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The Hydra: Cartel Trafficking, Corruption and Violence in Mexico

Descriptive Note:

[Technical Report, Master's Thesis]

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This paper examines why trafficking, corruption, and violence spillover effects associated with Mexican drug cartels worsened from 2006 to 2019 despite U.S. efforts to curb these problems by providing security assistance for the Government of Mexico GoM. The paper accordingly addresses the viability and effectiveness of U.S. security assistance strategy. To assess U.S. security assistance to Mexico, the author develops and tests a novel theory - the Hydra Theory - that models the logics of cartel behavior, categorizes the types of strategies used to counter cartels, and predicts how the targeting of trafficking, corruption, violence, or any combination, will trigger changes in cartel behavior. This theory is applied to three phases of U.S. security assistance to Mexico between 2006 and 2019. The study finds that trafficking, corruption, and violence associated with Mexican drug cartels worsened between 2006 and 2019 despite U.S. security assistance because combined U.S. and GoM counter-trafficking efforts incentivized cartels to increase their use of violence and corruption practices. Neither U.S. security assistance nor GoM strategies increased the deterrence capacity of local and state law enforcement entities capable of preventing the subsequent rise in violence. U.S. programs and GoM initiatives also did not increase the capabilities of the Mexican government to accurately monitor for and consistently sanction the subsequent increase in bribe-taking amongst law enforcement. After the USG and the GoM had significantly disrupted the drug market by 2010, neither state increased counter-trafficking efforts to compensate for the subsequent rise in cartel drug production. Accordingly, U.S. security assistance programs bear some responsibility for the negative trends in cartel spillover effects today. This assessment has significant implications for U.S. security assistance strategy moving forward.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law

Distribution Statement:

[A, Approved For Public Release]