Small Wars Journal

El Centro

The Triple Border, a criminal haven

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 11:58pm
The triple border has become a free territory for criminal activities and even worse, for terrorist activities. Despite the multiplication of actions, laws and meetings of the authorities of the highest hierarchies of the countries that make up this area: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, in addition to the monitoring of different governmental agencies of the United States.

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La Triple Frontera, refugio criminal

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 7:35pm
La Triple Frontera se transformó en un territorio “liberado” para las actividades criminales y, peor aún, para las actividades terroristas. Ello, pese a que se multiplicaron las acciones, leyes y encuentros de las autoridades de las más altas jerarquías de los tres países — Argentina, Brasil y Paraguay — que lo integran y del monitoreo de diferentes agencias gubernamentales de los Estados Unidos.

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Commentary—Narcos: Mexico Season 3: A View From El Paso and Ciudad Juárez

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 3:11pm
Dr. Howard Campbell, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) weighs on Season 3 of "Narcos: Mexico." In his commentary, Campbell, author of “Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez” and the recently released "Downtown Juárez: Underworlds of Violence and Abuse" asserts that the Cártel de Juárez should actually be called the Cártel de El Paso y Juárez.

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SWJ El Centro Book Review – Downtown Juárez: Underworlds of Violence & Abuse

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 12:04am
Review of Howard Campbell's "Downtown Juárez: Underwords of Violence & Abuse by SWJ−El Centro Associater Daniel Weisz. In this book, Campbell, a noted ethnographer of Mexico's "Drug War Zone," examines he conditions that lead to violence in central Juárez.

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Corruption, Crime, and Gangs in Central America: Understanding the Root Causes

Mon, 10/25/2021 - 7:43pm
This article explores corruption in the context of street gangs in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). Combating corruption and impunity as well as reducing the ability of criminal actors to penetrate the state apparatus should be the forefront of the policy agenda of governments in the region. This article focuses primarily on the cases of El Salvador and Honduras to illustrate the failures of tough on crime policies and the intricate, arguably symbiotic, relationship between the state and organized crime.

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Criminal Drone Evolution: Cartel Weaponization of Aerial IEDs

Mon, 10/25/2021 - 5:14pm

Criminal Drone Evolution: Cartel Weaponization of Aerial IEDs

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Editors

SWJ has released a new curated collection Criminal Drone Evolution: Cartel Weaponization of Aerial IEDs documenting the evolution of drone usage by criminal cartels, gangs, and criminal armed groups (CAGs) in Mexico and beyond. Cartel Drone Evolution demonstrates the development spread of drone technology and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) among criminal actors while also pointing toward future potentials.


This Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology contains a preface on criminal drone use by journalist David Hambling followed by a foreword describing drones within criminal orders-of battle (OOB) by Lisa J. Campbell.  After and introduction by the editors , the text contains 22 chapters documenting the evolution of drone use in Mexico’s competitive narco-conflict ecology. It closes with a conclusion by the editors, an afterword by Conrad ‘Andy’ Dreby and Scott Crino on UAS potentials, a postscript by James T. Torrance on future unmanned systems threats, and five appendices.

Criminal Drone Evolution is the companion to the earlier curated collection Illicit Tactical Progress: Mexican Cartel Tactical Notes 2013-2020 , also edited by SWJ-El Centro Senior Fellows Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan. Together these two works provide valuable insight into the development of criminal armed groups and the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) they employ.

Source: Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Editors, Criminal Drone Evolution: Cartel Weaponization of Aerial IEDs. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2021.

Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 4:49pm

Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro

"Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro (The waves of terrorism and the insurgencies of the future)" by Jesús M. Pérez Triana, the author of Guerras Posmodernas (Barcelona: Ediciones El Cobre, 2010). Pérez Triana, a Spanish sociologist, national security, and intelligence analyst explores future conflicts and post-modern wars in a three part series in Spanish at The Political Room.


The first essay, "Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro (I)," looks at the 'waves' of terrorism articulated by eminent terrorism scholar David C. Rapoport, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California,[1] Los Angeles and founding editor of Terrorism and Political Violence.  

