Documento creado: 1de julio de 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Segundo  Trimestre 2008

SOVEREIGNTY UNDER SIEGE: Gangs and Other Criminal Organizations in Central America and Mexico

Max G. Manwaring

A gang memberAnother kind of war within the context of a “clash of civilizations” is being waged in various parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and everywhere else around the world today.1 Some of the main protagonists are those who have come to be designated as first-, second-, and third-generation street gangs, as well as the more traditional Trans-National Criminal Organizations (TCOs) such as Mafia families, Illegal Drug Traffickers, Warlords, Terrorists, Insurgents, etc. In this different (“new”) kind of war, TCOs are not sending conventional military units across national borders or building an industrial capability in an attempt to “filch some province” from some country.2 These non-state actors are more interested in commercial profit and controlling territory (turf) to allow maximum freedom of movement and action. In addition to drug smuggling, these criminal organizations are known to have expanded their activities—among others--to smuggling people, body parts, weapons, and cars; along with associated intimidation, murder, kidnapping, and robbery; money laundering; home and community invasion; and other lucrative societal destabilization activities. That freedom of action within countries and across national frontiers ensures commercial market share and revenues, as well as secure bases for market expansion. The corrosive effects of the associated criminal violence and gratuitous cruelty of that freedom of movement also generates a different kind of clash of civilizations. It is not a clash of Western and Eastern cultures. Rather, it is a clash of values. It is a clash of values between Liberal Democracy and criminal anarchy.3

What makes all of this into a new type of war is that the national security and sovereignty of affected countries is being impinged every day, and TCO’s illicit commercial motives are, in fact, becoming an ominous political agenda.4 Rather than trying to depose a government in a major stroke (golpe or coup) or a prolonged revolutionary war, as some insurgents have done, gangs and other TCOs more subtly take control of turf one street or neighborhood at a time (coup d’ street), or one individual, business, or government office at a time. Thus, whether a gang or another TCO is specifically a criminal or insurgent type organization is irrelevant. The putative objective of all these illegal entities—the common denominator that directly links gangs, other TCOs, and insurgents-- is to control people, territory, and government to ensure their own specific ends. That is a good definition of insurgency, a serious political agenda, and a clash of controlling values.5

Although these various organizations may differ in terms of motives and modes of operation, each type of non-state actor must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action, as well as the ideological or commercial enrichment environments he wants. Additionally, the protean nature of the gang phenomenon, organized crime, and contemporary insurgency does not accommodate complete conformity to any prescribed typology. Thus, we maintain the position we took in 2005—that is, the common denominator that defines gangs and TCOs as mutations of insurgents is the irrevocable need to neutralize, control, or depose an incumbent government. As a consequence, the “Duck Analogy” applies—when second and third-generation gangs and other TCOs look like ducks, walk like ducks, and act like ducks—although they may be a peculiar breed, they are, nevertheless, ducks!6

The purposes of this paper, then, are to: 1) introduce the gang phenomenon as a non-state player and serious threat in the global security arena; 2) examine the gang phenomenon in Central America in general; and in El Salvador and Mexico, specifically. These cases demonstrate how differing types of criminal gang activities contribute to the instabilities that lead to the erosion of nation-state sovereignty and the processes of state failure, and the struggle between democratic and criminal values; and 3) summarize the key points and lessons, and make recommendations, based on our examination of cases noted above. All this is designed to lead civilian and military leaders to the broad strategic vision necessary to begin to solve the next big set of gang-related security problems and the associated authoritative allocation of values in the 21st Century. These leaders must think about these problems from multiple angles, multiple levels, and in varying degrees of complexity.7


The evolution of street gangs from small, turf-oriented, petty-cash entities to larger, internationalized, commercial-political organizations is often slow and generally ad hoc—depending on leadership, and the desire and ability to exploit opportunity. Thus, the development of gang violence from the level of “protection,” gangsterism, and brigandage--to drug trafficking, smuggling of people, body parts, armament, and other lucrative “items” associated with the global criminal activity—to taking political control of ungoverned territory and/or areas governed by corrupt politicians and functionaries can be uneven and incomplete. That is, most gangs never move beyond protectionism and gangsterism. Other gangs, however, act as mercenaries for larger and better organized criminal organizations. And, as other gangs expand their activities to compete with, or support, long-established TCOs, they expand their geographical and commercial parameters. Then, as gangs operate and evolve they generate more and more violence and instability over wider and wider sections of the political map, and generate sub-national, national, and regional instability and insecurity. Finally, as gangs evolve through these developmental and functional shifts, three generations emerge to clarify analytically the gang phenomenon.

Three Generations of Gangs

First Generation Gangs: Organization, Motives, and Level of Violence. An analysis of urban street gangs shows that some of these criminal entities have evolved through three generations of development. The first generation—or traditional street gangs—are primarily turf-oriented. They have loose and unsophisticated leadership that focuses on turf protection to gain petty cash, and on gang loyalty within their immediate environs (e.g., designated city blocks or neighborhoods). When first generation street gangs engage in criminal enterprise, it is largely opportunistic and individual in scope, and tends to be localized and operates at the lower end of extreme societal violence—gangsterism and brigandage. Most gangs stay firmly within this first generation of development, but more than a few have evolved into the second generation.8

