Narcoterrorism in Mexico

Introduction

Due to the ongoing debates associated with the term “narcoterrorism,” as well as the general lack of recent academic sources that would look into it, the topic needs to be further investigated. In this paper, a literature review will be conducted for a project that intends to examine the terrorism features of narcoterrorism in Mexico and its implications for national and international security. The aim of the literature review consists of providing a summary of the key knowledge on the topic as related to the project’s variables (terrorism features) and key terms (narcoterrorism).

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Furthermore, the theoretical framework will be described and explained; since the project intends to draw conclusions from the comparison of terrorism features in two cases, the comparative substantive theory will be employed. The review will demonstrate the validity of the topic, justifying its study through the demonstration of knowledge gaps, and provide the context for the case analysis that will follow.

A Summary of the Current State of Knowledge

The Existing Sources

The scarcity of relevant sources makes their quick overview a possibility; this section will help to establish the gaps within the gathered information. This review will focus on recent academic publications that consider narcoterrorism. The sources that study the terrorism aspect of this issue are a priority since they are directly relevant to the project. From this perspective, the most valuable articles are those by Mowell, Phillips, and Salt. Salt directly addresses the complex nature of the term “narcoterrorism,” investigating the features that might turn a drug organization into a terrorist one.

  • Alexander Salt, “Blurred Lines: Mexican Cartels and the Narco-Terrorism Debate,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 18, no. 1 (2017): 169.

Phillips dedicates an article to exploring the employment of terrorism tactics by Mexican cartels and other criminal organizations.

  • Brian J. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics by Criminal Organizations: The Mexican Case in Context,” Perspectives on Terrorism 12, no. 1 (2018): 47.

Mowell does not focus on the terrorism aspects of narcoterrorism, but the author does mention them. In addition, this source provides a very extensive overview of Mexican narcoterrorism and an analysis of its specifics from the perspective of its national and international aspects.

  • 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.

Additional data can be gathered from two

  • 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.

Articles

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.

by Trejo and Ley, which presents an analysis of the Mexican drug war. The authors use multiple methods, including interviews and the data that describe intercartel murders, as well as the murders of officials and politicians that have been connected to cartels. These sources offer a lot of evidence of the violent nature of narcoterrorism, even though the authors do not use that term.
Other helpful sources include the article by Kukreja,

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Veena Kukreja, “The Menace of Narco Power in Pakistan,” Indian Journal of Public Administration 62, no. 2 (2016): 264-267.

Which provides an overview of narcoterrorism in Pakistan. It does not mention Mexico, but it can be used for a better understanding of narcoterrorism. Also, Ramirez and Muciz. Jacobo Ramirez and Carlos Muciz, “Framing Organized Crime and Entrepreneurs’ Reactions in Mexico: Variations in the International Press,” Trends in Organized Crime 21, no. 1 (2018): 24-5.

Analyze narcoterrorism in terms of its coverage by the media, and Ramirez, Madero, and Muciz. Jacobo Ramirez, Sergio Madero and Carlos Muciz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism on HRM Systems,” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 27, no. 19 (2016): 2206.

Conducted interviews to investigate the impact that narcoterrorism has on human resource management, especially as related to adapting to dangerous environments. These articles are less connected to the topic of the project, but they are still concerned with narcoterrorism, which makes them valuable.

In summary, the number of recent academic sources that are fully or partially applicable to the project is not very large. Sources that discuss terrorism on its own,

Timothy Shanahan, “The Definition of Terrorism,” in Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies, edited by Richard Jackson (New York: Routledge, 2016), 106-10.

as well as drug-related crimes, may be easier to obtain, but since the information from them is generally also present within the more topic-specific articles and books, their contribution to this review will be relatively modest. As a result, the presented review is constrained by the scarcity of sources, but it will still be able to identify the project’s variables and terms.

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Variables

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? From the perspective of this 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.

  • Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.” 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.
  • Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 228. While rather broad, this definition also incorporates the key variables that will be used for the analysis of the cases.
  • Shanahan, “The Definition of Terrorism,” 106-10.

