Recent Papers

This is not necessarily meant to be a highly curated list but more so a record of everything I can find that is topic relevant. Inclusion on this list is not an endorsement.

None of the papers listed on this website are hosted on this website

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Narco‐Fish: Global fisheries and drug trafficking

Dyhia Belhabib, Philippe Le Billon, David J. Wrathall

26 June 2020

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The impacts of cocaine-trafficking on conservation governance in Central America

David J. Wrathall , Jennifer Devine, Bernardo Aguilar-González

July 2020

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Press Ideology as an Epistemological Connector between Framing Theory and Social Representations Theory: An Analysis of Violence and Drug Trafficking in the Mexican Press

Hiram Reyes-Sosa, Maider Larrañaga Egilegor, Tânia Dos Santos, Luisa Perez-Marin, Francisco Alvarez-Montero

19 July 2019


The Rise of the Narcostate

John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker

August 30, 2018

This book is our sixth Small Wars Journal--El Centro anthology, covering writings published between 2016 and 2017. The theme of this anthology pertains to the rise of the narcostate (mafia states) as a result of the collusion between criminal organizations and political elites--essentially authoritarian regime members, corrupted plutocrats, and other powerful societal elements. The cover image of the mass demonstration concerning the disappearance of the forty-three Ayotzinapa Teachers' College students held at Mexico City's Zócalo Plaza in November 2014 provides an archetype of this anthology's theme. This anthology includes the following special essays--Preface: 'New Wars' and State Transformation by Robert Muggah, Igarapé Institute; Foreword: Crime and State-Making by Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Brookings Institution; Postscript: Crime, Drugs, Terror, and Money: Time for Hybrids by Alain Bauer, CNAM Paris; and Afterword: The Rise of the Oligarchs by Col. Robert Killebrew, US Army (Ret.). Dave Dilegge (SWJ, Editor-in-Chief)

Rise of Narco State book cover

Narco Submarines: Covert Shoes Recognition Guide to Drug-Subs

H I Sutton

March 26, 2020

Narco Submarines is the go-to guide to the low-profile vessels used to smuggle narcotics in Latin America and across the Atlantic. These vessels are one of the least understood corners of modern international crime. This book is the first to cover the topic in detail. Based on research of over 180 reported incidents, this book presents a practical quick reference recognition aid. It includes a detailed taxonomy, type overviews, cutaway drawings, recognition images, photos and profiles. Narco Submarines is an essential guide for law enforcement, Navy, analysts and those interested in this true crime.

Narco submarines book cover

Homicidal Ecologies: Illicit Economies and Complicit States in Latin America

Deborah J. Yashar

December 5, 2018

Why has violence spiked in Latin America's contemporary democracies? What explains its temporal and spatial variation? Analyzing the region's uneven homicide levels, this book maps out a theoretical agenda focusing on three intersecting factors: the changing geography of transnational illicit political economies; the varied capacity and complicity of state institutions tasked with providing law and order; and organizational competition to control illicit territorial enclaves. These three factors inform the emergence of 'homicidal ecologies' (subnational regions most susceptible to violence) in Latin America. After focusing on the contemporary causes of homicidal violence, the book analyzes the comparative historical origins of weak and complicit public security forces and the rare moments in which successful institutional reform takes place. Regional trends in Latin America are evaluated, followed by original case studies of Central America, which claims among the highest homicide rates in the world.

Homicidal Ecologies book cover

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

Angelica Duran-Martinez

January 12, 2018

Over the last few decades, drug trafficking organizations in Latin America became infamous for their shocking public crimes, from narcoterrorist assaults on the Colombian political system in the 1980s to the more recent wave of beheadings in Mexico. However, while these highly visible forms of public violence dominate headlines, they are neither the most common form of drug violence nor simply the result of brutality. Rather, they stem from structural conditions that vary from country to country and from era to era. In The Politics of Drug Violence, Angelica Duran-Martinez shows how variation in drug violence results from the complex relationship between state power and criminal competition. Drawing on remarkably extensive fieldwork, this book compares five cities that have been home to major trafficking organizations for the past four decades: Cali and Medellín in Colombia, and Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, and Tijuana in Mexico. She shows that violence escalates when trafficking organizations compete and the state security apparatus is fragmented. However, when the criminal market is monopolized and the state security apparatus cohesive, violence tends to be more hidden and less frequent. The size of drug profits does not determine violence levels, and neither does the degree of state weakness. Rather, the forms and scale of violent crime derive primarily from the interplay between marketplace competition and state cohesiveness. An unprecedentedly rich empirical account of one of the worst problems of our era, the book will reshape our understanding of the forces driving organized criminal violence in Latin America and elsewhere

