Small Wars Journal

Narco-Cities: Mexico and Beyond

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 8:22pm

Narco-Cities: Mexico and Beyond

John P. Sullivan

Transnational crime and its associated transnational illicit networks pose a challenge to sovereignty and governance by fostering corruption and impunity.  These groups—gangs, cartels, and mafias—operate at the intersection of ‘spaces and places.’ That is they dominate local territory (neighborhoods, cities, and states) in both urban and rural settings.  These actors negotiate the global illicit markets (a space of flows) from tangible spatial entry points.  As such, local and national gangs can become transnational criminal actors and as such are important targets for intelligence analysis.  

This essay briefly assesses the role of urban criminal actors (violent non-state actors) in challenging security and state solvency (legitimacy and capacity) providing alternate governance in ‘other-governed spaces’ as part of their strategy to navigate global illicit markets.[i]

Violence, Gangs and Cities

Extreme gang and cartel violence grabs daily headlines and influences daily life in contested cities.  As the Mexican Drug War has demonstrated, multi-year contests for criminal supremacy can yield high levels of violence in cities, towns, and states that challenge the ability to govern (Sullivan, 2013). 

Violence is in itself an important component of understanding ‘narco-cities’ (‘narco-ciudades’).  Indeed, high levels of gang violence are one indicator that ‘criminal insurgency’ (Sullivan and Bunker, 2012 & Grillo, 2011) may be present.  In Mexico, for example, the “10 most dangerous cities” are all contested within the drug war.  These cities are:  Reynosa, Acapulco, Tijuana, Torreón, Durango, Tepic, Culiacán, Mazatlán, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juárez.[ii]  The world’s deadliest cities are also linked to the narcos.  These have been listed in descending order as: San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Ciudad Juárez; Maceio, Brazil; Acapulco (also known as ‘Narcopulco’); Distrito Central, Honduras (Tegulcigalpa and Comayaguela); Caracas, Venezuela; Torreón; Chihuahua; Durango; and Belem, Brazil.[iii]

For a while Ciudad Juárez was the murder capital of the world earning the nickname ‘Murder City’[iv] The battle for Juárez, left over 11,400 persons murdered.[v] The Sinaloa and Juárez Cartels, along with their gang proxies killed rivals, assassinated police, employed car bombs, intimidated journalists, and engaged in social cleansing to eliminate their rivals from operating. 

The top ten cities for murders in Mexico in 2013 were: 1) Acapulco (883 homicides); 2) Distrito Federal (753); Tijuana (564); Culiacán (479); Ciudad Juárez (453); Ecatepec (312); Guadalajara (297); Monterrey (266); Zapopan (258); and Chihuahua (251).[vi]

So intense is the violence in many of Mexico’s small cities and towns that the residents flee the violence and become internally displaced persons.[vii]  In Guerrero state for example at least 20 ‘ghost pueblos’ resulted when the residents abandoned them in the face of cartel violence.[viii]

This use of extreme violence to control narco-turf is a hallmark of criminal warfare.  In Mexico, narcos have utilized beheadings, at least one crucifixion, dismemberment and mass graves (narcofosas) to make statements and intimidate rivals (the use of both symbolic and instrumental violence).[ix]  In Buenaventura, Colombia the public is besieged by warfare between the BACRIM (bandas criminales emergentes), in this case the Urabeños, rival gangsters such as La Empresa, and the security forces.[x] Criminal gangs, including the Camorra in Naples (Saviano, 2006), the PCC, Red Command, and Pure Third Command in Brazil’s favelas join the narcos (in Mexico and Central America) in dominating urban space. 

Indeed in Naples, the Camorra dominated a wide range of enterprises criminal and otherwise enforcing their will through violence and corrupting officials.  Naples is a prototypical narco-city.  The Camorra dominates the drug trade.  Indeed this criminal cartel dominates all criminal and much grey and legitimate commerce in Campania.  The narco trade in Naples includes retail, open-air drug markets and wholesale trafficking: hashish, heroin, cocaine, meth, all move through the Camorra’s supply chain.  Building from traditional criminal enterprises, including drug trafficking and extortion, the Camorristi moved into legitimate businesses.  Starting with textiles and garments the Camorra was able to undercut rivals producing goods at a lower cost and exporting them via their well-established narco-circuits. 