Second Generation Gangs. This generation of street gangs is organized for business and commercial gain. These gangs have a more centralized leadership that tends to focus on drug trafficking and market protection. At the same time, they operate in a broader spatial or geographic area that may include neighboring cities and countries. Second generation gangs, like other more sophisticated criminal enterprises, use the level of violence necessary to protect their markets and control their competition. They also use violence as political interference to negate enforcement efforts directed against them by police and other national and local security organizations. And, as they seek to control or incapacitate state security institutions, they often begin to dominate vulnerable community life within large areas of the nation-state. In this environment, second generation gangs almost have to link with and provide services to TCOs. As these gangs develop broader, market-focused, and sometimes overtly political agendas to improve their market share and revenues, they may overtly challenge state security and sovereignty. If and when they do, second generation gangs become much more than annoying law enforcement problems.9 This point was made over three years ago in the following statement made by former El Salvadoran Vice-Minister of Justice, Silvia Aguilar, “Domestic crime and its associated destabilization are now Latin America’s most serious security threat.”10

Third Generation Gangs. More often than not, elements of some gangs continue first and second generation activities as other elements expand their geographical bounds, as well as their commercial and political objectives. As they evolve, they develop into more seasoned groups with broader drug-related markets. They also develop into very sophisticated TCOs with ambitious economic and political agendas. In these terms, third generation gangs inevitably begin to control ungoverned territory within a nation-state and/or begin to acquire political power in poorly-governed space.11 This political action is intended to provide security and freedom of movement for gang activities. As a consequence, the third generation gang and its leadership challenge the legitimate state monopoly on the exercise of political control (authoritative allocation of values) and the use of violence within a given geographical area. The gang leader, then, acts much like a warlord or a drug baron.12 That status, clearly and unequivocally, takes the gang into intrastate war or non-state war. Here, gang objectives aim to 1) neutralize, control, or depose and replace an incumbent government, 2) to control parts of a targeted country or sub-regions within a country and create autonomous enclaves that are sometimes called criminal free states or para-states, and 3) in doing so, radically change the authoritative allocation of values (governance) in a targeted society to those of criminal leaders.13

Summary. First Generation Gangs are traditional street gangs with a turf orientation. When they engage in criminal enterprise, it is largely opportunistic and local in scope. Second Generation Gangs are engaged in business. They are entrepreneurial and drug-centered, and tend to pursue implicit political objectives. Third Generation Gangs are primarily mercenary in orientation, and many of them have sought to further explicit political and social objectives. As such, Third Generation Gangs find themselves at the intersection between crime and war—and politics where there is only one rule—that is, there are no rules (criminal anarchy).14

The Challenge and the Threat

A government’s failure to extend a legitimate sovereign presence throughout its national territory—Mexico is only one example—leaves a vacuum in which gangs, drug cartels, leftist insurgents, the political and narco-Right, and the government itself may all compete for power. In that regard, ample evidence clearly demonstrates that Central American, Caribbean, and South American governments’ authority and presence have diminished over large geographical portions of those regions.15 However, contrary to popular perceptions, such areas are not “lawless” or “ungoverned.” These territories are governed by the gangs, insurgents, warlords, and/or drug barons who operate where there is an absence or only partial presence of state institutions. In this sense, gangs’ activities are not simply criminal and commercial in nature. For their own preservation and expansion, the second and third-generation gangs—and sometimes even first generation gangs--have little choice but to challenge the state either indirectly or directly. This unconventional type of conflict pits non-state actors (gangs, warlords, drug barons, and/or insurgents) directly against nation-states and requires a relatively effective “defense” capability.16

Tom Bruneau has paraphrased five operational-level national security challenges associated with the transnational gang phenomenon:

• They strain government capacity by overwhelming police and legal systems through sheer audacity, violence, and numbers.

• They challenge the legitimacy of the sate, particularly in regions where the culture of democracy is challenged by corruption and reinforced by the inability of political systems to function well enough to provide public goods and services.

• They act as surrogate or alternate governments in so-called ungoverned areas.

• They dominate the informal economic sector. They establish small businesses and use violence and coercion, and co-optation of government authorities, to unfairly compete with legitimate businesses.

• They infiltrate police and non-governmental organizations to further their goals and in doing so demonstrate latent political aims.17

The gang challenge to national security, stability, and sovereignty, and the attempt to neutralize, control, or depose governments takes us to the strategic-level threat. In this context, it must be remembered that crime, violence, and instability are only symptoms of the threat. The ultimate threat is either: 1) that of state failure, or 2) the violent imposition of a radical socio-economic-political restructuring of the state and its governance in accordance with criminal values. In either case, gangs contribute to the evolutionary state failure by which the state loses the capacity and/or the will to perform its fundamental governance and security functions. Over time, the weaknesses inherent in its inability to perform the business of the state are likely to lead to the erosion of its authority and legitimacy. In the end, the state cannot control its national territory or the people in it.18

But, just because a state fails does not mean that it will simply go away. (Haiti comes immediately to mind). In fact, failing and failed states tend to linger and go from bad to worse. The lack of responsible governance and personal security generate greater poverty, violence, and instability—and a downward spiral in terms of development. It is a zero-sum game in which the gangs and the other TCOs involved are the winners and the rest of the society is the looser. Additionally, the longer failing and failed states persist, the more they and their spill-over effects endanger regional and global peace and security. Failing and failed states become dysfunctional states, rogue states, criminal states, narco-states, new “people’s democratic republics,” draconian states (e.g., military dictatorships), or reconfigure themselves into entirely new entities.19 But, these various possibilities do not delineate the end of the state failure problem. Sooner or later, the global community must pay the indirect social, economic, and political costs of state failure. At the same time, the global community will be increasingly expected to provide the military and financial leverage to ensure peace, security, and stability in an increasing number of post-conflict and stability situations. The consistency of these lessons derived from relatively recent experience—from Asia’s Golden Triangle to the Middle East, to Mexico, and from Central America to Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean Basin, and to the White Triangle coca-producing countries of South America’s Andean region—inspires confidence that these lessons and the associated threat are valid.20


