Why is the code to "never rat" to the DEA, or Police always respected by members of drug cartels?

I know that members who snitched would get killed and their family members.

In some cases, when they have no more family members, they could rat to bring down the enemy and benefit more from this situation than staying silent. Example: Hector could have reported that Gustavo Fring was a drug kingpin.

Is this a code of honor?


  • Hector Salamanca didn't identified Jesse Pinkman to the police S02E03
  • "What kind of man talk to the DEA? No man, no man at all. A crippled little rata. What a reputation to leave behind." - Gustavo Fring S04E13
  • Hatred against common, bigger enemy (Law enforcement) and cartel members usually go about their personal businesses without involving the common enemy
    – Vishwa
    Sep 28, 2020 at 3:46
  • "they could rat to bring down the enemy and benefit more from this situation than staying silent." You say this like the rat's own life is not a concern. I think most people in the drug cartel world would count that as a pretty big deterrent all by itself. Sure, he could go into witness protection, but then Johnny Law will be breathing down his neck just to make sure he's still protected, and they'd probably get all prudish about him continuing to do illegal things. So, staying alive after ratting means, at a bare minimum, changing his whole way of life. That's not a small thing.
    – Steve-O
    Sep 28, 2020 at 14:23
  • Did you see Narcos?
    – Déjà vu
    Oct 4, 2020 at 10:36
  • @e2-e4 , I saw Narcos Season 1. Which specific episode do you have in mind ? Oct 6, 2020 at 21:26
  • The excellent S3, last episodes, lots of similar "rat" issues...
    – Déjà vu
    Oct 6, 2020 at 22:06

3 Answers 3


First off, this code is not always respected by cartel members in real life.

While I'm sure real world cartels would just love to see the kind of commitment from their members that fantasy world cartels enjoy, cartel members do in fact rat. All the time. For lots and lots of different reasons. It took me approximately six seconds on Google to find an example. Here's another one.

That said, fear is probably a major factor.

Even assuming the informant can avoid prison (where he'd be an easy target), he can probably expect there to be attempts on his life and the lives of his family. One cartel lawyer was gunned down, and Jorge Cabrera (from the second link above) had to go into Witness Protection with his family since the Cartel wanted him dead too. One does not have to look too hard to find examples of the kind of extreme torture and violence that cartels are capable of. This has to be a huge deterrent to informing on them.

There is also an element of protecting the cartel in this.

Not so much an issue for Jesse, who did not know much, but if Salamanca ratted on Gus, then Gus could turn around and give information that could hurt the cartel. You don't want to hand over a guy to the authorities who knows all your people's secrets.

Law enforcement is seen as the greater enemy.

I think in the case of Hector Salamanca (which of course is fictional), his hate of Jesse or Gus Fring was somewhat superceded by his visceral, ingrained hatred of the DEA and law enforcement in general. There may be some truth to this. The conflict between Mexican cartels and the DEA/Mexican authorities has been much like a war at times, and an especially bitter one at that. Enrique Camerena was a DEA agent who was kidnapped by a cartel, and tortured, burned alive, and murdered. That's not business. That's personal. Salamanca had been fighting Fring really for a year or two. Jesse had crossed him once, and the DEA really did the damage in that case. By contrast Hector had been fighting the authorities his whole life.

Hector was holding out hope for getting revenge himself.

Sending Gus or Jesse to prison, where they could get protective custody, 3 square meals a day, and yard time probably seemed like small revenge for Salamanca for what they had done to him. And that's if his testimony could actually put Fring away... hard to say for sure with the US Justice system protecting Fring's rights in a way that Mexicans probably find baffling. Even if they went to jail and the cartel could get them, Salamanca wouldn't be there to witness it. So perhaps Hector was hoping for that one in a million shot that somehow he might be able to get revenge on them someday as long as they stayed free... and wouldn't you know it? In the case of Gus, he did.


It reminds me of The Godfather (1972), wherein the Corleone crime family would practice Omertà:

Omertà is a Southern Italian code of silence and code of honor that places importance on silence in the face of questioning by authorities or outsiders; non-cooperation with authorities, the government, or outsiders, especially during criminal investigations; and willfully ignoring and generally avoiding interference with the illegal activities of others (i.e., not contacting law enforcement or the authorities when one is aware of, witness to, or even the victim of certain crimes).



Cause, snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches.

The only reason why the criminal minded would snitch is if it benefited them somehow. If working with law enforcement provided a long term gain, criminals would sacrifice the short term consequences.

On the other hand, if not cooperating led to a short[ish] prison sentence with the prospect of getting out an even more respected criminal (and all the financial perks that implies), why would they work with law enforcement? Especially when the consequences are an eventual, yet untimely, death or a life of constant justifiable paranoia. Where would the financial reward be in that? After all, not all of them go on to profit from writing high grossing screen plays.

The social currency in that lifestyle is money, power, respect, prestige, and excitement. It is falsely hidden under the name of honor. All of that is lost if they work with law enforcement. Especially the money and the power. That is given over to law enforcement with little to no hope of earning it back. At least, not by the way the criminals have become accustomed and know how.

And, of course the criminals hate law enforcement. Law enforcement has always historically been the main source of criminals losing their ill gotten money, power, respect, prestige, and excitement. Even more so than their criminal competitors. To criminals, law enforcement is the common enemy.

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