Naples provides a template for understanding narcos in mega-cities.  From inner city neighborhoods, through villages and suburbs throughout Campania the Camorra clans command both criminal enterprise and political processes.  They suborn mayors and elected officials to shape their operating environment.  In doing so, they built a ‘system’ (often called the ‘Secondgliano System’ after the name of one of the enclaves controlled by the clans). The system entails an economic and financial structure backed by military power.  From their nodes in Naples’ mega-city region, the Naples narco-city became a key node in an international criminal empire.

In Brazil the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital), Red Command (Comando Vermelho), and Pure Third Command or TCP (Terceiro Comando Puro) control street life and commerce in the favelas, colluding with corrupt police to dominate trade in drugs and extract street taxes.  In the Brazilian context, we see clear evidence of gangs moving into political action as ‘third generation gangs’ (Sullivan, 2002).  Brazil’s gangs dominate the favelas which have become “other governed zones;” criminal enclaves ruled by gangs.

Brazil’s gangs have been known to stimulate riots, attack police and public transit to assert command of their turf.[xi]  For example the PCC has conducted synchronized attacks in prisons and on the street.  On Friday, 12 May 2006 the PCC’s criminal rebellion against state authority led to attacks on symbols of authority (police, public buildings, and buses) as well as prison riots in 73 separate correctional facilities.[xii]  The PCC controls favelas where the gang has supplanted civil administration.

In the case of the PCC we also see a firm link between dominating prisons and controlling the street in the PCC, which has its base in Brazil’s prisons, controls favela action and conducts urban attacks to maintain its hold.  This prison-street overlap is also seen with Barrio Azteca in Texas/Chihuahua and the Eme (Mexican Mafia) in California. Police responses to gangs in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have focused on a counterinsurgency type response known as ‘pacifying police units’ (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or UPP).[xiii]

The intensity of violence in cities can be the result of many factors, but the most likely is that the terrain is contested.  That is one or more cartels and associated gangs are fighting to dominate the turf and opportunity space for criminal enterprise.  In the Mexican context, these spaces are known as plazas.  The plaza is the lucrative transshipment space for drugs across frontiers.  The gang or cartel that controls the space levies a tax  (known as a “piso”) on the criminal enterprises that transverse the plaza (Sullivan and Elkus, 2009a). 

In Mexico it is estimated that 40% of municipalities are under daily threat from organized crime—a threat that has resulted in over 1,200 municipal employees, including at least 43 mayors and hundreds of police.[xiv]  Similar situations exist in Central America where maras (especially MS-13) have gained effective control of village level political processes and see themselves as community champions (essentially social bandits) (Sullivan, 2012a & 2012b).

‘Narco-cities’ take several different forms.  As demonstrated in Mexico, they can be characterized by: 1) ‘hyperviolence’ where a type of feral, failed city exists as seen in Ciudad Juárez during the height of the Sinaloa incursion; 2) ‘contested zones’ when the cartels begin to challenge political mechanisms and civil society to assert their power as seen in the narcobloqueos in Monterrey; or they can be 3) ‘narco-controlled’ as in the case of Culiacán; or home to 4) ‘hidden financial power’ as seen in Mexico City.[xv]

While cartels and gangs operate across cities (and national frontiers) they usually have strong ties to specific cities.  The Sinaloa Cartel, for example has strong ties to Culiacán, the Tijuana and Juárez Cartels to those cities respectively, Barrio Azteca to El Paso, and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) to Los Angeles and San Salvador.  These ties are natural.  Neighborhoods or barrios are often the starting point for gangs.  They build from local affinities and then link with larger more dispersed entities.  In the case of MS-13 transnational linkages can emerge through emigration and deportation.  These transborder links are often reinforced through diaspora communities, as seen in the Sinaloa Cartel’s presence in Chicago.[xvi]  Similar dynamics are seen in La Familia Michoacana/Los Cabelleros Templarios links in California.  Just as global cities link global economic circuits, ‘narco-cities’ link transnational criminals and global gangs (Sullivan and Elkus, 2009c).

