upper right quadrant of the respective symbol, but instead varies on a case-to-case basis such that the labels follow the shape of the country’s border. The resulting arrangement manages to avoid overlap and overly close placement of labels relative to one another and still remains aesthetically pleasing.
The map largely achieves its aim of representing the areas of operations of the cartels and the routes that their smugglers cross. For the sake of completeness, I feel that the arrows representing the inflow of narcotics to Mexico from other countries should have been supported by text describing which countries are involved in the smuggling route. Even without this supporting information, however, the map can suffice as is.