Doing More Harm than Good?: Mexico’s Policy of Leadership Decapitation Against Drug Cartels Open Access

Shepard-Moore, Hannah (Spring 2021)

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      This paper centers on the effect of the policy of leadership removal as used against drug trafficking organizations in Mexico on levels of municipal violence throughout the country. Two possible causal links between leadership decapitation and violence are explored: intra-cartel conflict spurred by competition for promotion, and inter-cartel violence sparked by turf wars against the targeted rival perceived to be asymmetrically weakened after a leadership removal. Simple regression analysis provides a positive and statistically significant correlation between leadership decapitation and drug-trafficking related homicides, but more complex regressions fail to produce such results. A two-way fixed effects regression analysis demonstrates a positive  and statistically insignificant correlation, and difference-in-differences analysis shows a negative, statistically insignificant relationship. This study then concludes that there exists no statistical evidence for leadership decapitation as a ‘smoking gun’ in the rising homicides experienced by Mexico in its drug war. Nonetheless, the policy clearly fails to curtail already alarming upward trends in homicide rates. Furthermore, preliminary qualitative analysis conducted in this study suggests that a weak but positive correlation between leadership removals and drug-trafficking related homicides may be more representative of the true relationship given the possible causal paths of violence post-decapitation.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION                                                                                                                                                 2

Definitions and Operationalization                                                                                                                                     5

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW                                                                                                                                11

Law Enforcement’s Effect on Criminal Activity                                                                                                         11

Leadership Decapitation: When and Why?                                                                                                                      13

Leadership Decapitation in Terrorist & Insurgent Groups                                                                                16

Leadership Decapitation in DTOs                                                                                                                                         21

Possible Threats to Inference                                                                                                                                                32

CHAPTER 3: THEORY AND HYPOTHESES                                                                                                                 33

CHAPTER 4: DATA AND METHODS                                                                                                                                38

Data Collection: Leadership Decapitations                                                                                                                  38

Data Exploration                                                                                                                                                                     41

Data Collection: Drug-Related Homicides                                                                                                                    44

Method of Analysis                                                                                                                                                                45

CHAPTER 5: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION                                                                                                                   50

Ordinary Least Squares Regression                                                                                                                                    50

Two-Way Fixed Effects                                                                                                                                                          53

Difference-in-Differences                                                                                                                                                     55

Discussion                                                                                                                                                                                59

CHAPTER 6: SECONDARY HYPOTHESES AND CASE STUDY                                                                       62

Why Case Study?                                                                                                                                                                     62

Causal Paths for the Primary Hypothesis                                                                                                                        66

Causal Paths for the Secondary Hypotheses                                                                                                                 75

Discussion                                                                                                                                                                                  89

CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION                                                                                                                                                    90

REFERENCES                                                                                                                                                                              96

Non-Print Sources                                                                                                                                                                   102

APPENDICES                                                                                                                                                                            103


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