The second, "Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro (II)," examines the evolution of insurgency, looking at Robert J. Bunker's works on Old and New Insurgency Forms,[2] including 'criminal insurgency' as articulated by John P. Sullivan,[3] and 'plutocratic insurgency.'[4]

The third and most recent, "Las olas del terrorismo y las insurgencias del futuro (III)," continues the exploration of post-modern wars by reviewing the rise of 'bloody sectarian' insurgency and terrorism:

"La primera forma emergente señalada por Robert J. Bunker es la 'sectaria sangrienta'. Se trata de grupos armados articulados en torno a una secta religiosa con 'prácticas sectarias, mundos utópicos, anhelos apocalípticos e incluso prácticas de sacrificios humanos (The first emerging form identified by Robert J. Bunker is the 'bloody sectarian.' These are armed groups articulated around a religious sect with 'sectarian practices, utopian worlds, apocalyptic yearnings and even human sacrifice practices'.)"[5]

The second form of new insurgency and terrorism identified by Bunker is 'neo-urban' with the rise of armed groups in 'feral cities.'  The potential for 'virtual' insurgencies that operate solely and exclusively in the "ámbito de las redes de información (realm of information networks)" is also discussed.[6]

These three essays bring the work on emerging insurgency and terrorism to Spanish speaking reader. This blog note completes the circle and brings awareness of the discussion of criminal insurgencies in the Spanish literature to English-speaking readers. Pérez Triana tweets at @jpereztriana, he also blogs in Spanish at "Guerras Posmodernas."


[1] David C. Rappoprt, :"The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism" in  John Horgan and Kurt Braddock, Eds. Terrorism Studies: A Reader. New York: Routledge. 2008, pp. 46-72.

[2] Robert J. Bunker, Old and New Insurgency Forms. Carlisle Barracks: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2016.

[3] John P. Sullivan,"Transnational gangs: The impact of third generation gangs in Central America." Air & Space Power Journal−Español. Second Trimester (January) 2008. 

[4] Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Liguri Bunker, Eds., Plutocratic Insurgency Reader. (A Small Wars Journal Book.) Bloomington: Xlibris. 2019.

[5] Here Pérez Triana cites Bunker, Old and New Insurgency Forms.

[6] Ibid. 

Death Disrespected: The Trials and Tribulations of Santa Muerte Internacional and the Martyrdom of Comandante Pantera

Sun, 09/26/2021 - 9:40pm
On 6 May 2021, three heavily armed men stormed into the Santa Muerte temple known as Santa Muerte Internacional Tultitlán (SMI Tultitlán), firing off shots into the air. The men, who had previously attacked the home of Enriqueta Vargas, the former leader of the temple, looted the shrine for items of worth and beat up staff members. This paper looks at the background of SMI Tultitlán and the new religious movement (NRM) surrounding Santa Muerte with a discussion of the roles of Jonathan Legaria Vargas "Comandante Pantera" and Enriqueta Vargas "La Madrina" culminating in a discussion of the future of SMI Tultitlán.

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PIPE DREAMS: The Taliban and Drugs from the 1990s into Its New Regime

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 2:51pm
Perhaps nowhere in the world has a country and the international community faced an illicit drug economy as deeply entrenched as in Afghanistan. After toppling the Ashraf Ghani government in August of this year, the Taliban has announced its intention to rid Afghanistan of drugs. They tried to ban opium production in 2000 with limited success, This analysis by SWJ-El Centro Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown provides a retrospective view of the Taliban's opium control initiatives from the 1990s to the present. She concludes that maintaining these suppression efforts would be wickedly difficult and could internally destabilize the Taliban.

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The state of police violence in the Americas

Mon, 09/13/2021 - 2:32pm
This article reviews the lethal violence statistics featured in the "Homicide Monitor"—a data visualization tracking international murder rates—confirms that Latin America and Caribbean countries are indeed suffering from a disproportionately high burden of lethal force by police compared to other parts of the world. Notwithstanding norms and standards urging restraint, countries like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico report some of the highest levels of police killings on the planet.

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