Winner of the April Contest







 We asked the question:

Why did narcotraffic in Mexico increase between 1990 and the present day?

The winning answer comes from Michael Lengefeld of Pullman, Washington.


We edited his answer slightly to get rid of some jargon and make it easier to read. But he has an absolutely first-rate answer.



Two central dynamics facilitated the increase in Mexican narcotrafficking organizations since 1990.

1. The reorganization of the global cocaine commodity chain resulting from the collapse of the Colombian narcotrafficking in the late 1980s.

2. The 1990s shift towards democratic pluralism in Mexican domestic politics.

The American Drug War spurred the collapse of the Colombian narcotrafficking and pushed coca production to ecologically sensitive regions of Peru and Bolivia. The shutdown of the traditional Caribbean narcotrafficking routes facilitated the growth of Mexican NTOs as the central route to U.S. drug markets, which led to their domination of trafficking in the cocaine commodity chain.

The Mexican political shift towards democratic pluralism in the 1990s undermined the long-standing system of collusion among Mexican security forces and Mexican narcotraffickers. The old Mexican drug gangs no longer had impunity. They split into the nine major drug gangs of today.


Applause, applause from the Webmaster.

I completely concur with the argument that the War on Drugs simply moved narcotraffic from one country to another.

The democratic pluralism part of his answer refers to Mexican democracy becoming more competitive. Mexico had had a one-party state dominated by the PRI (Partida Revolucionario Institucional) – a party that had a lock on most electoral offices from 1929 to 2000. This meant if a narcotrafficker made a deal with a PRI politician, it was a binding deal. Once there was a more competitive democracy with multiple parties vying for power, deals between criminals and single politicians no longer guaranteed safety for the criminal. The gangs had to take their own security into their own hands. Different sub-gangs allied with different politicians and this led to the wars between the cartels.


Note that democracy has led to an intensification of violent crime in many settings. The nightmare scenario is when political candidates ally with gangs in order to win their elections. Desmond Arias has documented this process for Brazil, Colombia and for Jamaica. No surprise, if the government is dependent on narcotraffickers in order to stay in power, you can expect the narcotraffickers will be allowed to do what they want between elections.


We are sending Michael Lengefeld a copy of Desmond Arias’ Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro: Trafficking, Social Networks and Public Security. (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).


Arias’ book is one of the best books on crime ever written. I recommend it strongly to the readers of this website.