In this global security environment, governments, military and police forces, and other agencies responsible for various aspects of national security have little choice but to rethink security as it applies to “new” unconventional threats that many political and military leaders have tended to ignore or wish away. Probably the most significant unconventional threats facing leaders today are those generated by the gang phenomenon. The case of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Eighteenth Street (MS-18) gangs spreading from the United States, across Central America and Mexico, and into Europe illustrates the real impact of second and third generation gangs functioning as networks with extensive transnational linkages.21 Thus, this part of the article examines the strategic architecture of the gang phenomenon in Central America, El Salvador, and Mexico. That architecture focuses on motives and vision, organization and leadership, programs of action, and results.

The Basics of the Situation in Central America

The consensus among those who study this phenomenon is that many transnational gangs in Central America originated in Los Angeles, California, during the early 1990s. They were formed by young immigrants whose parents had come to the United States to avoid the ongoing instability and violence in Central America during the 1980s. Once in the United States, many of the young immigrants were exposed to and became involved with gangs in the rough neighborhoods where they grew up. The gangs began moving into all five Central American republics in the 1990s, primarily because convicted felons were being sent from prisons in the United States back to the countries of their parents’ origins. These gangs include the famed Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Mara-18, other smaller gangs in El Salvador, and an estimated 63,700 kindred spirits in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.22 It is noteworthy that the word mara is a slang term for “gang” and is derived from the name of a type of ant known for its ferocity. Literally, trucha means “trout” and is also a slang term for “shrewd Salvadoran.” Thus, Mara Salvatrucha means a gang of shrewd Salvadorans. Additionally, Mara-18 is the designation for the 18th Street Gang.

What the Maras Do. Even though gangs in each country have some unique characteristics and can be bitter rivals for control of neighborhoods and other disputed territory or “turf,” their origins, motives, and patterns of action are similar. These similarities begin with the various Central American gangs and their activities being intricately linked across international borders. Virtually all of them have flourished under the protection and mercenary income provided by larger and older TCO networks. The basis for those alliances is the illegal drug trade that is credited with the transshipment of 60 to 90 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States. In addition to trafficking in drugs, as noted above, Central American gangs are engaged in trafficking in human beings and weapons and are responsible for kidnappings, robberies, extortion, assassinations, and myriad other illicit high-profit generating activities.23 On another level of activity, gangs and other TCOs are also engaged in intimidating and killing journalists, school teachers, and candidates for political office who are not sympathetic to their causes.24

The root causes of gang activity in Central American countries and Mexico are also similar. They include gang members growing up in marginal areas with minimal access to basic social services; high levels of youth unemployment, compounded by insufficient access to educational and other public benefits; overwhelmed, ineffective, and often corrupt police and justice systems; easy access to weapons; dysfunctional families; and high levels of intra-familial and intra-community violence. It must be remembered, again, that it is not poverty, injustice, or misery that willfully kill, maim, and destroy. It is individual men and women—and, sometimes, boys and girls—who are prepared to implement all kinds of horrible and coercive “intimidations” and “instabilities” in their personal search for status and well-being.25

Thanks to the activities of disaffected youth gangs, overall crime rates have increased dramatically throughout the Central American region. Honduras has a murder rate of 154 per 100,000 population—double that of Colombia, even though that country is fighting three different insurgencies as well as its various drug cartels. In El Salvador, the homicide rate is about 40 per 100,000 inhabitants; Guatemala’s murder rate has risen 40 percent from 2001 to 2004 and is now approximately 50 per 100,000; and the murder rate in Mexico is estimated to be about 14 per 100,000. The Mexican figure is low by Central American standards but is considered “epidemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, as if these statistics were not grim enough, Mexico has the highest incidence of kidnapping in the entire world—with an estimated 3,000 kidnappings in 2004.26

The General Results of Gang Activity in Central America. The impact of gang violence on regional economies is significant. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates the cost of violence throughout all of Latin America to be 14.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).27 Despite the fact that the data required to calculate these costs is admittedly vague and inconsistent, the governments of all five Central American countries and Mexico have expressed serious concerns. For example, Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico have signed a multilateral agreement committing their governments to combating “narco-terrorism” and criminal gangs.28 The United States and Guatemala have gone a step further and signed a multimillion-dollar agreement to fight drugs and crime in Guatemala.29 In the meantime, El Salvador and Honduras unilaterally continue to pursue hard-line anti-gang policies. They include stronger law enforcement efforts and longer prison sentences.

Clearly, Central American gangs, their activities, and impacts are linked across borders. An instability threat is definitely spilling out of the region into neighboring countries. This is a regional problem that requires regional solutions, but for further analytical clarity we will take a closer look at the situation by briefly examining the two major gangs in El Salvador.

