Narco-Violence and a Failed State?

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ISBN: 978-1-4128-1151-4
Pages: 275
Binding: Hardcover
Publication Date: 08-31-2009
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* Mexico was named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2010 by Choice Magazine.

Bloodshed connected with Mexican drug cartels, how they emerged, and their impact on the United States is the subject of this frightening book. Savage narcotics-related decapitations, castrations, and other murders have destroyed tourism in many Mexican communities and such savagery is now cascading across the border into the United States. Grayson explores how this spiral of violence emerged in Mexico, its impact on the country and its northern neighbor, and the prospects for managing it.

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled in Tammany Hall fashion for seventy-nine years before losing the presidency in 2000 to the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Grayson focuses on drug wars, prohibition, corruption, and other antecedents that occurred during the PRI's hegemony. He illuminates the diaspora of drug cartels and their fragmentation, analyzes the emergence of new gangs, sets forth President Felipe Calder�n's strategy against vicious criminal organizations, and assesses its relative success. Grayson reviews the effect of narcotics-focused issues in U.S.-Mexican relations. He considers the possibility that Mexico may become a failed state, as feared by opinion-leaders, even as it pursues an aggressive but thus far unsuccessful crusade against the importation, processing, and sale of illegal substances.

Becoming a "failed state" involves two dimensions of state power: its scope, or the different functions and goals taken on by governments, and its strength, or the government's ability to plan and execute policies. The Mexican state boasts an extensive scope evidenced by its monopoly over the petroleum industry, its role as the major supplier of electricity, its financing of public education, its numerous retirement and health-care programs, its control of public universities, and its dominance over the armed forces. The state has not yet taken control of drug trafficking, and its strength is steadily diminishing. This explosive book is thus a study of drug cartels, but also state disintegration.

Editorial Reviews

“Grayson has written one of the most comprehensive books on the narco-violence in Mexico. The author provides historical insight into the antecedents of drug production, processing, transportation, and consumption and the evolution of the war on drugs and its impact on the broader US-Mexico relationship. . . . This is one of the best books on the subject to date. Highly recommended for policy makers, graduate students, and anyone interested in the gruesome violence that plagues Mexico today.”

—I. Coronado, Choice

"No, the United States' southern neighbor, with its many sophisticated institutions and complex social networks, is not the next Afghanistan. But as the veteran Mexico watcher Grayson documents in lurid and depressing detail, powerful drug traffickers have corrupted the country's political and law enforcement establishments at all levels. The cartels simply have too much money, and the U.S. government, despite four decades of waging its 'war on drugs,' has utterly failed to stem the cross-border drug flows and the distribution networks that continuously replenish criminal coffers. Grayson seems to approve of recent U.S. programs transferring equipment and technology to Mexican security forces, and he respects Mexican President Felipe Calderón's bold, forceful counterattacks against the criminal gangs. But Grayson's bottom line is pessimistic: 'It is extremely difficult—probably impossible—to eradicate the cartels. They or their offshoots will fight to hold on to an enterprise that yields Croesus-like fortunes.' More out of desperation than desire, Grayson proposes that the United States begin 'thinking about the unthinkable: decriminalization.'"

—Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs Magazine

"[A] historical analysis of Mexico’s political past and the relationship between the country’s ruling class, drug traffickers and society, which is important in understanding the roots of the battle being waged among traffickers today and the institutional weaknesses that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. . . . this book provides details about the drug trafficking organizations themselves, their relationships with local, state and federal politicians and each other, and the rise of two new organizations in recent years—Los Zetas and La Familia—which have brought new levels of violence and cruelty to the historic disputes among traffickers in Mexico. Although the names and situations scattered throughout the book can sometimes be confusing, the author’s ‘who’s who’ table on the drug trafficking organizations and other tables with diverse information on the drug trade in Mexico provide valuable information for anyone attempting to make sense of the complex network of actors involved in drug trafficking in the country."

International Affairs

“[A]n extremely thorough and comprehensive history and analysis of the rise of the cartels in the context of the weaknesses of the Mexican state . . .  he's got all the busts and the shootouts, he's got what is so far the definitive history of the cartels and Mexico's response to them . . . we also get a history lesson on Mexican politics and culture . . . Grayson's [book] belongs in the library as a desk reference for anyone really serious about following the cartels and Mexican politics.”               

