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Making Peace in Drug Wars
Crackdowns and Cartels in Latin America

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics

  • Date Published: December 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316648964

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • The first systematic study of 'cartel-state conflict' and the first study of drug war in general to include both Mexico and Brazil
    • Has enormous policy relevance throughout Latin America and in the US, and is central to many ongoing hemispheric debates including drug prohibition, mass incarceration, borders, and policing
    • Strikes a balance between intellectual rigor, accessibility, and wide policy relevance
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    • Winner, 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

    Reviews & endorsements

    '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

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316648964
    • length: 354 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.49kg
    • contains: 41 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    Part I. A Theory of Cartel-State Conflict:
    2. What is cartel-state conflict?
    3. Logics of violence in cartel-state conflict
    4. Modeling violent corruption and lobbying
    Part II. Case Studies:
    5. Colombia: conditionality to contain a killer
    6. Rio de Janeiro: conditionality, one favela at a time
    7. Mexico: conditionality abandoned
    Part III. Conditional Repression as Outcome:
    8. The challenge of implementing conditionality
    9. Explaining reform efforts' success: key factors and alternative hypotheses
    10. The challenge of sustaining conditionality
    11. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Benjamin Lessing, University of Chicago
    Benjamin Lessing studies criminal conflict – organized armed violence involving non-state actors who do not seek formal state power. Prior to beginning graduate work at University of California, Berkeley in 2005, Lessing lived in Rio de Janeiro for five years, conducting field research on arms trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean for international organizations including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Viva Rio, Brazil's largest NGO. He was a Fulbright Grantee in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. His Ph.D. dissertation, the basis of Making Peace in Drug Wars, was awarded the 2012 UNODC/INEGI Best Dissertation Prize. He has received awards from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. He is a contributor at The Monkey Cage, the Brookings Institution, the Inter-American Dialogue, among others.


    • Winner, 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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