El Salvador

As noted above, the roots of the maras’ presence in El Salvador are traced to Southern California in the 1980s and 1990s. In the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, police determined that local gangs—including a little-known group of Salvadoran immigrant youth known as the Mara Salvatrucha—had carried out most of the looting and violence. In response, California passed strict, new anti-gang laws. Then, with the subsequent “three strikes and you’re out” legislation of 1994, the prison population in that state increased dramatically. Additionally, in 1996, the U.S. Congress passed a “get tough” approach to immigration law. As a result of these successive pieces of legislation, thousands of convicted felons have been deported to El Salvador over the past several years. Significantly, until very recently, the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s rules prohibited U.S. officials from informing El Salvadoran officials of the deportees’ backgrounds.30

The results were disastrous for El Salvador. The deportees, also called “returnees,” many of whom had never lived in El Salvador, arrived with their outlandish tattoos, their “Spanglish” language, and their arrogant attitudes. They quickly introduced the California gang culture, illegal drugs with their related “crack dens” and “crack babies,” extortions, car-theft rings, burglaries, and contract killings. At first, Salvadoran officials had no idea what was happening—and when they began to understand the depth and seriousness of the problems brought by the gangs, they did not have the knowledge, experience, organization, or resources to deal with them. Given its momentum, the gang problem in El Salvador is thought to have escalated faster that in any other Central American country, and that country now “is captive to the growing influence and violence of gangs.”31

Organization. The two main gangs, MS-13 and MS-18, boast 10,000 to 20,000 members. The Salvadoran National Council on Public Security calculates 39,000 members—22,000 in MS-13, 12,000 in MS-18, and another 5,000 in other gangs.32 However, regardless of the lack of precise figures, both of those estimates are foreboding numbers in a country with a population of only 6.5 million. Like the estimated membership numbers, gang organization is not perfectly clear. Nevertheless, there appears to be a hierarchical pyramid structure that is common among Central American, Caribbean, and South American gangs.

At the top of the pyramid are the international bosses. Then, a second layer of international/transnational gang leadership exists. These second-level individuals oversee well-connected cells that are engaged primarily in trafficking global arms, drugs, and human beings. At the third level, gang cell members are involved in lower-level national vs. international trafficking of all kinds. Despite their national orientation, third-level members are in touch with upper-level as well as second-level members. This third level of gang membership contains centralized command and control elements that manage operational planning, finances, strategy, and provide some administrative support to the higher and lower echelons. Thus, they may be considered parts of a “Hollow Corporate Model.” Additionally, national third-level gang cell members may manage geographically distributed “project teams.”33

The fourth level of the generalized gang pyramid comprises the “neighborhood” gang members. This is a series of decentralized cliques (clickas) or cells that are responsible for specific neighborhoods or areas. Fourth-level individuals are not full-fledged MS-13 or MS-18 members. They make up three distinct levels at the lowest level of the gang pyramid—“sympathizers,” “aspirants,” and “nobodies,” who do the drudge work in the barrios (neighborhoods/slums). They also act as mercenary “soldiers” for higher-level cells and project teams, or they may act as contracted mercenaries for other TCOs. As might be expected, this fourth-level group represents the largest segment of the total gang population, and their ages range from 8 to 18.34

Program of Action to Maximize Profits. The gangs’ multi-level organization indicates a substantial enterprise, designed especially for conducting large-scale and small-scale business all the way from the transnational (global) level down to specific streets in specific barrios (neighborhoods). This type of organization is also designed for quick and effective decision making and implementation of decisions. In short, the first priority of the Salvadoran MS-13 and MS-18 gang organizations is operating a successful business, along with its promotion and protection. More specifically, this type of organization permits continuous, protean operations over time. It allows for diversification of activities, diffusion of risk, and flexibility, in that quick adjustments to correct mistakes or to exploit developing opportunities may be made. The organization also provides a coherent mechanism for enforcing discipline and safeguarding operations at all levels. Additionally, it provides a planning facility that can deliberately expand or contract drug, mercenary, and other illicit operations, and increase profits—as a situation might require.35

Regarding expansion of operations, the Salvadoran gangs are positioned to negotiate the establishment of their own trafficking corridors through Central America and Mexico. They are positioned to organize friendly or unfriendly takeovers of small cartels. They have also become sophisticated enough to begin to prohibit members from getting new tattoos and to discipline severely (execute) members who break rules related to the consumption of crack and cocaine. All this indicates an evolution from first-generation well into second-generation gang status. Nevertheless, the current organization of MS-13 and MS-18 also reflects that these gangs maintain a first-generation focus on turf. The gang members at that level of evolutionary development operate under loose leadership, engage in a broad range of opportunistic, petty cash-type criminal activity, and are often involved in serious inter-gang rivalry.36

The second-generation part of the MS-13 and MS-18 organizations is interested in market protection and expansion and focuses its illegal activities on drugs as a business. They are also known to engage in mercenary activities with TCO partners. As the generalized pyramid organization suggests, the upper echelons are more cohesive, and leadership is more centralized. This second-generation group does not retain a specific turf orientation. Drug trafficking and mercenary activities become group rather than individual activities, and the gangs exploit both violence and technology to control their competition and absorb new markets. Thus, both generations of gang members currently exist within the overall organization. The turf part of the gang is more prevalent, but the “marketers” are more productive, wealthy, and powerful.37 As MS-13 and MS-18 continue to evolve in their internationalization and sophistication, they are more and more likely to develop explicit political aims that truly threaten nation-states. This cautionary corollary takes us to the “Sullivan-Bunker Cocktail.”