Fragile, Failed and Feral Cities

The growing political might of cities is increasingly recognized.  Saskia Sassen’s work on global cities (Sassen, 2001) and Parag Khanna’s assertion that a new urban age is replacing the age of nations (Khanna, 2010) combine with Mike Davis’s assessment of global slums (Davis, 2006) to fuel the discussion of fragile, failed, or feral cities.  Robert Muggah describes cities challenged by narcos, crime, conflict, and poverty as ‘fragile cities’ (Muggah, 2013).  Certainly cities like all human endeavors are fragile and in our context can be challenged by narcos and violence indeed cities in conflict have been linked to state fragility and state transformation (Beall, Goodfellow, and Rodgers, 2011).

Richard J. Norton (2003, 2010) described the potential security challenge of feral cities.  In his 2010 essay Norton defined a feral city as: “a metropolis in a nation-state where the government has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city’s boundaries. These cities nevertheless remain connected to the greater international system through such avenues as trade and communication.”  For Norton this would include the city losing the ability to sustain the rule of law.  

Norton defined three levels of ferality (green, yellow, red) for cities at risk.  Green connoted no risk, yellow marginal risk, and red denoted a city becoming feral.  Bunker and Sullivan (2011) expanded this framework to include two additional levels (purple and black).  The purple level denotes a ‘fully feral’ city and the black level denotes a ‘beyond feral; criminal city.’  The purple feral city is one where there is an absence or vacuum of state governance (what Sullivan refers to as a lack of ‘solvency’ (i.e., state legitimacy and capacity; Sullivan 2012a & 2012b) that is filled by a non-state entity (gang, cartel or warlord). 

A black feral city would be a city where the external trappings of vital urban life have returned but are ‘hollow’ shells of a functional city.  The black city is one that would be ruled by the criminal enterprise and the gangsters provide security.  The illicit economy is prime and the state is absent.   Neither the purple nor black feral city exists yet.  They are projections. However, there certainly are purple and black neighborhoods.  No city is fully feral (at any level) yet ‘narco-cities’/’narco-ciudades’ raise that potential.

Narco-cities (Narco-ciudades)

Narcos rule entire regions of Mexico and certainly cities, slums, favelas and barrios elsewhere.  These criminal enclaves are essentially ‘criminal cities.’  It is important to note that ‘narco-cities’ are not solely products of hyperviolence.  As mentioned earlier, violence plays a role and is a sign of ferality and a lack of state solvency, but other factors corruption, co-option of government officials, dominance of commerce and trade also figure into narco dominance.

In Mexico it has been estimated that up to 71.5% of municipios (cities and towns) have been captured or are under control of narcos.  This figure has been steadily rising during Mexico’s drug war as seen here: in 2001 the number of municipios under narco control was assessed at 34%; in 2006 that rose to 53%; in 2010 it was estimated at 73%, then dropping to 71.5% in 2011.[xvii]  The result is a neo-feudal situation where stratified governance exists: the gangs and cartels rule some functions while the state rules others.  Complicating the situation is the rise of autodefensas (self defense groups or vigilantes) sponsored by businessmen, farmers, or rival cartels.  Autodefensas are estimated to operate in at least 68 municipios in 13 Mexican states.[xviii]  Currently Michoacán, including an embattled Apatzingan, is site to multipronged conflict among Los Cabelleros Templarios, rival groups of autodefensas, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, and the state.[xix]

The rise of the narco-state (‘narco estado’) is feared by many observers of the drug cartel war and its violence.  For example in Narco Estado, photographer Teun Voeten looks at the violence and their state transforming potential (Voeten, 2012).  For Voeten the narco-state entails “the erosion of civil society and its gradual takeover by organized crime, the nascency of a new class of excluded and disposable people that choose a criminal career that ends in certain death, the devaluation of human life. All these elements present a nightmarish scenario of how our future could look like. The worst we can do is to close our eyes and ignore these developments.”[xx]  The narco estado is exemplified for Voeten by the images of Ciudad Juárez and Culiacán, narco-cities where drug barons, their serfs—the sicarios—and their victims exemplify a new life a narcocultura (Sullivan, 2012b) where violence and the illicit economy punctuated by fear and terror reign.

