Narcoterrorism in Mexico: Proposal

Introduction

Terrorism is a violent form of criminal behavior, and the terrorism-associated or terrorist-like activities of drug organizations, which have been termed as “narcoterrorism,”1 are similar. Consequently, they pose a significant and apparently growing threat to national and international security. For example, the number of homicides that are associated with this type of crime has been increasing; in Mexico, it rose to 16,700 in 2011 and surpassed 20,000 in the following years,2 reaching a record of over 33,000 in 2018.3 The phenomenon is also reported worldwide; multiple countries have experienced it.4

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In addition, narcoterrorism is different from regular terrorism, which is why it might potentially require specific solution strategies.5 Given the rare coverage of narcoterrorism in recent studies,6 some additional research is needed. This paper offers a proposal for an investigation that would produce some more information on narcoterrorism in Mexico. Here, the project’s problem statement and the question will be stated, a hypothesis will be proposed, and the potential methodology will be described. In addition, the hypothesis will be based on a preliminary literature review, which will be expanded upon in future works.

Problem Statement

Some countries have been seeing an increase in narcoterrorism, which makes it a rather acute issue. In Mexico, the numbers of homicides that could be associated with narcotics and drug cartels have been growing at a rather rapid pace since the beginning of the century; for instance, it tripled in the years between 2007 and 2010.7 In addition to disrupting the peace and inciting terror and violence in Mexico, Mexican narcoterrorism has been an international threat. Most frequently, the US becomes affected because of the large amounts of drugs that are being transported across the border between the two countries by Mexican criminal organizations.8

The understanding of narcoterrorism, therefore, is very important, especially since it is a relatively specific form of interaction between crime and terrorism.9 Consequently, it is necessary to investigate narcoterrorism, especially its specific features, and Mexican cases could help in this regard.

Narcoterrorism is a relatively controversial term; debates about its appropriateness are ongoing. Specifically, it has been stated that economic motivations are not common for terrorism,10 but since the activities of narcoterrorism have similar goals to those of typical terrorism, a comparison can be made.11 The similarities and differences between narcoterrorism and typical terrorism are also notable because this information can help in determining effective strategies for addressing both.12

A recent study is dedicated to the analysis of the terrorist tactics that criminal organizations in Mexico have been using.13 Another paper briefly compares drug-related terrorism and general terrorism in the context of discussing Mexican narcoterrorism.14 From this perspective, an analysis of the terrorist features of Mexican narcoterrorism and their implications for preventing and responding to it nationally or internationally appears to be helpful.

Research Question

The proposed project will aim to respond to the following question: what implications do the terrorist features of narcoterrorism attacks in Mexico have for national and international security as shown through the comparison of two relevant cases? This question requires demonstrating that terrorist features are present in the cases; then, an analysis of the implications of these features can be offered.

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The former task will be carried out by defining terrorism and its key features; the latter will be based on the responses of the government or governments to the events. The cases that are currently chosen are two incidents (2011 and 2019) that involved the mutilation or hanging of bodies and threatening banners.15 They are similar in their explicit aim of inducing fear, which is why they were chosen, but they might be substituted if necessary.

Preliminary Literature Review

The literature on narcoterrorism is relatively scarce,16 especially when recent resources are required. Consequently, the information on Mexican narcoterrorism is not very well-represented in recent studies. From this perspective, the investigation of the topic is justified since the contribution of data to an insufficiently studied area is a valuable opportunity. This section will contain a summary of the relevant information from the current, peer-reviewed sources that can be used to form a hypothesis for the proposal.

Variables

From the perspective of the research question, the key terms that require consideration are terrorism and drug trafficking organizations. The latter refers to a form of organized crime in which drug-related operations are carried out by large, often transnational organizations.17 The former is more difficult to define, but it can be viewed as a type of crime that is politically or religiously motivated, selective in its targets, and focused on violence and threats that are meant to achieve a particular agenda.18

While rather broad, this definition also incorporates the key variables that will be used for the analysis of the cases. Thus, in order to respond to the questions about the terrorist features of an event, the project will employ the variables of violence, motivation, and the intent or aim of an act. As for the second part of the question, the activities of the Mexican government will be viewed as the primary measure of the cases’ implications. Among other things, the terminology used to describe them and the actions taken to stop or prevent similar events will be considered, including national and international initiatives. The variables and common themes from the relevant literature will be discussed below.

