To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Drawing on extensive interviews with subnational elites and focusing on six Mexican states (Baja California, Chihuahua, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Michoacán, and Guerrero), this chapter analyzes how party alternation and opposition governors’ decisions to remove top- and mid-level officials in the state attorneys’ offices and the state judicial police led to the breakdown of informal government protection networks for drug cartels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Cartels created private militias in response to this political uncertainty in Mexico’s gray zone of criminality, which allowed drug lords to defend their turf and challenge rival territory. Using a sequential analysis, we show how every new party alternation, starting in Baja California in 1989 up to Guerrero in 2005, stimulated an arms race among cartels and led to the proliferation of increasingly lethal dyadic conflicts in the northwest, northeast, and south of the country. By 2006, Mexico’s drug trafficking industry had experienced dramatic transformations: cartels used powerful private militias to settle disputes and the death toll surpassed the 1,000 murders threshold used to classify a conflict as a civil war.
This chapter discusses the implications of our findings for a new understanding of the drivers of large-scale criminal violence in Mexico, the social scientific study of criminal violence, and the design of security policies in new democracies. The focus on state–criminal collusion in the gray zone of criminality and political-electoral mechanisms as triggers of criminal wars and violence offers a new interpretation of drug wars in Mexico (1990–2012) and provides a tentative interpretation of the exponential growth of violence in the 2012–2018 period. Violence increased because Mexico continued to have intense electoral competition but no rule of law; collusion of state agents with crime expanded; presidents politicized law enforcement for electoral gains; and the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto retained the same policies that originally caused the escalation of violence. Beyond Mexico, we discuss how our theoretical reformulation and our empirical findings contribute to the development of a political science of organized crime and violence. We conclude by considering how this political approach can shape a new understanding of security policies in new democracies.
This chapter develops a new theoretical framework that explains the role played by state agents in the constitution of organized criminal groups (OCGs) and why electoral politics can become a decisive factor for peace and violence in the criminal underworld. The gray zone of criminality is introduced as the ecological space where the state and crime intersect and corrupt members of state security forces and criminals give rise to OCGs.The gray zone often emerges in authoritarian regimes, where autocrats allow state specialists in violence to regulate, protect, and profit from the criminal underworld in exchange for their loyalty. When countries transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, and postauthoritarian elites fail to reform the military and the police and to dismantle state–criminal networks, democratic mechanisms become intertwined with criminal violence. Electoral competition, party alternation, and the decentralization and fragmentation of political power introduce uncertainty in the gray zone, stimulating criminal rivalry, wars, and large-scale violence. We use these definitions and propositions to explain the outbreak and escalation of inter-cartel wars in Mexico.
This chapter presents new evidence showing how drug cartels and their associates attacked municipal party candidates and mayors to take control over local elections, penetrated municipal governments, and subdued local economies, populations, and territories. Extensive interviews with former local officials, local economic actors, and local human rights activists show the development of subnational criminal governance regimes in Michoacán and Guerrero – two states ruled by leftist governors, where subnational authorities were purposefully unprotected by the conservative federal government. Cartels inflitrated local campaigns and municipal governments, established themselves as monopolists of violence and criminal taxation, and regulated economic activities in key economic areas. But they failed to do this in Baja California, where the federal government protected the president’s subnational co-partisan rulers. We discuss why, in a context of competition for turf, and state-cartel and inter-cartel conflict, drug lords and their associates developed highly coercive and predatory governance regimes, subverting local democracy, and opening a new era of intense civilian victimization.
This chapter unpacks the federal intervention in the War on Drugs and analyzes the strategies the president followed across states depending on governors’ political affiliations. We disaggregate the intervention on the military, judicial, communicative, and social policy dimensions and assess patterns of cooperation and conflict between federal and subnational authorities. Using extensive interviews with federal and subnational elites and case studies from three cities in three states, we show how Mexico’s federal government followed differentiated strategies to deal with drug violence. The president protected subnational co-partisans (PAN) in Tijuana (PAN); partially cooperated with centrist opposition authorities (PRI) in Ciudad Juáreza; but confronted leftist governors and mayors (PRD), leaving them at the mercy of drug cartels in Apatzingán. Cartels responded by launching strategic attacks and challenging their rivals in municipalities with vulnerable leftist states.Thus, the politicization of law enforcement in the War on Drugs – which was possible because Mexico transitioned to electoral democracy without developing the rule of law – became a major stimulant of violence.
This chapter analyzes a surprising wave of 311 lethal attacks by drug cartels against local elected officials and party candidates in Mexico (2007–2012). As the War on Drugs intensified, competition for turf increased and drug lords expanded their range of actions into new illicit markets – including extortion, kidnapping, and the extraction of natural resources. Cartels attacked mayors and local party candidates to develop subnational governance regimes as part of their new strategy. We use time-series cross-sectional analyses to show that attacks took place in subnational regions where intergovernmental partisan conflict between Right and Left was more intense and mayors and local party candidates were unprotected and vulnerable. Attacks took place disproportionately during subnational election cycles, when new governments were elected and new appointments were made. Two natural experiments, contrasting municipalities along the Michoacán–Guerrero and Michoacán–Guanajuato borders, show that political vulnerability and political opportunity are causally related to the probability of attacks against mayors and party candidates.
One of the most surprising developments in Mexico's transition to democracy is the outbreak of criminal wars and large-scale criminal violence. Why did Mexican drug cartels go to war as the country transitioned away from one-party rule? And why have criminal wars proliferated as democracy has consolidated and elections have become more competitive subnationally? In Votes, Drugs, and Violence, Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley develop a political theory of criminal violence in weak democracies that elucidates how democratic politics and the fragmentation of power fundamentally shape cartels' incentives for war and peace. Drawing on in-depth case studies and statistical analysis spanning more than two decades and multiple levels of government, Trejo and Ley show that electoral competition and partisan conflict were key drivers of the outbreak of Mexico's crime wars, the intensification of violence, and the expansion of war and violence to the spheres of local politics and civil society.