Results of Salvadoran Gang Activities. John Sullivan and Robert Bunker outline a pragmatic “cocktail mix” of nonmilitary methods by which a transnational non-state actor, such as a second-generation gang moving toward third-generation status, can challenge the de jure security and sovereignty of a given nation. This “Sullivan-Bunker Cocktail” has proved to be the case in no less than fifteen municipalities in El Salvador and in other political jurisdictions in neighboring Central American republics, Mexico, and Brazil.38 Here is how it works:

If the irregular attacker—criminal gangs, terrorists, insurgents, drug cartels, militant environmentalists, or a combination of the above—blends crime, terrorism, and war, he can extend his already significant influence. After embracing advanced technology weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction (including chemical and biological agents), radio frequency weapons, and advanced intelligence gathering technology, along with more common weapons systems, the attacker can transcend drug running, robbery, kidnapping, and murder and pose a significant challenge to the nation-state and its institutions.

Then, using complicity, intimidation, corruption, and indifference, the irregular attacker can quietly and subtly co-opt individual politicians and bureaucrats and gain political control of a given geographical or political enclave. Such corruption and distortion can potentially lead to the emergence of a network of government protection of illicit activities, and the emergence of a virtual criminal state or political entity. A series of networked enclaves could, then, become a dominant political actor within a state or group of states. Thus, rather than violently competing directly with a nation-state, an irregular attacker can criminally co-opt and begin to seize control of the state indirectly.39

This is an example of a second-generation gang developing secure support bases through the application of coercive physical-psychological-political measures. In creating those secure support bases, gangs dominate local populations and erode the will of the system to resist their commercial enrichment efforts. This kind of “mix” of nontraditional activities is also a good example of the gang phenomenon expanding its role while staying under the threshold of serious state concern and counter-action. Even though there may be no explicit political agenda, control of territory (turf) and the people in it are keys to the achievement of minimal goals. In these terms, gangs must eventually take, control, or neutralize state political power to guarantee the kind of environment they want.

As a consequence, the gang non-state actor evolves from second-generation toward third- generation status, and represents a triple threat to the authority and sovereignty of a government and those of its neighbors. First, murder, kidnapping, intimidation, corruption, and impunity from punishment undermine the ability of the state to perform its legitimizing security and public service functions. Second, by violently imposing their power over bureaucrats and elected officials of the state, gangs and their allies compromise the exercise of state authority and replace it with their own. Third, by taking control of portions of a given national territory and performing the tasks of government, the gang phenomenon can de facto transform itself into states within a state.40 Accordingly, these para-states or criminal free-states “fuel a bazaar of violence where warlords and martial entrepreneurs fuel the convergence of crime and war.”41 And, the criminal leaders govern these areas as they wish.

Response to the Gangs. In 2003, El Salvador’s Flores administration passed hard-line (mano dura) law aimed at making it easier to jail gang members involved in criminal activity. However, that legislation was not considered to be strong enough. As a result, in 2004, new legislation was passed approving the new president’s anti-gang program, called Super Mano Dura (Super Firm Hand/or super hard line). This law provided stiffer penalties for gang membership—up to five years in jail for gang membership and up to nine years for gang leadership. President Saca’s government reported that this “get tough” program reduced the number of murders that year by 14 percent. The following year, in 2005, new legislation tightened gun ownership laws and began a complementary effort of prevention and rehabilitation called Mano Amiga (Friendly Hand).42

The hard-line approach sent the message to the Salvadoran public that law enforcement is the only effective way to deal with the gang problem; thus, prevention and intervention programs have received much less attention and fewer resources than necessary to make them effective. Then, unanticipated second-and third-order consequences resulted in straining the capacities of the already overcrowded prison system. Moreover, the judicial and police systems became saturated; there were not enough properly trained personnel in those systems to manage the gang problem. By the end of 2005, a total of 12,073 prisoners were held in 24 prison facilities with a combined design capacity of 7,312. Unfortunately, the gang problem has worsened significantly, and the only things Salvadoran leaders agree on is that prison only provides a “graduate education” for gang members, and that “something must be done.”43 In sum, neither the Salvadoran government nor the United States have officially raised the level of the gang threat to the level of a threat to national security.44 In that connection, from time to time, since 2005, Army troops have been deployed to help the police patrol the streets.45 Nevertheless, to date, the Maras are still treated simply as a problem for law enforcement and the judicial system. In the meantime, the Maras control larger and larger parts of “turf” within the El Salvadoran national territory and effectively exercise their own sovereignty over the people in it. The Central American Maras have also evolved into an international network that extends from El Salvador, through Central America, to Mexico, the United States, and Europe.46


Authorities have no consistent or reliable data on the gang-TCO phenomenon in Mexico.47 Nevertheless, it is known and acknowledged that the gang phenomenon in that country is large and complex. It is also known, first, that the gang situation is different in the north—along the U.S. border—than it is in the south—along the Guatemala-Belize borders. Second, the phenomenon is different in the areas between the northern and southern borders of Mexico. Third, it is known that, regardless of the accuracy of the data, there is a formidable gang presence throughout the country, and that—given the weaknesses of national institutions—there is considerable opportunity for criminality to prosper.48 As a result, the rate of homicides along the northern and southern borders is considered epidemic, and Mexico has the highest incidents of kidnapping in the world. Finally, it is clear that violent gang and TCO activity in Mexico threatens the economic and political development of the country.49

More specifically, the Central American Maras have made significant inroads into Mexican territory and appear to be competing effectively with Mexican gangs. In the south—along the Belize-Guatemalan borders—MS-13 and MS-18 have gained control of illegal immigrant and drug trafficking moving north through Mexico to the U.S. The Central American Maras are also known to be used effectively by the northern drug cartels as mercenaries. Between the northern and southern borders, there is reportedly an ad hoc mix of up to 15,000 members of Mexican gangs and Central American Maras operating in more than 20 states.50

