"Armed Groups and Criminals Organizations. The Political Dimension of Violent Practices in Mexico and Central America"

2016 - 2018

Research Team

Associated researchers

  • Alexander Aviña : Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University
  • Tomas Ayuso : Independent researcher
  • Juan José Martinez d'Aubuisson : Anthropologist, Universidad del Salvador
  • Maria Martínez Trujillo : Phd Candidate in Political Science, Sciences Po Paris, OPALC
  • Natalia Mendoza Rockwell : Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Fordham University
  • Wil Pansters : Head of Department of Social Science, Utrecht University
  • Dennis Rodgers : Professor of International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam
  • Sergio Salazar Araya : Researcher, Universidad de Costa Rica
  • Benjamin Smith : Reader of Latin American History, University of Warwick

Project Description

This research project has been launched with the research team in September 2016 during a closed workshop in Paris. A second workshop will be organized in Paris at Fall 2017, before a collective book is published in 2018. Situations of high-level violence display numerous similarities with civil wars. For instance, the extent of the loss of human life, the degrees and forms of violence witnessed, and population displacement are points of convergence. In fact, and similarly to civil wars, the political configurations that can be observed in Mexico and in Central America are maintained over time, “in opposition to political crises that are sometimes violent, but short-lived”, and which do not have “comparable structural consequences”. One of the prevailing premises of the academic output on Mexico and Central America is based around the idea that the democratisation of the region should have been accompanied by a generalised reduction in the level of violence. Yet, the end of the civil wars in Central America in the 1990s, and the “democratic transition” following the end of the presidential rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 in Mexico have given rise to a converse phenomenon. In order to explain this fact, several studies (whether dealing with the region or not) highlight the cohabitation, or indeed the co-construction of violence and democracy; the consolidation of the latter is accompanied by, and even supported by the former (ARIAS, 2010; ARIAS et GOLDSTEIN, 2010; GAYER, 2014; GRAJALES, 2016). In this context, the criminal world should not be understood as “the opposite of democratic order” (BRIQUET-FAVAREL, 2008: 21), but instead as part of a “violent pluralism” in which “armed groups are incorporated into wider political processes, and become part of the political system”. (ARIAS, 2010: 2). Since 2006, when wide-scale military operations were launched against criminal organisations in Mexico, official figures cite around 110,000 deaths, more than 30,000 missing persons, and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, both internally and abroad. Other estimates give much greater numbers. Over the same period, Central America has been declared “the most violent region in the world” according to homicide statistics; the “Central American Northern Triangle” (Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) witnessed more than 39 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014, with Honduras occupying top spot for “the most violent country in the world” with a rate higher than 90 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Moreover, the month of August 2015 in Salvador was the most violent since the civil war (1979-1992). This study, integrated in the research axes of the ERC “Social Dynamics of Civil Wars” thus aims to examine the social transformations linked to violence in Mexico and Central America through three levels of analysis: macro, meso, and micro. Such an approach will serve to establish both a rigorous appreciation of the regional situation and a theoretical investigation of the distinction between a situation of organised criminal violence, and civil war.
project document presentation