Thus, in order to respond to the questions about the terrorist features of an event, the project will employ the variables of violence, motivation, targets, and agenda. In addition, the activities of the Mexican government will be viewed as the primary measure of the implications of narcoterrorism. The variables and common themes from the relevant literature will be discussed below.

Narcoterrorism: The Defining the Controversial Term

  • The main term that is being investigated is narcoterrorism, and it has been causing some controversy. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.
  • Generally, narcoterrorism refers to the violent actions, as well as threats, that are performed by drug syndicates. Ramirez and Muciz, “Framing Organized Crime,” 24-5.
  • Basically, it occurs when criminal organizations or individual criminals that are related to drug production or trafficking participate in terrorism. . Ramirez, Madero and Muciz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism,” 2206.
  • Given the controversy that is related to its terrorism-like features, as well as the specific features that distinguish it from terrorism, narcoterrorism was not always an accepted term. The Mexican government appeared to subscribe to the position that drug-related crimes cannot be terrorism-associated for many years. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 223.
  • However, the idea that particularly violent cartels could indeed be considered terrorist organizations was expressed by it eventually. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 223.
  • The primary motivation for this shift in perspective, as well as for the term in general, was that the drug organizations which cause significant destabilization of peace and order, disrespect human rights, and lead extremely violent acts that aim to terrorize. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 48.
  • are similar in their motivations and actions to terrorist groups. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 224.

Their terrorist features need to be discussed in detail to address the project’s variables.

Motivation

Motivation is one of the most controversial features of narcoterrorism. Indeed, drug-related crime is usually economically motivated, but terrorism is associated with political or religious factors.
. Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.
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.. Salt, “Blurred Lines, “169.
This issue is the primary reason for Salt, for example, to highlight the importance of avoiding the application of the term “terrorism” to drug-related organizations. . Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 185.

However, the author also notes that in the case of narcoterrorism, multiple motivations can be involved, which makes the term more valid. These complex motivations remain a feature that simultaneously connects narcoterrorism to terrorism and makes the two different.

Indeed, the term “narcoterrorism” was coined to describe acts that might be viewed as politically motivated. The origins of the word can be traced back to the 1980s, and it was initially used to define the violent attacks that targeted the anti-drug forces of Peru.
. Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 170.

An attack on the government’s forces would fit the criminal and economic agenda of cartels, but it cannot be considered apolitical. Similarly, the attempts to intimidate criminal and non-criminal organizations, as well as the public, into being complacent with cartel activities can be viewed as political. Finally, cartels often support insurgent movements, which makes them explicitly political in such instances.

. Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 225-6.

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In the end, drug cartels fight for political power, and this pattern can manifest itself in their attempts to affect the political landscape of a country.
. Trejo and Ley, “High-Profile Criminal Violence” 1-4.

Therefore, political motivations are not uncommon for drug organizations, which means that at least some of their activities may resemble terror attacks from the perspective of the motivation variable.

Targets and Agenda

One of the key aspects of terrorism is that it has a particular goal or agenda that is supposed to be achieved through violence-related coercion. The targets of this coercion can vary, and they tend to include civilians, as well as governmental agents, including police and officials.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 83.

From this perspective, narcoterrorism is not too different from regular terrorism; their targets are common in that both government-related individuals

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 170. and civilians can be targeted.

Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 49-50.

The goal of both terrorism and narcoterrorism is usually to instill fear, which can be used for coercive reasons to advance a political agenda; for narcoterrorism, the advancement of economic interests might also be relevant.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 83.

It should also be noted that drug cartels may target their current or former members, as well as the members of other cartels, in which case the goal may be to terrorize the associated organization or prevent cartel members from disobeying.

CNN Library, “Mexico Drug War.”

Therefore, the targets of narcoterrorism can be viewed as a terrorism feature, and its agendas may also be terrorism-like.

Violence and Fear

Violence is a characteristic that unites terrorism and narcoterrorism.

Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 49-50.

Among other things, the acts of narcoterrorism involve murders, bombing, and threatening messages, and any combinations of these elements.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 83.

