Rival criminal organizations sometimes coexist peacefully in the same territory. Mexican drug cartels, known worldwide for their violent battles for turf (Molzahn et al. 2012), are not the exception. Until the nineties, criminal organizations would peacefully share border entries to the U.S. according to certain rules of territorial pricing (Blancornelas 2004, Mauleon 2010). In more recent years, while there is evidence that gangs have violently fought for turf in 348 Mexican municipalities, we also know that they peacefully coexisted in 99 others (Coscia and Rios 2012).
We studied why rival criminal organizations sometimes coexist peacefully and sometimes not.
We also found evidence that peace is more common where marijuana is produced and not eradicated by the government or where the federal government has the same party identification as local governments.
For this study, we brought together social science and journalism to create a natural, experimental setting to study why criminals restrain their violent confrontations in some places and not in others. First, we identified a random sample of places where multiple criminal gangs were operating simultaneously and where inter-gang violence remained contained. Second, we gathered an extensive dataset of the main economic, social, and geographical characteristics of non-violent cases and matched it with a balanced control sample of violent cases. Finally, we traveled to every municipality in our sample to conduct investigative journalism and semi-structured interviews.
Our results show that Mexican criminal organizations coexist peacefully when they are located farther away from the U.S. border and outside the main routes of illegal trafficking. In Yucatán, for example, we found that violence had migrated from one municipality to another exactly at the time that a new highway was constructed.
We also found evidence that peace is more common where marijuana is produced and not eradicated by the government or where the federal government has the same party identification as local governments. We interpret this as evidence that enforcement operations in economically (or politically) valuable territories for criminal operations are a trigger for violence. Other international cases of peace among criminal organizations follow similar patterns.
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