Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Study sheds new light on roots of Mexico cartel wars

New study asks why drug cartels went to war in Mexico 
Reposted by El Profe for Borderland Beat from InsightCrime

Written by Patrick Corcoran
A new study from two leading researchers ties Mexico's current security crisis to the unforeseen consequences of the nation's democratic opening.

Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley tackle the deep-seated roots of Mexican violence in their new paper, "Why Did Drug Cartels Go to War in Mexico? Subnational Party Alternation, the Breakdown of Criminal Protection, and the Onset of Large-Scale Violence."

As Trejo and Ley point out, Mexican criminal groups enjoyed a longstanding period of peaceful coexistence prior to the 1990s. Violent conflicts disrupt business and attract increased attention from security agencies, making them essentially irrational. So, if it was not a prior mode of business and all participants suffer from criminal warfare, why indeed did Mexico descend from a stable, peaceful equilibrium into the current state of constant battle?

The story told by Trejo and Ley dates to the era of democratic turnover at the state level. This began in 1989 with the election of Ernesto Ruffo Appel of the opposition National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional - PAN) in Baja California, the first time that the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Insistucional - PRI) had ever failed to win a statehouse.

Over the next decade, the PAN and the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática - PRD), the other major opposition force, scored victories in Jalisco, Mexico City, Chihuahua and various other areas.

As a result, for years prior to the PRI's loss of the presidency in 2000, growing swaths of the country were under the control of new political leadership. These new administrations changed much in their approach to governance, and as Trejo and Ley document, their first steps on security were to clear out "top- and midlevel personnel in the state attorney's office and the state judicial police." The authors base this contention on interviews with former opposition governors and other officials, giving their conclusions an atypical degree of certainty.

The incoming administrations upended the relationships that managed the country's drug trade. Whereas criminal groups used to be able to count on a small cohort of political partners -- and their vast police forces -- for protection in perpetuity, the statehouse turnover and expectations of future uncertainty left them adrift. Kingpins responded by building private militias, essentially as a hedge against changing political winds.

The existence of militarized wings in criminal groups across the country, combined with a steady flow of arms and the weakening of political authorities capable of decisively adjudicating underworld conflicts, fostered sustained bloodshed.
According to Trejo and Ley, Mexican states that saw the election of opposition governors in the 1990s experienced substantially greater rates of violence. Applying four different models to control for various outside factors, the authors found that having an opposition governor was responsible for between 55 percent and 79 percent more violence from 1995 to 2006.

Several examples fit this pattern: Ruffo Appel's election in 1989 preceded the militarization of the Tijuana Cartel, which then spent most of the 1990s engaged in bloody conflicts with rivals from Sinaloa and Juárez. The PRI's loss in Jalisco in 1995 encouraged the Sinaloa Cartel to build militarized wings under the Beltrán Leyva brothers and Ignacio Coronel. In Michoacán, the end of

PRI rule brought about the entry of the Zetas and the emergence of the Familia Michoacana.
These armed groups not only went to war with one another, but they also often became the centers of gravity of their respective cartels -- or worse still, they became independent organizations. As the traditional capos succumbed to pressure from rivals or from the government, the militarized groups were poised to assume leading roles within the Mexican criminal landscape.


InSight Crime Analysis

One of the virtues of this study is that it takes a longer view of Mexican violence, unlike the more common approaches that begin in 2000 with the PRI's loss of the presidency, or in 2006 with the election of Felipe Calderón. To be sure, Calderón's heavily publicized militarization of Mexican security policy exacerbated problems that were already in evidence for years prior. But the bloodshed that Calderón sought to stem was part of a decade-long trend, and Trejo and Ley appear to have identified a key turning point.

Their work suggests that while Mexico's democratic opening was certainly laudable and probably inevitable, much more work was needed to build political and criminal justice systems capable of guaranteeing security and prosperity. The authors are careful to make clear that they are not calling for a return to a one-party system, but an effective political liberalization required more than just removing the PRI stranglehold on power.