The goal of intimidation and demoralization of the target is typical for narcoterrorism groups.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 229.

From the perspective of their impact on the infrastructure and morale of civilians, narcoterrorism can have the effects of regular terrorism.

Ramirez, Madero and Muciz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism,” 2212-2218.

In other words, violence is one of the most terrorism-like features of narcoterrorism, which justifies its inclusion in the list of variables.

The Implications of the Variables for the Terminology

The non-specific analysis of the literature that covers the stated variables demonstrates that while drug organizations and their actions are different from terrorist ones, they are still exhibiting some very similar features. As suggested by Salt, it may not be helpful to label drug-related criminal organizations as terrorist organizations, but the term “narcoterrorism” has its value in defining a form of crime that is connected to drugs and has the features of terrorism.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 185.

Indeed, it has been long observed that terrorism and crime, including drug trafficking, tend to be interrelated.

Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 46-7.

Therefore, narcoterrorism is a violent, harmful, damaging form of criminal activity, which makes it a threat to national and international security and justifies its investigation.

Narcoterrorism as an International Threat and Actions Aimed at Reducing It

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.

Kukreja, “The Menace,” 264-267.

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.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 230.

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.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 187.

In addition, Mexico is a part of international initiatives on counterterrorism; this fact demonstrates the viability of supranational efforts directed at reducing narcoterrorism.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 239.

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; A History of Countermeasures

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.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 226.

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.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 226.

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.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.

These competitions became increasingly violent because the North American Free Trade Agreement facilitated trade and trafficking in 1994, and the corrupt political party that used to support and control drug cartels (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) was removed from power in 1997.

Trejo and Ley, “Why Did Drug Cartels Go to War,” 911-13.

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.

Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”

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.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 227.

Reports of the number exceeding 33,000 in 2018 have been encountered as well.

Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”

Currently, nine major drug-based criminal organizations can be found in Mexico.

Congressional Research Service, “Mexico.”

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.

Ramirez, Madero and Muciz, “The Impact of Narcoterrorism,” 2207.

In response to that, the increased militarization of the country was initiated, and it had some positive effects, but it was constrained by corruption and the lack of specific skills and training that would enable the members of the military to address the issue of narcoterrorism.

Mowell, “Domestic and Transnational Dimensions,” 236.

In other words, the problem of narcoterrorism in Mexico has not been resolved yet, which may be at least partially attributable to non-specific solutions that did not take into account the specifics of narcoterrorism, including its terrorist features.

Hypothesis

The cases that were chosen for the project exhibit at least some features of terror attacks. 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.

CNN Library, “Mexico Drug War.”

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.

Summary and Gaps in the Literature

The literature from this review covers the topics of narcoterrorism in general and in Mexico, including the history of cartel activities, their evaluation, and the countermeasures deployed against it. Some sources consider the value of terrorism feature analysis for narcoterrorism, and the debate associated with the term is covered well enough for the terrorist-like features of narcoterrorism to receive some definitions. Therefore, the presented literature allows identifying and operationalizing the project’s variables.

It should also be noted that the methodologies of the presented articles are helpful for the project. Thus, the majority of the narcoterrorism articles employed archival data and information about various narcoterrorism incidents from news outlets. Furthermore, Phillips and Salt investigated individual cases of narcoterrorism and analyzed them for terrorism and non-terrorism features, after which their comparison was performed. From this perspective, the articles can be used to guide the project’s methodology, including its theoretical framework.

The gaps in the studied literature are predominantly associated with its scarcity. Indeed, few articles and other types of reliable sources consider narcoterrorism in Mexico or topics that are closely connected to it. Three academic sources have been found that considered applying terrorism features to narcoterrorism, and only two of them went into significant detail in that analysis. Both these articles also recommend future research; Salt directly suggests the continued investigation of the “dual nature” of narcoterrorism and its impact or implications,

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 186-8.

and Phillips proposes a continued analysis of terrorist features (or tactics) in organized crime.

Phillips, “Terrorist Tactics,” 56.