The Controversy of the Term

The main term that is being investigated is narcoterrorism, and it has been causing some controversy.19 Generally, narcoterrorism refers to the violent actions, as well as threats, that are performed by drug syndicates;20 basically, it occurs when criminal organizations or individual criminals that are related to drug production or trafficking participate in terrorism or assist it.21 The fact that drug-related crime is usually economically motivated implies that the conventional definition of terrorism, which is associated with political or religious factors, may not be applicable.22

It should be noted that finance-related terror attacks have been recorded, including, for example, the targeting of corporations or robberies, but the commonly accepted view is that terrorism is predominantly associated with politics or religion.23 The Mexican government appeared to subscribe to this position for many years, but eventually, the idea that particularly violent cartels could indeed be considered terrorist organizations was expressed.24

The primary motivation for this shift in perspective, as well as for the term in general, is that the drug organizations, which cause significant destabilization of peace and order, disrespect human rights, and lead extremely violent acts that aim to terrorize,25 are similar in their actions to terrorist groups.26 From the perspective of their impact on the infrastructure and morale of civilians, narcoterrorism can have the effects of regular terrorism.27

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In addition, the goal of intimidation and demoralization of the target is also typical for such groups.28 In general, it has been long observed that terrorism and crime, including drug trafficking, tend to be interrelated,29 which justifies the introduction of the term narco-terrorism.30

It can also be argued that the term was coined with regard to acts that might be viewed as politically motivated. The word can be traced back to the 1980s, and it was initially used to describe the violent attacks that targeted the anti-drug forces of Peru.31 Nowadays, the term can also be applied to any terror-like violence and threats did by drug-related criminal organizations, including those aimed at the civilian population or other drug cartels. However, the fact that the term was initially meant to denote the acts which targeted governmental forces with the aim of forcing the government to make concessions or otherwise weaken it may introduce a political element into this type of crime.

Similarly, the attempts to intimidate other organizations, as well as the public, into being complacent with drug cartel activities can be considered political. Finally, cartels often support insurgent movements, which makes them explicitly political in such instances.32 This observation can be connected to the fact that drug cartels fight for political power, and this pattern can manifest itself in their attempts to affect the political landscape of a country.33 In any case, narcoterrorism is defined by terrorism-like violence, which justifies investigating this threat to national and international security.

Narcoterrorism as an International Threat

An important concern associated with narcoterrorism, including that from Mexico, is that it has the potential of becoming an international threat. This fact is associated both with the violence of drug cartels and the dangers of their usual operations, which consist of the production and distribution of various harmful and addictive substances.34 While this information is difficult to verify, some evidence suggests that depending on the drug type, up to 90% of the drugs that are currently used by US citizens may have been trafficked into the country through Mexico.35

Both Mexico and the US have been attempting to reduce the problem by reinforcing border security, as well as cooperating in other instances, for example, through the development of counter-drug and counter-terrorism initiatives. 36 In addition, Mexico is a part of international initiatives on counterterrorism.37 Given the potential and current negative outcomes of Mexican narcoterrorism, the consideration of its implications from the international perspective that is proposed in this research is justified.

Narcoterrorism in Mexico

The history of narcoterrorism in Mexico is worth exploring since its key features are associated with certain historical events. In Mexico, smuggling operations across the country’s border with the US had been formed by the 1950s; however, they used to be relatively peaceful.38 In particular, violent acts like kidnapping or murders were rare, and the politically oriented actions were limited to bribery. The situation started changing due to the War on Drugs in the US, which resulted in a reduced supply but increased demand for drugs, as well as some changes in the safety of drug trafficking.39 Internal events also had an impact on the nature of trafficking; specifically, after the arrest of Miguel “Gallardo who used to control most of the drug trafficking in the country until 1987, multiple drug cartels appeared, and they started competing for power.40

These competitions became increasingly violent because the North American Free Trade Agreement facilitated trade and trafficking in 1994,41 and the corrupt political party that used to support and control drug cartels (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) was removed from power in 1997.42 All these factors contributed to the increased violence performed by drug cartels with respect to each other’s members (in the course of competition and fight for territory that can also be termed as drug wars), as well as law enforcement and civilians.43

These days, the connection between drugs and crime is prominently displayed in the behavior of some of its largest crime syndicates. It can be claimed that this version of organized crime is responsible for a large portion of violent incidents in the country, and there appears to be an increase in such events, especially as related to homicides. For example, the number of drug-related homicides in 2007 for Mexico was 2,826 people, but in 2011, it amounted to 16,700.44 Reports of the number exceeding 33,000 in 2018 have been encountered as well.45 Currently, nine major drug-based criminal organizations can be found in Mexico.46

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Since the beginning of the 2000s, active steps were made to reduce corruption in the country and fight drug cartels, which resulted in increased incarceration and contraband seizures. These actions prompted the retaliation of the cartels with further increased violence,47 and although increased militarization of the country had some positive effects, corruption persisted, and the military lacked the skills needed to address the problem.48 Thus, the problem of narcoterrorism in Mexico has not been resolved yet.