It is unclear if the link between gubernatorial turnover and rising violence remains as strong today as it was from 1995 to 2006, but there is little question that politics and public security continue to exert substantial influence over one another.

One of the paper's more obvious implications for future security policy is that officials should principally target not kingpins, but rather their armed wings. While this sounds obvious enough, Mexican officials (and their allies within the US government) have prioritized kingpins for decades.

However, taking down kingpins creates instability and increases the relative power within armed groups. While arresting or killing famous capos makes for good politics, doing so does not pave the way for greater security.

The authors' conclusion that governors contributed to the spiral of violence by removing high-level judicial and police officials also speaks to the need for a professional and non-partisan security bureaucracy. Removing the criminal justice system from the realm of politics would theoretically make public security less susceptible to ill effects stemming from political handovers.

At the same time, it is also clear that Mexico needs to establish a security equilibrium that does not rely on collusion between government officials and criminal groups. One way to look at the past 20 years in Mexico is a transition away from such a dynamic, and it remains to be seen how long it will take for the process to be completed.


  1. Excellent article. I love it.

    1. the democratic opening that brought El PAN drug traffickers to power and murdering with impunity was nothing compared to carlos salinas de gortari dominance of state corruption on all the states of mexico, robbing the treasury and leaving states in debt skyrocketed because salinas kept a lot of power even when he was not the president anymore, drug trafficking is just incidental for mexico and not the main money maker, big banksters have that on lock.
      drug trafficking got real organized after the mexican political police DFS ran out of communists to fight, they got a lot of youngsters into the grifa and cocaina, right after mexico68, and the federal police has never let go of their bad lowly standards, never will, states governors are like feudal drug lords these days.

    2. carlos salinas de gortari blessed his stolen presidency before he even stole it with the murders and disappearances of 500 to 1000 volunteers of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, and sent the mexican army to traffic and rob on the streets after robbing the mexican military budget of billions of dollars, the military went to the streets to murder and rape and pillage for their keep, their generales make sure they get impunity.

  2. @chivis it is being reported that el jt brother and son javier were arrested yesterday in culiacan

  3. Very interesting theory. Thanks Profe, excellent post.

    1. The complexity of this subject can not be theorized with such a simple idea that politics are to blame for the cartels war. What about the increase of deportations "for life"of tens of thousands of Mexicans during the early nineties, what about the high increase of drugs use in Mexico during the same time period and the high increase of cheap meth production.

    2. In the 80s many people went bankrupt on the US.
      Drug trafficking save many their rich millionaires ass, enough to make a bridge to total criminal lives and become "billionaires", buying silence and complicity with "campaign donations left and right sure helped, but they are surely not helping much no mó, peepol are talkin' too much now that it can't be hidden.

  4. According to me the authors fail to recognizing something very fundamental: when sitting officials are replaced the new masters give the plaza to those criminal groups with whose help they ascended to power. The mexican politician does not become corrupt. If he is not corruüt from the beginning he will never get anywhere.

  5. While i think there is validity to the claim that opening up mexicos political power to other parties is is responsible for mexicos descent into violence, the fact that there is no mention of the united states involvement in the drug trade ie the cia's complicity in allowing tons of cocaine to be shipped to the usa in order to pay for the nicaraguan contras, after congress shut off their funding, to be quite telling.
    Its like the jfk assasination. The CIA and FBI bent over backwards to make sure their version of the crime was the version fed to the public. The problem i have is why is the US govt so afraid of truth?

    1. 3:21 you are evil, nice to meet, keep it up please.

  6. In my opinion this is correct as written by Trejo y Ley and analizes by Insight Crime. Violence increased only few days after Gobernador Coppel replaces López Valdez in January 2017 because López Valdez is PAN and has much business in north of Sinaloa and Quierno Coppel is PRI and he and family are very powerful in Mazatlan with business in all of Mexico. Coppel with many years relaciones with el PRI can influence where militar is doing work.

    Hay relación definida con la violencia y el cambio de los partidos políticos.