Therefore, the gap in research is definitely present. At the same time, the presented evidence demonstrates that narcoterrorism is indeed exhibiting rather specific features; some of them make it similar to terrorism, and other ones distinguish it in meaningful ways.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 186-8.

Therefore, filling the identified gap may be most helpful for narcoterrorism-related security measures.

In addition, the term “narcoterrorism” remains contentious, which may be one of the causes of the scarcity of recent articles dedicated to it. The analysis of the terrorist features of narcoterrorism may provide some evidence to the relevance of the term and either support or discourage its use.

Salt, “Blurred Lines,” 186.

This issue might not be a gap in knowledge, but since it is a contentious point in the related debate, the fact that the proposed project can contribute to its solution is notable.

Substantive Theory

The method and type of inquiry of this project are associated with comparison. Specifically, it is intended to use a comparative analysis of two cases to investigate terrorism features in narcoterrorism events and consider their implications, especially for the security of Mexico and other countries. This approach can be applied to social phenomena, and it is also commonly performed within qualitative studies, which fits the purpose of this project.

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.

From this perspective, the methodology is associated with a comparative approach to substantive theory, which is a part of the grounded theory methods.

The grounded theory refers to the development of theories from the data that are available at the time.

Barney G Glaser and Anselm L Strauss, Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. (New York: Routledge, 2017), 1-2.

The substantive theory is a type of grounded theory that emerges from empiric data and is related to a substantive (or empiric) subject.

Glaser and Strauss, Discovery of Grounded Theory. 32-35.

When compared to a formal theory, which deals with conceptual theorizing, a substantive theory is less generalizable but also more specific. Consequently, it is better suited for describing a particular topic that is being studied. A substantive theory might still be transferrable to similar contexts and cases, and it is supposed to be a step toward the development of formal grounded theories.

Glaser and Strauss, Discovery of Grounded Theory. 34.

Given the specifics of the project’s inquiry, it will be employing the comparative approach to substantive theory, which can be termed as comparative theory.

Bjorn Klimek, “Macro-qualitative Comparisons: Grounded Theory and the Comparative Case of Norwegian and Danish Food Industries since the 1990s Transformations,” Comparative Sociology 18, no. 3 (2019): 386-7.

The comparative analysis is used to generate substantive theory rather often.

Glaser and Strauss, Discovery of Grounded Theory. 32-33.

The process involves accumulating a sufficient amount of data for comparative analysis, which is then used to determine similarities, differences, and any other patterns in the studied cases. With a suitable number of cases, these patterns may become the ground for a substantive theory about the studied phenomenon.

Glaser and Strauss, Discovery of Grounded Theory. 35.

To summarize, the comparative theory provides the described project with a framework that will guide its processes. It links and orders the methods that have been chosen, including the comparative analysis, and demonstrates the way in which this approach should be used to answer the question. This theory is also suitable for qualitative research. Klimek, “Macro-qualitative Comparisons,” 386-7.

Which is the intended methodology of this project. Therefore, the comparative theory is appropriate for the project and will facilitate its completion.

Conclusion

This section introduced an overview of the current state of knowledge related to narcoterrorism and narcoterrorism in Mexico, which will be required for the analysis of individual cases. The project’s variables, including the features of terrorism, have been identified and defined with the help of academic sources, which will facilitate their investigation. The gaps in the knowledge, which are related to its general scarcity and the contentious nature of the main term, will become the focus of the project because it will consider the terrorism aspects of narcoterrorism, thus offering some evidence to the usefulness of the term.

Finally, the review helped to define the substantive theory that will guide the rest of the project; in particular, the comparative approach to grounded theory can be the framework that ties together the entirety of its methodology and procedures.

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.

Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Klimek, Bjorn. “Macro-qualitative Comparisons: Grounded Theory and the Comparative Case of Norwegian and Danish Food Industries since the 1990s Transformations.” Comparative Sociology 18, no. 3 (2019): 386-411. Web.

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 Muciz. “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 Muciz. “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.

Shanahan, Timothy. “The Definition of Terrorism.” In Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies, edited by Richard Jackson, 103-13. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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.

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