Criminals, Cops, and Politicians: Dynamics of Drug Violence in Colombia and Mexico


Violence is commonly viewed as inherent to the drug trade. Yet, there is dramatic variation in patterns of drug violence across and within countries similarly afflicted by drug trafficking. What explains this variation?<br/> This dissertation makes two novel contributions to explain drug violence. First, it introduces a crucial dimension of violence, its visibility. Visibility refers to instances where traffickers publicly expose violence or claim responsibility for their attacks. By assessing visibility, I uncover patterns that could not be seen by looking at the frequency of violence only. Second, the dissertation advances a political economy framework that does not treat drug violence as simply reflecting state weakness. I argue that the interaction between two critical variables, the cohesion of the state security apparatus, and the competition in the illegal market, determines the incentives and opportunities of traffickers to employ violence. <br/> The dissertation systematically compares five cities where major trafficking organizations have operated for over four decades: Cali and Medellin in Colombia, and Ciudad Ju√°rez, Culiac√°n, and Tijuana in Mexico. Drawing on extensive fieldwork, 175 interviews, and an original dataset on drug violence, I show that the frequency of violence increases as the illegal market shifts from monopolistic to competitive because illegal firms drive out competitors by using force against them. The visibility of violence increases as the state security apparatus shifts from cohesive to fragmented, because cohesion enables local authorities to make a credible commitment either to protect or, alternatively, to persecute criminals. When the illegal market is competitive, criminals may deploy violence, but they simultaneously decide, depending on the conditions of the state security apparatus, whether violence should be visible, or should rather be kept hidden.<br/> The type of armed coercion criminals employ, and specifically, whether violence is "insourced" (that is, vertically integrated within the criminal organization) or "outsourced" (that is, contracted out to youth gangs) also impacts drug violence. I find that when criminals outsource, illicit markets experience extreme spikes of violence. <br/> By unpacking drug violence, and introducing an often-overlooked political logic into its study, this dissertation contributes to research on armed conflicts and illicit markets.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2013)


Duran-Martinez, Angelica, "Criminals, Cops, and Politicians: Dynamics of Drug Violence in Colombia and Mexico" (2013). Political Science Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.