Politics of Drug Violence book cover

Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today

Bruce M Bagley

July 25, 2017

This volume argues that the war on drugs has been ineffective at best and, at worst, has been highly detrimental to many countries. Leading experts in the fields of public health, political science, and national security analyze how U.S. policies have affected the internal dynamics of Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. Together, they present a comprehensive overview of the major trends in drug trafficking and organized crime in the early twenty-first century. In addition, the editors and contributors identify emerging issues and propose several policy options to address them. This accessible and expansive volume provides a framework for understanding the limits and liabilities in the U.S.-championed war on drugs throughout the Americas.

Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today book cover

Making Peace in Drug Wars: Crackdowns and Cartels in Latin America

Benjamin Lessing

December 7, 2017

Over the past thirty years, a new form of conflict has ravaged Latin America's largest countries, with well-armed drug cartels fighting not only one another but the state itself. In Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, leaders cracked down on cartels in hopes of restoring the rule of law and the state's monopoly on force. Instead, cartels fought back - with bullets and bribes - driving spirals of violence and corruption that make mockeries of leaders' state-building aims. Fortunately, some policy reforms quickly curtailed cartel-state conflict, but they proved tragically difficult to sustain. Why do cartels fight states, if not to topple or secede from them? Why do some state crackdowns trigger and exacerbate cartel-state conflict, while others curb it? This study argues that brute-force repression generates incentives for cartels to fight back, while policies that condition repression on cartel violence can effectively deter cartel-state conflict. The politics of drug war, however, make conditional policies all too fragile.

Making Peace in Drug Wars: Crackdowns and Cartels in Latin America book cover

Illegal Drugs, Drug Trafficking and Violence in Latin America

Marcelo Bergman

March 3, 2018

This book describes the main patterns and trends of drug trafficking in Latin America and analyzes its political, economic and social effects on several countries over the last twenty years. Its aim is to provide readers an introductory yet elaborate text on the illegal drug problem in the region. It first seeks to define and measure the problem, and then discusses some of the implications that the growth of production, trafficking, and consumption of illegal drugs had in the economies, in the social fabrics, and in the domestic and international policies of Latin American countries. This book analyzes the illegal drugs problem from a Latin American perspective. Although there is a large literature and research on drug use and trade in the USA, Canada, Europe and the Far East, little is understood on the impact of narcotics in countries that have supplied a large share of the drugs used worldwide. This work explores how routes into Europe and the USA are developed, why the so-called drug cartels exist in the region, what level of profits illegal drugs generate, how such gains are distributed among producers, traffickers, and dealers and how much they make, why violence spread in certain places but not in others, and which alternative policies were taken to address the growing challenges posed by illegal drugs. With a strong empirical foundation based on the best available data, Illegal Drugs, Drug Trafficking and Violence in Latin America explains how rackets in the region built highly profitable enterprises transshipping and smuggling drugs northbound and why the large circulation of drugs also produced the emergence of vibrant domestic markets, which doubled the number of drug users in the region the last 10 years. It presents the best available information for 18 countries, and the final two chapters analyze in depth two rather different case studies: Mexico and Argentina.

Illegal Drugs, Drug Trafficking and Violence in Latin America

The Chinese Heroin Trade: Cross-Border Drug Trafficking in Southeast Asia and Beyond

Ko-lin Chin, Sheldon X. Zhang

May 22, 2015

In a country long associated with the trade in opiates, the Chinese government has for decades applied extreme measures to curtail the spread of illicit drugs, only to find that the problem has worsened. Burma is blamed as the major producer of illicit drugs and conduit for the entry of drugs into China. Which organizations are behind the heroin trade? What problems and prospects of drug control in the so-called “Golden Triangle” drug-trafficking region are faced by Chinese and Southeast Asian authorities? In The Chinese Heroin Trade, noted criminologists Ko-Lin Chin and Sheldon Zhangexamine the social organization of the trafficking of heroin from the Golden Triangle to China and the wholesale and retail distribution of the drug in China. Based on face-to-face interviews with hundreds of incarcerated drug traffickers, street-level drug dealers, users, and authorities, paired with extensive fieldwork in the border areas of Burma and China and several major urban centers in China and Southeast Asia, this volume reveals how the drug trade has evolved in the Golden Triangle since the late 1980s. Chin and Zhang also explore the marked characteristics of heroin traffickers; the relationship between drug use and sales in China; and how China compares to other international drug markets. The Chinese Heroin Trade is a fascinating, nuanced account of the world of high-risk drug trafficking in a tightly-controlled society.

