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Cultivating Drug Wars: Illicit Markets, Violence, and the State in Mexico

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Drug trafficking represents a major sociopolitical concern across the developing world. In Latin America, organized crime groups have emerged as quasi-governmental authorities that exercise strict control over local economies and political institutions. Through a comparative-historical analysis of two Mexican states (Sinaloa and Michoac�n), this dissertation explains the origins of illicit drug markets, as well as social responses to contemporary dynamics of criminal rule. I argue that the expansion of the drug trade in the twentieth century stems from state building projects that attempted to modernize the countryside, and from the selective application of prohibitionist policies in drug-producing regions and trafficking centers. By the turn of the century, trafficking networks, commonly referred to as drug cartels, emerged as perpetrators of violence in the context of militarized state repression. In Sinaloa, its eponymous cartel initiated a series of armed conflicts in key border cities that gave it the semblance organizational coherence. Yet its horizontal structure made the network resilient in the face of internal schisms and leadership removals. In southern Michoac�n, criminal actors emerged as de facto local authorities, governing their communities through violence and exorbitant taxation. I argue that repressive criminal rule elicited an armed reaction from local elites who organized vigilante groups that reflected the region’s unequal agrarian social structures.

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This item is under embargo until May 25, 2025.