The gangs operating on the northern border of Mexico are long-time, well-established, “generational” (Mexican grandfathers, sons, and grandsons) organizations with 40-50 year histories. There are reportedly, 24 different gangs operating in the city of Neuvo Laredo and 320 active gangs operating within the city of Juarez--with 17,000 members. The best known gangs in the north are the Azteca, Mexicles, and Zeta organizations who tend to work as hired guns and drug runners for the Juarez and Gulf cartels. In addition to the Juarez and Gulf cartels, there are the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels, and there is the “Mexican Federation” that is a questionable alliance of the “Big Four” (Gulf, Tijuana, Sinaloa, and Juarez) cartels. The “Federation” is reportedly trying to negotiate an agreement (truce) regarding access to the lucrative transit routes that carry an estimated 90 percent of all cocaine consumed in the United States, and access into the newly developing domestic Mexican market. In the meantime, the various cartels and their gang allies are fighting each other over territory (“turf”) in cyberspace.51 Then, to further complicate matters, there is the Mexican Mafia (EME). At one time, all gangs operating south of Bakersfield, California and into northern Mexico had to pay homage and take orders from EME. That is no longer a rigid requirement. It is known, for example, that the MS-13 and MS-18 Maras broke that agreement as early as 2005.52

This convoluted array of Mexican gangs, Central American Maras, Mexican cartels, and the EME leaves an almost anarchical situation throughout all of the country. And, as each gang and TCO violently competes and juxtapositions itself to maximize market share and freedom of movement and action, we see an operational environment characterized by the blurring of crime and war. In addition to outrageous violence and bloodshed, this environment is also creating small and large criminal free-enclaves in the cities and states of the Mexican nation-state. Moreover, the “spill-over” transcends the sovereign borders of Mexico and its neighbors. This situation reminds one of the feudal Medieval Era. Violence and the fruits of violence—arbitrary political control—seem to be devolving to small, private non-state actors. This is a serious challenge to existing law and order in Mexico, and to the effective sovereignty of the other nation-states within and between which they move.53

Organization and Motives. Mexican gangs and other TCOs are not homogeneous. There is no typology that is applicable to every one. Power is migrating to small gangs and TCO non-state actors who can organize into sprawling networks more readily than traditionally hierarchical nation-state actors. The loosely organized violent criminal entities operating in Mexico are among those evolving from the generalized pyramid structure into a flat inter-netted transnational organization.

In this context, gangs and their TCO allies in Mexico—as in other countries—are organizing in virtually the same way as any multi-national Fortune 500 company. Thus, the phenomenon is a business organization striving to make money, expand its markets, and to move as freely as possible in the political jurisdictions within and between which they work. By performing its business tasks with super efficiency and for maximum profit, the general organization employs its chief executive officers and boards of directors, council, system of internal justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, and franchised project managers. And, of course, this company has a security division—somewhat more ruthless than those of a bona fide Fortune 500 corporation!54

The equation that links illegal narcotics trafficking to insurgency and to gangs in Mexico—and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere—turns on a combination of need, organizational infrastructure development, ability, and the availability of sophisticated communications and weaponry. For example, the drug cartels possess cash and lines of transportation and communication. Gangs, insurgents, and para-military organizations have followers, organization, discipline, and arms. Illegal drug traffickers consistently need these kinds of people to help protect their assets and project their power within and among nation-states. Gangs, insurgents and paramilitaries are in constant need of logistical and communications support—and money.55

The annual net profit from gang-TCO-related activities in Mexico is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The precise numbers are not what is important. The enormity of the amount of money involved is important. Together with the additional benefits these financial resources can generate—when linked to utter ruthlessness of purpose and no moral or legal constraints—a second or third generation gang can afford the best talent, whether lawyers, accountants, computer specialists, or extortionists, murderers, or mercenary soldiers. At the same time, a gang can bribe government officials, hire thugs to intimidate (Mexico’s high rate of kidnapping immediately comes to mind) those who cannot be bought, and kill those who cannot be intimidated. The profitable gang can also afford the best military and transportation equipment and communications technologies. And, of course, many gangs have larger budgets than the nation-states within which they operate.56 Deep pockets and flat organizational structure also mean that gangs and TCOs can move, shift, diversify, and promote operations at will. Consequently, with these advantages, the phenomenon can establish status, acceptance, credibility, and de facto legitimacy in para-states (criminal free-states) within the Mexican nation-state.57

Where the Gang Phenomenon’s Pursuit of Wealth Leads. Threats from the gangs and other TCOs at work in Mexico come in many destabilizing forms and in a matrix of different kinds of challenges, varying in scope and scale. If they have a single feature in common, however, it is that they are systemic and well-calculated attempts to achieve implicit political ends. That is, again, to create political space from which to move and act without governmental or any other kind of hindrance. In this connection, we examine the erosion of Mexican democracy, and the erosion of the nation-state. From there, we examine a corollary. We briefly look at political life in two emerging criminal free-states—Quintana Roo on the southern border with Belize and Guatemala, and Sinaloa in the north.