The Chinese Heroin Trade: Cross-Border Drug Trafficking in Southeast Asia and Beyond book cover

Transnational Drug Trafficking Across the Vietnam-Laos Border

Hai Thanh Luong

May 7, 2019

This book presents the first detailed inquiry into the nature of cross-border drug trafficking between Laos People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam using an exploratory approach, which draws upon qualitative and quantitative methods. It draws from case studies, interviews and survey data from criminal investigation police and drug-related crimes officers (CIPDRC) from six border provinces which are directly and indirectly involved in investigating these cases. The findings indicate that drug markets in Vietnam are not controlled by monopolistic, hierarchical organizations or ‘cartels’ but small structures, based on family ties and fellow-countrymen relations, which are are fluid and loosely organized. They are very adaptable and sophisticated with diverse modus operandi and multiple divisions of labour which present particular challenges to law enforcement agencies.

Transnational Drug Trafficking Across the Vietnam-Laos Border book cover

Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks: The Dark Side of Social Media

Nilda M. Garcia

March 31, 2020

Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks examines the effects of technology on three criminal organizations: the Sinaloa cartel, the Zetas, and the Caballeros Templarios. Using social network analysis, and analyzing the use of web platforms Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Nilda M. Garcia provides fresh insights on the organizational network, the central nodes, and the channels through which information flows in these three criminal organizations. In doing so, she demonstrates that some drug cartels in Mexico have adopted the usage of social media into their strategies, often pursuing different tactics in the search for new ways to dominate. She finds that the strategic adaptation of social media platforms has different effects on criminal organization’s survivability. When used effectively, coupled with the adoption of decentralized structures, these platforms do increase a criminal organization’s survival capacity. Nonetheless, if used haphazardly, it can have the opposite effect. Drawing on the fields of criminology, social network analysis, international relations, and organizational theory and featuring a wealth of information about the drug cartels themselves, Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks will be a great source for all those interested in the presence, behavior, purposes, and strategies of drug cartels in their forays into social media platforms in Mexico and beyond.

Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks: The Dark Side of Social Media book cover



Bacterial Conjugation as a Framework for the Homogenization of Tactics in Mexican Organized Crime


Nathan P. Jones


This article posits a competitive bacterial ecology as a framework for Mexican drug trafficking with a novel focus on bacterial conjugation (one type of horizontal gene transmission) to explain tactical homogenization. Individual drug traffickers consciously switch between Mexican organized crime groups sometimes three and four times, much like individual bacteria exchange their DNA in a horizontal genetic transfer that allows rapid evolution and resilience. Bacterial conjugation is a useful amplifying variable for understanding the homogenization of violence and this article probes its plausibility by providing examples of traffickers switching groups and taking tactics with them. Drawing on examples of traffickers and cells from the Arellano Felix Organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the Viagras, Zetas, and the Gulf Cartels, this article traces the genealogy of violent tactics, techniques, and procedures such as dissolving bodies in acid, asphyxiation, and infantry tactics, through individual traffickers into new groups drawn generally in the direction of more powerful, proximate, and similar trafficking groups.

Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG):

The Strategic Implications of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación


Nathan P. Jones


Most security analysts now view the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) as the most powerful organized crime group (OCG) in Mexico. This article explores the strategic/security implications of the rise of this new and aggressive group by providing an in-depth historical case study. The case study shows that the CJNG is a highly resilient and geographically dispersed entity that draws upon the experience of its members, which studied under the tutelage of the Milenio and Sinaloa cartels. Since 2015 the CJNG has begun “adopting orphan” criminal cells left in the wake of the US and Mexican kingpin strategy and the resulting OCG fragmentations. This demonstrates the limits of kinetic strategies in the drug war as the Mexican drug trafficking system appears to be reconsolidating under the CJNG. Policy reform areas such as legal reform implementation, penal system capacity building, and tax reform goals are discussed.

The New Generation: Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat


Lucy La Rosa, David A. Shirk


Over the past decade, more than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, including the record 29,000 murders that occurred in 2017 alone. While there are complex underlying factors behind every individual homicide, a substantial portion of Mexico’s recent violence is attributable to organized crime groups. In an effort to reduce the operational capabilities of these groups, the government of Mexico has responded to this crisis with a deliberate strategy to target top organized crime figures for arrest and even extradition. In January 2017, these efforts culminated in the downfall of famed drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States and is currently preparing to stand trial for various related crimes in New York.

Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS):

A broken Mexico: allegations of collusion between the Sinaloa cartel and Mexican political parties


Malcolm Beith


The Mexican drug war, in full swing since December 2006, has now claimed more than 40,000 lives. Dozens of high-level cartel operatives have been captured or killed, yet the leadership of one cartel, from Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico, has remained apparently untouched. The apparent lack of a crackdown on the Sinaloa Cartel has spurred criticisms of the Calderón administration, as well as US authorities aiding in the drug fight – some critics contend that the Sinaloa Cartel has enjoyed protection from the authorities. The Sinaloa Cartel's history of protection and collusion by authorities goes back a long way – during the reign of the PRI from 1929 to 2000, Sinaloa's drug traffickers were allowed to operate with near-total impunity. But mounting evidence – captures and deaths of high-level operatives from Sinaloa as well as arrests of relatives of the leadership – suggests that the claims of collusion against the current Mexican administration are false.

The Sinaloa Cartel as a Form of External Regulation on the Free Market Structure of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico


Philip Krzeski


Felipe Calderon’s recent war on drugs has highlighted the Mexican government’s lack of institutional control. Historically, Mexico has been plagued by conflict between national and state government. The inclusion of powerful drug cartels into this complex political context has only exacerbated the issues of corruption and violence in Mexican society. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the city of Juarez, Mexico. International news headlines are constantly littered with stories of government officials working directly with drug cartels and the resulting societal devastation. The presence of the Sinaloa Cartel in Juarez has re-established the political socio-economic structure of Juarez. The free-market Juarez economy has fallen underneath the control of the Sinaloa Cartel. To demonstrate this concept, I will provide an analysis that determines the principles of economic liberalism to the growth and benefit of Juarez in contrast to the over-arching socio-economic constraints that have been established as a result of the illegal and deadly practices of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Cártel del Golfo (CDG) / Los Zetas:

Evolution of Los Zetas in Mexico and Central America: Sadism as an Instrument of Cartel Warfare


George W. Grayson


Drug-related violence in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, the crown jewel for U.S.-Mexican commerce, left the bustling, crime-afflicted city of 350,000 with¬out a police chief. Alejandro Domínguez Coello, a print-shop owner and Chamber of Commerce president, accepted the post on the morning of June 8, 2005. 'I'm not beholden to anyone. My commitment is to the citizenry,' stated the 56-year-old father of three. Six hours later, he took the wheel of his Ford F-150 pickup. A vehicle pulled up next to him, and the crack of an AR-15 rifle sounded as 30 bullets ripped through his white shirt, splashing blood over his chin and chest. Los Zetas paramilitaries were sending a message: We control the streets of Nuevo Laredo. 'They are openly defying the Mexican state,' said Mexico City political scientist Jorge Chabat. 'They are showing that they can kill anybody at any time. It's chilling.' As a result of such carnage, virtually every other drug trafficking organization (DTO) in Mexico, the more professional law enforcement units, Mexican and U.S. security agencies, and the armed forces are committed to exterminating Los Zetas, who sprang to life in the late-1990s. Osiel 'The Friend Killer' Cárde¬nas Guillén, who aspired to lead the then-mighty Gulf Cartel based in Matamoros across from McAllen, Texas, feared assassination to the point of paranoia. Hooked on cocaine and haunted by internal demons, the 31-year-old Friend Killer became convinced that assassins were plotting his demise.

Los Zetas: Operational Assessment


Lisa J. Campbell


Today, analysts of the postmodern era recognize that worldwide conflicts are increasingly influenced by the interaction between terrorists, criminals, gangs, and private armies and that this interaction is a threat to the nation state. Now, a related threat is coming into play – one that involves all of these types of groups being represented at once in a single adversary. One such multifaceted group that is in the forefront is Los Zetas, a band of Mexican cartel enforcers that cannot be easily categorized, assessed, or targeted. Within broad categories of a multitude of irregular groups, Los Zetas embodies such capabilities as extensive compartmentalized networking, pervasive intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities, amassing of advanced weaponry, brutal tactics, top level military and police training, and the ability to undermine state governments and control large swaths of territory. Los Zetas, if left unchecked and unexamined, could potentially become a great security problem for Mexico, the US, and Central America. This essay provides an operational assessment that explores Los Zetas using various criteria traditionally used by nation state militaries, and more recently by Terrorism Early Warning Groups, to assess opposing forces (OPFOR). The purpose of this operational assessment is to provide a baseline understanding of Los Zetas that would make them less imposing and more targetable.

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