Hypothesis

The fact that the two chosen cases exhibit at least some features of terror attacks is apparent. Both events were extremely violent; two mutilated bodies were found in 2011, and nine bodies were hanged on display in 2019 with ten more bodies associated with the same murders. Furthermore, in both cases, the aim to terrorize people was apparent in that banners with threats were placed near the bodies.49 Therefore, it will be possible to prove that the two cases have terrorist features. The primary implication that follows is that it would make sense to treat such cases as acts of terror. However, a more detailed investigation will show if there are significant factors that make the events differ from terrorism, modifying the steps that can be taken to respond to and prevent similar crimes.

Methodology

Given the presented research question, as well as variables, the discussed project would work best with a qualitative methodology. Indeed, qualitative research is capable of responding to the questions that require the investigation and exploration of phenomena,50 which is suitable for the proposed research. Furthermore, while the topic of interest can be quantified in some instances (for example, in the numbers of attacks or their death toll), a qualitative inquiry can produce more extensive and meaningful insights into its nature and related implications.

Regarding the specific approach, the comparative method is suggested. The comparative method refers to the technique of investigation which involves the selection of a small number of cases51 and their comparison with respect to the variables of interest.52 This approach is rather diverse, especially in qualitative studies, but it is recommended to choose cases that are similar in some respect and use them to draw conclusions about this similarity.53 In the proposed research, particularly terrorism-like narcoterrorism cases were selected to respond to the stated question.

One of the primary concerns of the method is the fact that it is based on a small number of cases; its findings should be viewed from this perspective and not generalized. This issue is especially important for quantitative studies,54 but in qualitative research, this limitation needs to be considered as well. Still, due to the positive features of the case study method, which is its ability to investigate something in detail,55 this approach has the same benefit while also introducing an opportunity for tracing some patterns across similar cases. It is also notable that the comparative method has been applied to complex phenomena which benefit from qualitative research, for example, revolutions.56 Thus, the proposed methodology has its limitations, but it can respond to the research question.

Data/Findings

As an element of data collection plans, it is important to define the potential sources of information that this proposed study can employ. Currently, it is planned to use any official reports of the Mexican or US governments if they can be obtained as the primary source of information; peer-reviewed articles and reputable news outlets will become the secondary ones. The strategy is justified; the primary sources are likely to produce data that is relatively objective, and peer-reviewed sources are also likely to be reliable in that their quality is controlled. The same can be said about reputable news outlets; in addition, the comparative analysis of different sources of information will be able to produce the most reliable results. Thus, the described method of data collection should provide the necessary data, and it will be analyzed through the comparative method as planned.

Conclusion

To summarize, the topic of narcoterrorism is complicated by the ongoing debates regarding the appropriateness of the term. However, viewing at least some of the narcoterrorism acts from the perspective of their terrorist features is justified. The additional investigation of the topic through an in-depth analysis and comparison of a couple of markedly terror-related acts can help to determine the implications of the terrorist features of narcoterrorism for national and international security efforts.

Bibliography

Beck, Colin J. “The Comparative Method in Practice: Case Selection and the Social Science of Revolution.Social Science History 41, no. 3 (2017): 533-54. Web.

CNN Library. “Mexico Drug War Fast Facts.CNN. 2019. Web.

Congressional Research Service. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. 2019. Web.

Creswell, John, and David Creswell. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2017.

Kukreja, Veena. “The Menace of Narco Power in Pakistan.Indian Journal of Public Administration 62, no. 2 (2016): 260-269. Web.

Mowell, Barry. “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions of Counterterrorism Policy in Mexico.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Global Counterterrorism Policy, edited by Scott Nicholas Romaniuk et al, 223-43. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2017. Web.

Phillips, Brian J. “Terrorist Tactics by Criminal Organizations: The Mexican Case in Context.” Perspectives on Terrorism 12, no. 1 (2018): 46-63.

Ramirez, Jacobo, and Carlos Muñiz. “Framing Organized Crime and Entrepreneurs’ Reactions in Mexico: Variations in the International Press.Trends in Organized Crime 21, no. 1 (2018): 24-41. Web.

