Drug-related violence has become a very serious problem in Mexico. Of particular concern to U.S. policymakers, violent drug-trafficking organizations produce, transship, and deliver tens of billions of dollars’ worth of narcotics into the United States annually. The activities of these organizations are not confined to drug trafficking; they extend to such criminal enterprises as human trafficking, weapon trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and racketeering. Then, there is the violence: Recent incidents have included assassinations of politicians and judges; attacks against rival organizations, associated civilians, and the police and other security forces; and seemingly random violence against innocent bystanders. Despite the scope of the threat to Mexico’s security, these groups are not well understood, and optimal strategies to combat them have not been identified. Comparison between Mexico and Colombia is a tempting and frequently made analogy and source for policy recommendations. A review of these approaches, combined with a series of historical case studies, offers a more thorough comparative assessment. Regions around the world have faced similar challenges and may hold lessons for Mexico. One point is clear, however: Mexico is not Colombia. In fact, Mexico is not particularly like any other historical case characterized by “warlordism,” resource insurgency, ungoverned spaces, and organized crime. Despite the lack of a perfectly analogous case, Mexico stands to benefit from historical lessons and efforts that were correlated with the greatest improvements in countries facing similar challenges. A companion volume, Mexico Is Not Colombia: Alternative Historical Analogies for Responding to the Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations — Supporting Case Studies, presents in-depth profiles of each of these conflicts.

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