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Making Peace in Drug Wars
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Book description

Over the past thirty years, a new form of conflict has ravaged Latin America's largest countries, with well-armed drug cartels fighting not only one another but the state itself. In Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, leaders cracked down on cartels in hopes of restoring the rule of law and the state's monopoly on force. Instead, cartels fought back - with bullets and bribes - driving spirals of violence and corruption that make mockeries of leaders' state-building aims. Fortunately, some policy reforms quickly curtailed cartel-state conflict, but they proved tragically difficult to sustain. Why do cartels fight states, if not to topple or secede from them? Why do some state crackdowns trigger and exacerbate cartel-state conflict, while others curb it? This study argues that brute-force repression generates incentives for cartels to fight back, while policies that condition repression on cartel violence can effectively deter cartel-state conflict. The politics of drug war, however, make conditional policies all too fragile.


'Why does large-scale, organized criminal violence escalate in some places and times but not others? And why do states sometimes succeed in repressing drug-trafficking cartels but often fail, triggering an explosion in violence? Plowing into uncharted terrain, this fascinating and extremely readable book offers a convincing account of the multifaceted interactions between states and cartels. Combining sophisticated analysis with captivating, on-the-ground research, Making Peace in Drug Wars sets the agenda in a new and highly relevant area of inquiry. This is easily the best book I have read this year, a great achievement.'

Stathis N. Kalyvas - Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence, Yale University

'Everywhere you look in Latin America you see struggles between drug gangs and the state. This brilliant book shows how it can be brought within the corpus of comparative politics. A new direction for the field.'

James A. Robinson - Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies and University Professor, University of Chicago

'Conditional repression’ isn’t as exciting a slogan as ‘End the drug war!’ But, adopted as policy, it could save thousands of lives. Benjamin Lessing makes a convincing case. Let’s hope some people in power pay attention.'

Mark Kleiman - Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University

'In this ambitious study, Lessing argues that governments cannot successfully pursue the three interconnected goals of combating narcotics trafficking, eliminating official corruption, and reducing drug-related violence all at the same time.'

Richard Feinberg Source: Foreign Affairs

'This book indeed hits the nail on the head on how violence is produced by the incentives of the drug wars and prohibition laws and how this violence is greatly amplified by state actions and policies.'

Miguel A. Cabañas Source: Rutgers

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