  7. The conclusion is based heavily on correlation, demonstrating causation was not attempted, and I believe the theory's rationale, even if true, is only a small factor. I wish I had more time to juxtapose it with my own theory and possibly refute it.

    Prudencio 2.0

  8. I have to call BS on this article . These political changes may be a contributing factor but it is many things . The majority of the drugs flowing north started going through mexico after the fall of Pablo Escobar . The south Americans partnered with the Mexicans was a start . There is a higher percentage of drugs consumed in the usa coming through Mexico than ever before . There is also more drugs than before after adding the Meth factor into the equation . Speaking of meth , there is a shit load of Mexican bullet sprayers on this shit and that a fairly new deal that also contributes. Sounds more like a their study had the conclusion they were looking for. Same shit here in the USA people opposing one political party can do a study and it always concludes the one they want to be bad is . For instance some would say Chicago politicians are corrupt and we had one in the white house for 8 years and that's why the drug problem exploded .
    Trump will bring them to heal

    1. 8:54 3 times convicted drug trafficker Joseph Weichselbaum would like to meet you.
      also childhood friends felix sater and michael cohen, their buddy sammy the bull gravano helped bring down the new york and new jersey mobsters like john gotti and Fat Tony Salerno, and gave the turf to the Red Mafiya of russian godfather Simeon Mogilevich, the only man on the "10 Most Wanted" the FBI has taken out of the list without killing or capturing, felix sater delivered the italian gangsters but got impunity for himsel and the russian mafiya, and it was no accident. sammy gravano has been released this past september 2017, just in time.

    2. Put down the crack pipe.

  9. Politicos lost control. They sold out the Mexican people

  10. I too agree that this article only partly explains part of what led to growing violence but does not hold for current events.

    Going back to the break-up of the one party system in Mexico. While this was perhaps a "good" change for various reasons, having various political parties fighting for control certainly made things easier to exert external control. You know "divide and conquer" has worked well for a long time.

    Well Mexico is definitely divided on many levels, and it's so much easier to manipulate.


  11. It's funny how in Mexico they talk about corruption like if it is normal. Kids grow up seeing it and grow up to do the same. Until the day that people will set there eyes on the lord almighty then the corruption will stop

    1. Culture. Sad to say that. Same thing in the Rio Grande valley. Good people stay out of political.

    2. In the U.S. corruption is legal at the political level, lobbying.

  12. Thanks El PROFE: Interesting summary of the Insight article. As usual, I love reading the readers' comments because they often shed a little light on corners that are in the shadows.

    My "cynical" perspective focuses on the authors' trite and uninspiring conclusions:

    (1.) ... "Removing the criminal justice system from the realm of politics would theoretically make public security less susceptible to ill effects stemming from political handovers ."

    The above is "slick' academic-speak, akin to concluding that the ground seems wet because it has been raining for 3 days. IMO, the authors could have given at least one or two practical and suggestions on "how" this might be done.

    Next, the authors conclude:

    2. "... it is also clear that Mexico needs to establish a security equilibrium that does not rely on collusion between government officials and criminal groups."

    Again, trite academic-speak for stating the obvious that "government officials are corrupted by criminal groups." Well, duh, isn't this excruciatingly obvious from the many story we've read on BB since forever? IMO, the authors could have offered a few practical "how" to do suggestions!

    IMO, these scholars write about reality levels far from the day-to-day grounded realities of blood in the streets and fear in the hearts of Mexicans. For example, they could have mentioned the AUTO DEFENSA groups concept (e.g. Dr. Mireles) as "peoples'" efforts at dealing with safety, corruption, decency and honor in Mexico's body politic.

    Too bad, Charles Bowden is not with us ... I be he would have had an interesting take on the Insight article.


  13. Auto defensas were used in Colombia and it did not work. Look up the history

  14. There will no security in Mexico until the people want it
    This corruption is accepted by the people. They r powerless.

  15. Chapo Guzman is to blame for what mexico has become. Things were peaceful until he broke out of jail and went to war with every cartel!!


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