Drug Trafficking Organizations and Counter-
Drug Strategies in the U.S.-Mexican Context
Luis Astorga and David A. Shirk
Mexico and the United States: Confronting the Twenty-First Century
This working paper is part of a project seeking to provide an up-to-date assessment of key issues in the U.S.-Mexican relationship, identify points of convergence and diver- gence in respective national interests, and analyze likely consequences of potential policy approaches.
The project is co-sponsored by the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (San Diego), the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center (Washington DC), El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Tijuana), and El Colegio de México (Mexico City).
Drug Trafficking Organizations and Counter-Drug Strategies in the U.S.-Mexican Context
Luis Astorga and David A. Shirk1
“Si la perra está amarrada/ aunque ladre todo el día/ no la deben de soltar/ mi abuelito me decía/ que podrían arrepentirse/ los que no la conocían (…) y la cuerda de la perra/ la mordió por un buen rato/ y yo creo que se soltó/ para armar un gran relajo (…) Los puerquitos le ayudaron/ se alimentan de la Granja/ diario quieren más maíz/ y se pierden las ganancias (…) Hoy tenemos día con día/ mucha inseguridad/ porque se soltó la perra/ todo lo vino a regar/ entre todos los granjeros/ la tenemos que amarrar”
As my grandmother always told me, ‘If the dog is tied up, even though she howls all day long, you shouldn’t set her free … and the dog the chewed its rope for a long time, and I think it got loose to have a good time… The pigs helped it, wanting more corn every day, feeding themselves on the Farm and losing profits… Today we have more insecurity every day because the dog got loose, everything got soaked. Together all the farmers, we have to tie it up.
“La Granja” (Teodoro Bello), Los Tigres del Norte
The proliferation and impunity of organized crime groups involved in drug trafficking in
recent years is one of the most pressing public concerns in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico
1 The authors thank their research assistants Carlos Castañeda, Judith Dávila, Elisse Larouche,
Ángela Bacca Mejía, and Nicole Ramos, as well as their colleagues Tani Adams, Sigrid Arzt, John
Bailey, Howard Campbell, James Creechen, Robert Donnelly, Kathleen Frydl, Chappell Lawson,
Matthew Maher, Eric Olson, Andrew Selee, Randy Willoughby, and the editors of this volume for
the helpful comments and conversations that improved this chapter. During the drafting of this
piece, the authors benefited in various ways from the coordination and support of the Center for
U.S.-Mexican Studies, the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The data
presented here also reflect the research of the Justice in Mexico Project, and the generous support of
the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The authors take sole responsibity for any errors and
borderlands. These groups have perpetrated increasingly brazen, spectacular acts of violence that
have resulted in thousands of deaths. From 2001 to 2009, there were more than 20,000 killings
attributed to drug trafficking organizations (or DTOs), with the extreme levels of violence in 2008
and 2009 contributing to more than half of these.2 While the vast majority of this violence reflects
internecine conflicts between organized crime groups, at least 1,100 police officers and soldiers
died in the line of fire from 2006 to 2009.3 Moreover, while the vast majority of this violence
remains concentrated within Mexico, particularly the central Pacific coast and northern Mexico, it
has raised very serious concerns among U.S. observers about possible “spillover” into U.S.
communities along the border.
In response to these trends, Mexico and the United...