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Ungoverned Spaces in Mexico: Autodefensas, Failed States, and the War on Drugs in Michoacan

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Master's thesis

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The spiral of violence generated by the drug war in Mexico over the past decade has raised security concerns, not only in Mexico, but also in the international community. The rise of vigilante groups in Michoacn operating at least in theory against organized crime and violence related to drug trafficking has recently and dramatically drawn attention to the relative weakness of government institutions in some parts of Mexico. This has in turn led some commentators to continue to describe Mexico as a potential failed state. However, the term failed state overlooks the specific location and character of both organized crime and violence in those parts of Mexico where it has become a problem. It is argued here that an understanding of the vigilante groups in Michoac n in relation to the historical, social, political, cultural, and economic particularities of Michoac n can best be achieves by setting aside the notion of a failed state and using the idea of ungoverned spaces. Taking ungoverned spaces as its point of departure, this thesis argues that the high level of violence in the ungoverned spaces in Michoac n has resulted in a parallel system of governance in much of the state however, this is not the same as a failed state. This thesis takes a fresh look at drug trafficking and violence related to drug trafficking that moves beyond broad notions of failed states and focuses on the specifics of ungoverned spaces in parts of Mexico and elsewhere that drug-trafficking and violence in particular have generated considerable concern.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law

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