Mexican cartels: crime or terrorism?

Enrique Pena Nieto at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2010. Photo WEF

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Enrique Pena Nieto (above), the winner of Sunday’s presidential election in Mexico, has been remarkably short on details over his promise to reduce drug-related violence. For any strategy to be successful, there must be a clear understanding of the tactics adopted by the drug cartels in Mexico and the purpose of their gruesome acts of violence, such as beheading, mutilating and dumping bodies on the streets.

In an article published on the Kings of War blog (from the War Studies Department at King’s College London) I argue that violence has become a key political communication tactic, used by drug groups to negotiate their positions in the drug market. The recent proliferation of small criminal groups in Mexico has turned brutality into the most effective demonstration of power. Mass killings, the hanging of corpses from bridges and the frequent mounting of threatening banners at crime scenes all highlight a criminal group’s ability to wield hard power and hold territories.

Crucially, these methods also serve to intimidate the public in a specific area or compel authorities to change policies, in a style similar to traditional conceptions of political terrorism.

Such methods have now become the prevalent fighting technique and communication channel for drug groups in Mexico. Countering them will be one of the top challenges for Pena Nieto in the months and years to come.

Read the full blog post.


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