—Phillip Smith, Chronicle Reviews

“One of the virtues of the book is Grayson’s examination of the rise and evolution of the modern Mexican state. Too often the U.S. discussion of Mexico comes without any political context. What makes his examination of the state and politics in Mexico so fascinating is the recent return of the PRI as the country’s major political force – an ominous trend, according to Grayson, given the PRI’s history of patronage politics, its opportunistic ‘revolutionary nationalism,’ and its unreformed ways.”

—Tom Barry, Border Lines

"Few American academics writing about Mexico today know more about security, electoral politics, drug-trafficking and criminal violence issues than George Grayson." Mexico, Narco-Violence and a Failed State? addresses the significant consequences of each in a lively and provocative manner, providing revealing, current, and controversial insights into their impact on its political stability, social fabric, and relations with the United States. Anyone hoping to grasp the difficult, multiple, and complex aspects of drug trafficking in our southern neighbor should read this book. 

—Roderic Ai Camp, McKenna Professor of the Pacific Rim, Claremont McKenna College

"William and Mary Professor George Grayson ranks among the most knowledgeable and insightful analysts of Mexican society and politics writing today. His new book on Mexico's bloody and brutal drug cartels constitutes a major contribution to the growing body of research on the '"drug thugs' who are making bilions by trafficking drugs in Mexico and through their country into the United States while wreaking havoc on both sides of the border. His detailed case studies of Mexico's major drug 'cartels' or organized crime families active in the lucrative illicit narcotics trade - the leadership and internal dynamics of the major criminal organizations, the rivalries and shifting alliances among these ruthless groups, and the shockingly violent tactics they employ against each other, the Mexican government and the Mexican people - make for a fascinating but sobering read. Concisely written and painstakingly documented, Grayson's book is a must for anyone interested in understanding what is happening in the United States' besieged southern neighbor and the implications that Mexico's current crisis holds for American society, American security and U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations."

—Bruce M. Bagley, University of Miami

"One of the greatest fallacies committed today amongst those who discuss and write about organized crime in Mexico is a limited understanding of Mexico's political history, especially how and why the country's leaders have engaged with criminal actors for decades. George Grayson's review of this history is a crisp, concise explanation that expertly frames Mexico today: a country struggling to confront unprecedented narco-violence. Grayson layers this historical backdrop with a full account of Mexican organized crime; it is one of the most thorough discussions of Mexican organized crime that I have ever seen, in English or Spanish. This book is a must read for anyone interested to know why thousands die in Mexico every year and what we can expect to see in Mexico for the rest of President Calderon's term and beyond."

Samuel Logan, Journalist | Writer

"Characterized by exhaustive research, rare in-depth knowledge of the subject outside Mexico, and compassionate wit, George Grayson's new book confirms him as one of the most distinguished scholars of Mexican politics and history. No other publication to date has unpacked and analyzed so thoroughly the labyrinthine and brutal underworld of Mexico's feared drug cartels and their complex relationship with the country's authorities and society."

—Dr. Francisco E. Gonzalez, Riordan Roett Chair in Latin American Studies, The Johns Hopkins University

"Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? is a fascinating update on the ever-evolving story of Mexico and the illegal drug traffic. . . . Professor Grayson has done a remarkable service by reporting this problem in such a complete way. Every Mexican and American citizen should be required to read this book." 

—David L. Westrate, The Virginia Gazette

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Awards and News

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

Table of Contents

Map of Mexico
Map of Michoacán
1. The Revolutionary Church 
2. Wars, Prohibition, and the Antecedents of Narco Churches
3. Two Narco Churches Emerge
4. The Weakening of the Revolutionary Church
5. Diaspora of the Narco Churches 
6. Calderón’s Anti-Drug Strategy 
7. Crusade against Evil Antagonists
8. Emerging and New Narco Sects—Los Zetas and La Familia
9. U.S.-Mexican Narcotics Policy: The Mérida
Initiative and Beyond
10. Prospect for Mexico’s Becoming a Failed State
Conclusion: A Failed State?
Appendix 1: Selected Figures in Narco-Trafficking
Appendix 2: Ex-GAFES Involved in Drug Trafficking 
Appendix 3: Women and Narco-Trafficking
Appendix 4: Mexican Police, Anti-Drug, and Intelligence Services
Appendix 5: Annual Causes of Death in the United States
Glossary of Terms
Selected Bibliography