The Erosion of Mexican Democracy. The policy-oriented definition of democracy that has been generally accepted and used in U.S. foreign policy over the past several years is best described as “procedural democracy.” This definition tends to focus on the election of civilian political leadership and, perhaps, on a relatively high level of participation on the part of the electorate. Thus, as long as a country is able to hold elections, it is considered a democracy—regardless of the level of accountability, transparency, corruption, and ability to extract and distribute resources for national development and the protection of human rights, liberties, and security.58

In Mexico—we observe important paradoxes. Elections are held on a regular basis, but leaders, candidates, and elected politicians are also regularly assassinated. As an example, literally hundreds of government officials, considered unacceptable by the gang-TCO phenomenon have been assassinated following their election. Additionally, intimidation, direct threats, kidnapping, and the use of relatively minor violence on a person and/or his family play an important role prior to elections. And, as a corollary, it is important to note that although the media is free from state censorship, journalists and academicians who make their anti-narco-gang opinions known too publicly are systematically assassinated.59

Consequently, is hard to credit most Mexican and Central American elections as “democratic” or “free”. Neither political party competition nor public participation in elections can be complete in an environment where armed and unscrupulous non-state actors compete violently with legitimate political entities to control the government—before and after elections. Moreover, it is hard to credit Mexico as a democratic state as long as elected leaders are subject to corrupting control and intimidation, or informal vetoes imposed by unprincipled non-state actors. As a consequence, Ambassador David Jordan argues that Mexico is an “anocratic” democracy. That is, Mexico is a state that has the procedural features of democracy, but retains the characteristics of an autocracy where the ruling elites (good or bad) face little or no scrutiny or accountability. But, regardless of definitions, the persuasive and intimidating actions of the gang-TCO phenomenon in the electoral processes have pernicious effects on democracy, and tend to erode the will and ability of the state to carry out its legitimizing functions.60

The Erosion of the State. The Mexican state has undergone severe erosion on two general levels. First, the state’s presence and authority is questionable over large geographical portions of the country. Second, the idea of the partial collapse of the state is closely related to the non-physical erosion of democracy. Jordan argues that corruption is key in this regard, and is a prime-mover toward “narco-socialism.”61 In the first instance, the notion of partial collapse (erosion) refers to the fact that since the elections in 2000 and the political defeat of the previously all-powerful PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), there is now an absence or only partial presence of state institutions in many of the rural areas and poorer urban parts of the country. Also, even in those areas that are not under the direct control of a gang-TCO alliance, institutions responsible for protecting citizens’ security—notably the police and judiciary—have been intimidated and coerced to the point where they are unable to carry out their basic functions. Indicators of this problem can be seen in two statistics. First, the murder rate along the northern and southern borders of Mexico—and the grizzly and consistent murder and decapitation of police in those areas--is among the highest in the world.62 And, not surprisingly, there are never any witnesses to these atrocities.63 These indicators of impunity strongly confirm that the state is not adequately exercising is social-contractual and constitutional-legal obligations to provide individual and collective security within the national territory.

In the second instance, non-physical erosion of the state centers on the widespread and deeply entrenched issue of corruption. As one example, Ambassador Jordan cites an interview given by an advisor to Mexico’s attorney general under the Salinas administration. He also served as president of Mexico’s Association of Journalists and was a member of the executive committee of Mexico’s Socialist Party. He stated that “The narcotics traffickers have penetrated not only the federal government, but the state governments and municipalities.”64 In another interview, President Salinas’s former secretary of finance stated that “It [the narco-gang phenomenon] has penetrated the legislative, executive and judicial power of the country…[it is] the most powerful economic organization in the world today, the world’s most important multi-national organization…[The narcos have penetrated] “all of the structures of power of Mexico, to the point that, without any euphemisms, the country does what the narco-traffickers want.”65 Clearly, the reality of corruption at any level of government favoring the gangs and/or the drug cartels, mitigates against responsible governance and the public well-being. And, in these terms, the reality of corruption brings into question the reality of effective state sovereignty.

Thus, even though Mexico and its U.S. ally are presently working on an agreement for a $700 million anti-narcotics assistance package,66 Mexico’s violent non-state actors remain relatively strong and very wealthy.67 At the same time, positive political sovereignty, democracy, socio-economic development, territory, infrastructure, stability, and security are quietly and slowly being destroyed.

The Emergence of Criminal Free-States in Quintana Roo and Sinaloa. It appears that the intent of the gang-TCO alliances in these states is to remove the cartels and gangs from the constraints of Mexican state authority—and replace that authority with their own. Rather than competing with the state for political-economic dominance, the gang-TCO phenomenon resorts to corruption and co-optation to achieve their objective. The result is that Quintana Roo and Sinaloa have been viewed for a long time as “hotbeds of co-opted government and corruption [and] have become narco-states.”68 Networks of government protection supports those states’ gangs and drug cartels. As one example, police protect drug shipments and other illicit commerce (humans) moving north to the U.S. market. And, within this corrupt environment there is increased violence between co-opted factions of the police, enhanced employment of mercenaries, devaluation of currency, and increased migration.69

This environment affects everyone and everything, and has been described as feudal or medieval. Local gangs and TCOs maintain their own self-determined system of law and order, “tax” residents and businesses, enjoy complete immunity from their illicit actions, and have a safe-haven from which to operate. Such a world has been known to see its values derived from norms based on slave holding, sexual activity with minors and their exploitation in prostitution, the “farming” of humans for body parts, and the killing and torture of innocents for political gain and personal gratification (as sport). Concepts such as due process of law, right to jury trial, individual privacy, and human and women’s rights do not exist.70 Thus, in Quintana Roo and Sinaloa, it is a feudal environment defined by patronage, bribes, kick-backs, cronyism, ethnic exclusion, and personal whim.

