Princes of Excess


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.

2 comments on “Princes of Excess

  1. According to the caption of the map used in this entry, the map shows the polarization of drug cartels in Mexico. The direction of drug trafficking might provide information on how or why such polarization is taking place.

    The issue of polarization is important as it relates to the choice of colors of the cartographer. We generally comment against the use of color “blue” near bodies of water as you did in your essay. In this case, i felt that the use of the colors “blue” and “red” was done to highlight the “polarization” which is the map’s general theme. Blue is used for the “right,” red for the “left,” and white for the “center.”

    • You raise an excellent point, sir! The role of color as a tool to depict polarization did not occur to me when I wrote this essay. I wish that it had; the main reason I brought up my issue with the blue color was little more than the desperate need to criticize *something*. Only now upon taking a fresh look at the map did I notice the pattern of colors. It really thought the map quite well done when I first found it, and applying the concept of polarization makes the map even better in my eyes.

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