A Literature Review on the Increased Levels of Drug-Related Violence in Mexico
Abigail Diaz De Leon
University of Nebraska Lincoln
Every day Mexican newspapers, news sites and blogs are filled with gruesome images of dismembered or beheaded lifeless bodies. The increase in homicides linked to the war on drugs was notable in December of 2006 (Rios 2011). The Mexican drug war has resulted in a soaring death toll of 135,000 as of October 2013, a number comparable to that of war zones (Molzhan, Rodriguez, Shirk 2013). The abrupt rise in drug-related violence is puzzling, as Mexico’s drug cartels have been operating under a functional non-violent equilibrium since the 1980s (Rios 2013). From December 2006 to June 2010, 41,648 killings have been officially linked to drug trafficking organizations, a dramatic increase from previous years (2001–2006) when only 8,901 killings were linked to organized crime (Rios and Shirk 2011). The steep increase in drug-related homicides in 2006 demands an explanation. What is the cause of the escalation in violence in Mexico? The goal of this literature review is to provide analysis on the literature of this horrific trend, as well as to present the different views and contributions of scholars and experts in regards to this matter.
II. A War on Drugs
Scholars have looked at this conundrum through various perspectives. Some scholars have attributed the increase of violence to the undergoing transition of democratization (Davis, Osorio, O’Neill, Villareal). Other scholars explain the rise of violence by looking at enforcement operations, arguing that they provoke a more violent retaliation from the drug cartels (Rios, Biettel, Castillo, Mejia, Restrepo). A final view offers an alternative interpretation that is grounded in political economy, demonstrating that in addition to being Mexico’s top consumer, due to its high drug demand and weak gun policies, the US also shares the blame by supporting the cartels through its high drug consumption and implementation of reforms that allow the drug industry to grow (Mercille, 2009).
A. The Situation
The illegal activities of drug cartels are nothing new in Mexico, as drug cartels have been around since the early half of the twentieth century (O’Neill 2009). The success of the United States and Colombia’s collaboration to defeat the Colombian drug cartels in the late 1980’s left an open power vacuum for the Mexican drug cartels to fill. The Mexican cartels were able to operate without any hindrance due to the established “ patron-client relationship” with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (Sanchez, O’ Neill). However, the 2000 presidential election of National Action Party (PAN), Vicente Fox, ended the convenient relationship between the cartels and the PRI.
The militarization of the war on drugs was a result of the decisions made by President Felipe Calderon soon after taking office in 2006. Calderon deployed approximately 45,000 troops to regions heavily entrenched in drug cartel violence (Sanchez 2011). In addition, Calderon furthered bilateral cooperation with the United States in efforts to combat the war on drugs (Kenney, Serrano, Sotomayor 2012). Calderon’s aggressive strategy to wage a war on drugs resulted in 40,000 deaths due to counter cartel-narcotics operations and intra-cartel fighting (Mercille,2011).
The return of the PRI in 2012, with President Enrique Pena Nieto, brought speculations of the return of the state and cartel pacts that would again minimize violence. Pena Nieto’s main strategy to crime and violence reduction is to create a 10,000 person national gendarmerie or “paramilitary police” which will consist of members of the Mexican military (Sanchez, 2011). Currently, there has been no changes or additions to the militarized strategy; however the overall homicide rate has dropped in Pena Nieto’s first year as President (Lee, 2014).
Today, Mexican drug