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Votes, Drugs, and Violence
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Book description

One of the most surprising developments in Mexico's transition to democracy is the outbreak of criminal wars and large-scale criminal violence. Why did Mexican drug cartels go to war as the country transitioned away from one-party rule? And why have criminal wars proliferated as democracy has consolidated and elections have become more competitive subnationally? In Votes, Drugs, and Violence, Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley develop a political theory of criminal violence in weak democracies that elucidates how democratic politics and the fragmentation of power fundamentally shape cartels' incentives for war and peace. Drawing on in-depth case studies and statistical analysis spanning more than two decades and multiple levels of government, Trejo and Ley show that electoral competition and partisan conflict were key drivers of the outbreak of Mexico's crime wars, the intensification of violence, and the expansion of war and violence to the spheres of local politics and civil society.


'This brilliant book offers a novel and needed theory of criminal violence that emphasizes the crucial role of politics. The authors explain why transitions from authoritarianism to democracy often lead to high levels of criminal violence, and identify the conditions for the onset and escalation of criminal wars as well as for the victimization of local authorities and politicians. The empirical chapters, which combine statistical analyses and case studies, offer compelling evidence of the effects of political change on criminal violence. At the same time, the book is a profound analysis of the devastating criminal wars that Mexico has endured over the previous decades.'

Ana Arjona - Northwestern University

'Trejo and Ley have crafted a sophisticated theory that stands out for its clarity, careful construction of arguments, vast data collected, and variety of research methods employed. By focusing on the role of violent specialists and on the gray zone of criminality, Votes, Drugs, and Violence not only provides a comprehensive narrative about the tragic escalation of violence in Mexico since 2006, but also expands our understanding of how criminals and states interact.'

Angélica Durán-Martínez - University of Massachusetts, Lowell

'Trejo and Ley’s Votes, Drugs, and Violence provides critical new insights into the phenomenon of criminal governance. The authors offer a rich and compelling account of how interactions between criminal groups and the state promote varied patterns of violence in Mexico. The book is an essential addition to the literature on criminal violence and conflict in Latin America.'

Desmond Arias - Baruch College, CUNY

‘Highly recommended, and not just for specialists on Mexico and criminal violence in Latin America.’

Mauricio Rivera Source: Journal of Peace Research

'… Trejo and Ley offer an important contribution. Anyone wanting to understand the current Mexican crisis should read this book … The book will also be useful for scholars interested in understanding posttransitional violence in a variety of contexts, including beyond Latin America.’

Miguel Centellas Source: American Journal of Sociology

‘… this is a solid, thoroughly conceptualized study which, in addition to its main arguments, provides many minor insights into the problems of the political/criminal intersection. Among these is the need to shift from a primary focus on either national or local (municipal) politics to understand how states have become a main battleground for the expansion or narco-control. […] The book is sure to become a staple of graduate seminars and undergraduate courses concerned with Mexican politics, drug trafficking, and the relationship between formal politics and criminal violence.’

Howard Campbell Source: Journal of Strategic Security

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