Assessing Narco-cities: Intelligence Analysis and Red Teaming

In Cartels at War, Paul Rexton Kan (2012, p. 242) advises that it is useful to “Think of Narco-Cities Rather than a Narco-State.”  Kan notes that the violence associated with the narcos is largely limited to specific geo-criminal areas.  Hence policy (and implicitly intelligence analysis informing policy) should focus on not only on those cities experiencing violence but also those with little violence.  This would contribute to understanding the differential impacts of narcos and organized crime on different cities.  Those with little violence may be captured or feudalized by the narcos those with hyperviolence may be contested.  Kan suggests that analysts focus on state and local governments when assessing “how patterns of drug trafficking and violence may shift” (p. 242).

The first step in analysis of the dynamics of a narco-city is defining what it is. A narco-city is an urban area (including small cities and neighborhoods within a mega-city) that is controlled or contested by criminal cartels or gangs engaged in drug trafficking. As such they are “other governed zones) criminal enclaves and include fragile, failed and feral cities and neighborhoods where narcos exert political influence or de facto control.

Intelligence analysis of narco-cities must include analysis of the ‘geosocial’ dynamics of that conurbation. That means both terrain analysis and social network analysis of the criminal actors and their political links with state and sub-state political organizations, as well as assessment of market (black, grey, and legitimate) conditions must be assessed.  For assessing terrain, it is important to recall that urban terrain is difficult for security (police and military forces) to operate in. Restricted movement, funneled and channelized movement, high potential for ambush, population and structural density, three-dimensional operational space (including subterranean, surface, and elevated terrain) are all features.  The criminal actors have the advantage in many cases (urban terrain favors the defense).[xxi]  Non-combatants complicate engagements between the security forces and gangsters.  The gangs utilize terrain, as well as look outs (halcones) to sense incursions by the police or military.

Urban IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield or Battlespace) is an essential component of assessing the geo-social dynamics of a narco-city.  Urban IPB[xxii] is essentially a four step process:  1) Define the Operating Environment; 2) Describe the Operating Environment’s Effects; 3) Identify and Evaluate Threats and Relevant Influences; and 4) Develop Opposing Courses of Action. 

There are four key factors in assessing the importance of a narco-city in the circuit of illicit global flows.  These are: 1) presence of transport/lines of communication, 2) ethnic make-up and presence of diaspora communities that may be exploited by gangsters, 3) the size of the city and its illicit trade, and 4) the cities gangs culture.   From this starting point, analysts need to look at the presence and degree of corrosive cartel/gang influence.  The corrosive factors include:

  • Co-option of state, community, and corporate functions; especially co-option/corruption of police, judicial, and elected officials (mayors, city council members)
  • Growth of criminal subculture (narcocultura)
  • Links and alliances with other criminal enterprises
  • Resource Extraction (ranging from street taxes through extorting profit from mining, logging, agriculture).

Finally, analysts need to define the current and evolving operational status of the criminal cartels and gangs in the narco-city.  What is the operational posture of the gangs/cartels?  Are they avoiding state interference?  Are they engaged in collusive corruption with state actors? Are they confronting the state and/or other cartels/gangs?  Are they targeting critical infrastructure.  What tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) do they employ?  What firebreaks are they likely to cross as gang warfare intensifies, etc.? When conducting these assessments ground truth from informants, active police investigators, and journalists are essential sources of raw information.  These, along with open source (OSINT) reports and studies should be assessed to develop working hypotheses that can be tested by on-going investigations and trough analytic red teaming (Sullivan and Elkus, 2009b).

Assessing the status and evolution of narco-cities is an essential intelligence task for police and security services (military and intelligence).  This analysis must include geosocial assessment of the individual narco-city as well as the position and linkages of the narco-city within the global illicit network of flows.  Since these situations are fluid—alliances and factions shift over time as described by Saviano, “In the face of [gang] war, danger, and defeat, allies and enemies are interchangeable” (p.80).  

