The Dynamics of Extortion in Mexico’s War on Drugs


This paper provides an account of the strategies of extortion and co-optation used by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) toward civil society in Mexico. Our theoretical approach focuses on levels of territorial contestation among armed actors, as well as state capture by DTOs, to explain variation in co-opting or coercing civil society. Through the use of list experiments in a nationally representative survey, the paper measures extortion and assistance by DTOs in Mexico. We find that territorial contestation among rival DTOs increases predation on civil society while reducing DTOs assistance, which is found to occur in uncontested municipalities. Additionally, we find that extortion is higher in municipalities where DTOs have captured the state. These results suggest that territorial contestation and state capture are important in determining the strategy toward civil society during drug wars.


Speaker Bio:

Gustavo Robles is a Research Scholar for the Program on Poverty and Governance (POVGOV) at CDDRL. He finished his PhD in Political Science at Stanford University in 2017 with specialization in Political Methodology and Comparative Politics. His PhD dissertation focused on the dynamics and consequences of drug-related violence in Mexico. His research interests include the economics of crime and violence in Latin America, political economy of development, and legislative studies. He is involved in POVGOV’s projects on police accountability and use of force, crime and security, and violence prevention in Brazil and Mexico. He holds a M.A. in Economics from Stanford University and a BA in Economics and Political Science from ITAM.