Ramirez, Jacobo, Sergio Madero, and Carlos Muñiz. “The Impact of Narcoterrorism on HRM Systems.The International Journal of Human Resource Management 27, no. 19 (2016): 2202-2232. Web.

Salt, Alexander. “Blurred Lines: Mexican Cartels and the Narco-Terrorism Debate.” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 18, no. 1 (2017): 166-188.

Santacroce, Rita, Elisabetta Bosio, Valentina Scioneri, and Mara Mignone. “The New Drugs and the Sea: The Phenomenon of Narco-Terrorism.International Journal of Drug Policy 51 (2018): 67-68. Web.

Trejo, Guillermo, and Sandra Ley. “High-Profile Criminal Violence: Why Drug Cartels Murder Government Officials and Party Candidates in Mexico.British Journal of Political Science: 1-27. Web.

Trejo, Guillermo, and Sandra Ley. “Why Did Drug Cartels Go to War in Mexico? Subnational Party Alternation, the Breakdown of Criminal Protection, and the Onset of Large-Scale Violence.” Comparative Political Studies 51, no. 7 (2018): 900-37. Web.

Yin, Robert. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2017.

Footnotes

  1. Barry Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions of Counterterrorism Policy in Mexico,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Global Counterterrorism Policy, ed. Scott Nicholas Romaniuk et al. (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2017), 224-5. Web.
  2. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 228.
  3. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations,” Congressional Research Service. Web.
  4. Rita Santacroce et al., “The New Drugs and the Sea: The Phenomenon of Narco-Terrorism,” International Journal of Drug Policy 51 (2018): 67. Web.
  5. Brian J. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics by Criminal Organizations: The Mexican Case in Context,” Perspectives on Terrorism 12, no. 1 (2018): 47.
  6. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 47.
  7. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.
  8. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”
  9. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 47.
  10. Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, “Why Did Drug Cartels Go to War in Mexico? Subnational Party Alternation, the Breakdown of Criminal Protection, and the Onset of Large-Scale Violence,” Comparative Political Studies 51, no. 7 (2018): 904. Web.
  11. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 224-5.
  12. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 47.
  13. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 47.
  14. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 229.
  15. CNN Library, “Mexico Drug War Fast Facts,” CNN, 2019. Web.
  16. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 47.
  17. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”
  18. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 228.
  19. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.
  20. Jacobo Ramirez and Carlos Muñiz, “Framing Organized Crime and Entrepreneurs’ Reactions in Mexico: Variations in the International Press,” Trends in Organized Crime 21, no. 1 (2018): 24-5. Web.
  21. Jacobo Ramirez, Sergio Madero and Carlos Muñiz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism on HRM Systems,” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 27, no. 19 (2016): 2206. Web.
  22. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.
  23. Alexander Salt, “Blurred Lines: Mexican Cartels and the Narco-Terrorism Debate,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 18, no. 1 (2017): 169.
  24. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 223.
  25. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 48.
  26. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 224.
  27. Ramirez, Madero and Muñiz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism,” 2212-2218.
  28. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 229.
  29. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.
  30. Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 172.
  31. Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 170.
  32. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 225-6.
  33. Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, “High-Profile Criminal Violence: Why Drug Cartels Murder Government Officials and Party Candidates in Mexico,” British Journal of Political Science (2019): 1-4. Web.
  34. Veena Kukreja, “The Menace of Narco Power in Pakistan,” Indian Journal of Public Administration 62, no. 2 (2016): 264-267. Web.
  35. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 230.
  36. Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 187.
  37. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 239.
  38. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 226.
  39. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 226.
  40. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.
  41. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.
  42. Trejo and Ley, “Why Did Drug Cartels Go to War,” 911-13.
  43. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”
  44. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.
  45. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”
  46. Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”
  47. Ramirez, Madero and Muñiz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism,” 2207.
  48. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 236.
  49. CNN Library, “Mexico Drug War.”
  50. John Creswell and David Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 5th ed. (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2017), 183-5.
  51. Colin J. Beck, “The Comparative Method in Practice: Case Selection and the Social Science of Revolution,” Social Science History 41, no. 3 (2017): 533-4. Web.
  52. Adam N. Glynn and Nahomi Ichino, “Increasing Inferential Leverage in the Comparative Method,” Sociological Methods & Research 45, no. 3 (2016): 598-9. Web.
  53. Beck, “The Comparative Method,” 540-1.
  54. Glynn and Ichino, “Increasing Inferential Leverage,” 598-600, 618-20.
  55. Robert Yin, Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods, 6th ed. (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2017), 15-16.
  56. Beck, “The Comparative Method,” 535.
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