During the course of gang and cartel conflict the status of forces will change.  Gangs and cartels are protean, adaptive actors.  Often violence, not economics will dictate the evolution, as Saviano recounts, “Groups, alliances, and enemies, will take shape afterward. But first the shooting has to start” (p. 80).  This demands ‘co-production’ of intelligence to accurately gauge the situation and place it into context (Wirtz and Sullivan, 2009).  As gangs and criminal cartels (violent non-state actors) expand their reach and potentially challenge states such intelligence analysis and geosocial assessment of narco-cities will become increasingly important.


Jo Beall, Tom Goodfellow, and Dennis Rodgers (2011)  “Cities, Conflict and State Failure,” Working Paper no, 85, Cities and Fragile States, Crisis States Working Paper Series No. 2, London: Crisis States Research Center, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan (2011)  “Integrating feral cities and third

phase cartels/third generation gangs research: the rise of criminal (narco) city networks and BlackFor,” Small Wars & Insurgencies, 22:5, pp. 764-786.

Mike Davis (2006) Planet of Slums, Brooklyn: Verso.

Ioan Grillo (2011)  El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, New York: Bloomsbury.

Paul Rexton Kan (2012) Cartels at War: Mexico's Drug-Fueled Violence and the Threat to U.S. Washington, DC: Potomac.

Parag Khanna (2010) “Beyond City Limits,” Foreign Policy, 16 August at

Robert Muggah (2013)  “The Fragile City Arrives, E-International Relations, 23 November 2013 at

Saskia Sassen (2001) The Global City, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Roberto Saviano (2006) Gomorrah, New York: Picador.

John P. Sullivan (2002) “Terrorism, Crime and Private Armies,” Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Vol. 11, No. 2/3 (Winter), pp. 239-253.

John P. Sullivan (2013) “Chapter 10: How Illicit Networks Challenge Sovereignty,” in Miklaucic, M., and Brewer, J. Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization. Washington, DC: National Defense University; pp. 171-187.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker (2012)  Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal Anthology, Bloomington: iUniverse.

John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus (2009a) “Plazas for Profit: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, April 2009 at

John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus (2009b) “Red Teaming Criminal Insurgency,” Red Team Journal, 30 January 2009 at

John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus (2009c) “Global cities-global gangs,” OpenDemocracy, 02 December 2009 at–-global-gangs.

John P. Sullivan and James J. Wirtz (2009)  “Global Metropolitan Policing: An Emerging Trend in Intelligence Sharing, Homeland Security Affairs, Vol. 5, Issue 2, May at

John P. Sullivan (2012a) “From Drug Wars to Criminal Insurgency: Mexican Cartels, Criminal Enclaves and Criminal Insurgency in Mexico and Central America. Implications for Global Security,” Paris: Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, FMSH-WP-2012-09, April at

John P. Sullivan (2012b) “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations.” Small Wars Journal, 03 November at

Teun Voeten (2012)  Narco Estado: Drug Violence in Mexico. (Photographs by Teun Voeten with introduction by Howard Campbell and Javier Valdez Cardenas), Lannoo Publishers: Tielt, Belgium.

End Notes

[i] This article was presented as a paper to the Panel on "Geosocial Intelligence for Deviant Globalization: Analyzing the Spaces and Places of Transnational Crime," International Studies Association, 55th Annual Convention (ISA 2014), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 26 March 2014.

[ii] These ratings change over time as the conflict and crime ebbs and flows.  This listing is found at “10 Most Dangerous Cities in Mexico,” Gadling at!slide=955568 (downloaded 10 March 2014).

[iii] Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer, “The world’s 10 deadliest cities,” Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2012 at

[iv] See Charles Bowdin, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, New York: Nation Books, 2011.

[v] Molly Molloy, “The Mexican Undead: Toward a New History of the “Drug War” Killing Fields,” Small Wars Journal, 21 August 2013 at“drug-war”-killing-fields.

[vi] “Ciudades más violentas en el sexenio de Enrique Peña Nieto en 2013” in “Los primeros 23 mil 640 muertos de Enrique Peña Nieto,” Zeta, 17 March 2014 at

[vii] See Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 8: 230,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mexico and ‘Narco-Refugee’ Potentials for the United States,” Small Wars Journal, 19 November 2011 at and Paul Rexton Kan, Mexico’s “Narco-Refugees”: The Looming Challenge for U.S. National Security, Carisle: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, October 2011 at

[viii] Richard Fausset, “Mexican towns, once frozen with fear, now frozen in time,” Los Angeles Times, 26 February 2013 at

[ix] See John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Tactics and Operations in the Mexican Drug War, Infantry, September-October 2011, pp. 20-23.

[x] “Buenaventura, entre fuerza pública, bandas criminales y narcotráfico,” La F.M., 22 March 2014 at and James Bargent, “War for Cocaine Corridors Consumes Colombia's Busiest Port,” InSight Crime, 14 February 2014 at

[xi] Most recently uprisings in Rio’s favelas have led to attacks on police stations and requests for federal assistance; See Paul Kiernan, “Rio Seeks Federal Help to Stem Attacks on Police Force,” Wall Street Journal, 21 March 2014 at

[xii] William Langewiesche, “City of Fear.” Vanity Fair, April 2007, pp. 158, 165-177.

[xiii] See Victoria Baena, “Favelas in the Spotlight: Transforming the Slums of Rio de Janeiro,” Harvard International Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. I, Spring 2011, pp. 34-37; and Flavie Halaia, “Pacifying Rio: what’s behind Latin America’s most talked about security operation,” openDemocracy, 12 March 2013 at

[xiv] Dudley Althaus, “Death and Corruption: Organized Crime and Local Govt in Mexico,” InSight Crime, 18 October 2013 at

[xv] See Inma Gil and Julián Miglierini “México: 4 ciudades a la somra del narco,” BBC Mundo, 30 July 2010 at for a journalistic account of the different forms of narco influence on cities and states.

[xvi] Jason McGahan, “Why Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel Loves Selling Drugs in Chicago,” Chicago Magazine, 17 September 2013 at  and “How Sinaloa Cartel Influences Chicago’s Violence,” NPR, 24 February 2014 at

[xvii] Doris Gomora, “Narco controla 71.5% de municipios del país,” El Universal, 02 January 2012 at

[xviii] “Grupos de autodefensa operan en 68 municipios del país,” Animal Politico, 02 March 2014 at

[xix] Eduardo Stanley, “Autodefensas of Michoacan, infights, a dark past and, a darker future? VOXXI, 21 March 2014 at

[xx] Cited at Jean-Paul Marthoz, “Narco Estado by Teun Voeten: so close to us,” Media and Human Rights, 04 March 2013 at

[xxi] See David Shunk, “Mega Cities, Ungoverned Areas, and the Challenge of Army Urban Combat Operations in 2030-2040, Small Wars Journal, 23 January 2014 at

[xxii] See Jamison Jo Medby and Russell W. Glenn (2002)  Street Smart: Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations, Santa Monica: Rand at


Categories: El Centro - Mexico

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at



Tue, 04/01/2014 - 12:31pm

'Narco' has become an over-used adjective. I do not doubt Mexico is a far more violent country than in the recent past, but it also has a history where the state has often been challenged and so the drugs trade exist in a fertile environment. If Mexico and Mexicans ask for external assistance I would be favourable IF it is their own approach, not one gifted to them by outsiders.

Mexico is not unique. Look at some of own cities does the nation-state fully control them, whether with or without local institutions? In some cities it is not just the drugs trade that stimulates crime, Naples has a long history of non-drug related crime.

We may not admit such non-fully governed urban spaces exist and politicians alongside law enforcement will rarely mention some urban spaces can be, if not are 'no go areas'. A point well made on SWJ & SWC about Springfield, Massachusetts.

I don't know Mexico or any Mexicans, but I suspect our 'blind eye' to our contested urban spaces makes them wonder what exactly is being offered by such friends.