Conclusion. This is more than a law enforcement problem. And, when gangs and TCOs become de facto government, it is more than a national security problem. As they become more and more deeply involved in politics, real estate, and religious and community organizations, gangs and their allies become social actors. These social actors, who are also criminal-soldiers, are changing social, economic, and political organization and violently “barbarizing” accepted values and modes of human behavior. A future vision of larger and larger parts of the global community adapting to criminal forms of behavior would be—at the least—“unsettling.”71 In the meantime, the present vision of the human capacity to treat the gun shots and terrified screams from “down the street” as mere background noise to unexceptional every day life should—at the least—create a vague unease. This takes us back to the clash of civilizations’ values.

Results. In the Western Hemisphere’s “new wars,” it appears that commercial enrichment remains the primary motivation for the various destabilizing gangs and their criminal allies. The gangs are not yet directly challenging governments for control of the state—and they are not sending conventional military forces across national borders. As a consequence, most political leaders are still thinking in traditional terms, and have not caught up with reality. They do not appreciate the extent and nature of the threat to political order and responsible democratic governance being raised by the slow-moving clash of two types of values. One set of values serves cruel criminal greed. The other seeks the general well-being.72

Solutions to the problems of stability, security, and illegitimate sovereign governance also take us back to the threat of state failure. State failure is a process—not an outcome. It is a process by which the state loses the capacity and/or the will to perform its legitimizing security and governance functions. It may also be a process by which the state is responding to the fact that it had never developed those capabilities in the first place. In any event, there is ample evidence to show that gangs and other TCOs develop out of, and prosper, in “ungoverned” or poorly governed areas, and it follows that gangs and post-modern war are the products of the state failure processes.73 Thus, the ultimate threat of destabilizing gang activities is not instability or even criminal violence. Instead, it is either state failure or the coerced imposition of a radical socioeconomic-political restructuring of the state and its governance. In either case, failed states simply do not go away.74 Sooner than later, the global community will have to deal with the problem—and pay. Neighbor nations and international organizations will pay in terms of their own quality of governance, security and stability, as well as blood and treasure.


What makes the above cases or situations and their implications significant beyond their own domestic political context is that they are situations from which contemporary lessons of irregular urban political warfare can be learned. Additionally, these cases are the results and harbingers of much of the ongoing political chaos of the Postmodern Era of the twenty-first century. They stress the following:

• Gangs and other TCOs contribute significantly to national, regional, and global instability. As they evolve, they generate more and more terror, violence, and instability over wider and wider sections of the political map.

• Gangs, with their TCO allies, are far from being apolitical and unique. They are becoming more and more similar to their politicized insurgent and warlord cousins. They maintain a practical logic that is a continuation of regional politics by other means.

• Gangs and other TCOs use highly sophisticated political-psychological, as well as purely violent ways and means to achieve their objectives.

• These objectives are, primarily, freedom of movement and action within and across national boundaries. The unintended or intended results impinge on the effective sovereignty and security, liberal democratic values of countries and peoples.

• The primary motives of gangs and other TCOs center on group survival and personal gain. Beyond this there are no rules (criminal anarchy).

• To dismiss the above realities as too difficult or impossible to deal with is to accept the inevitability of unattractive alternatives.

Sun Tzu reminds us that we do not need an abundance of manpower, specialized equipment, and financial resources to deal effectively with an enemy such as the protean gang phenomenon. “What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy… and his plans…Next best is to disrupt his alliances.”75 This kind of effort does not require several pages of “actionable” and “measurable” tactical-operational recommendations, or more equipment and training, or more money for the salaries for “civil servants”—although all that would be helpful. Sun Tzu’s winning strategic-level recommendations, more than anything else, require the application of “brain power”. The alternative is to see Mexico and Central America further engulfed in a chaos of crime, corruption, and lack of legitimacy.


1. For early discussions of these phenomena, see Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); and Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy (New York: Random House, 2000). Also see: David Easton, A Framework for Political Analysis, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965; and David Easton, The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971; 1981.

2. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (New Brunswick, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 596.

3. Huntington, 1996, and Kaplan, 2000. Also see: Easton, 1965; 1971; and 1981.

4. John P. Sullivan, “Terrorism, Crime and Private Armies,” Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Winter 2002, pp. 239-253; John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Drug Cartels, Street Gangs, and Warlords,” in Nonstate Threats and Future Wars, ed. Robert J. Bunker (London: Frank Cass, 2003), pp. 40-53; Max G. Manwaring, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency, (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2005).

5. Ibid. Also see: Easton, 1965; 1971; 1981.

6. Manwaring, 2005.

7. Easton, 1965; 1971; and 1981. It was David Easton who formulated and elaborated the concept of “authoritative allocation of values” as the accepted definition of politics.

8. Sullivan and Bunker, 2003.

9. Ibid.

10. Statement made at a U.S. Army War College—Florida International University (USAWC/FIU) conference held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) entitled “New Security Threats in the Western Hemisphere, Washington, DC, June 29, 2004.

11. Sullivan and Bunker, 2003.

12. John Mackinlay, “Warlords,” Defence and International Security, April 1998, pp. 28-32. Also see John Mackinlay, Globalization and Insurgency, London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2002.

13. John Mackinlay, “Beyond the Logjam: A Doctrine for Complex Emergencies,” in Max G. Manwaring and John T. Fishel (eds.), Toward Responsibility in the New World Disorder, London: Frank Cass, 1998, pp. 114-131. Also see Sullivan and Bunker, 2003.

14. John P. Sullivan, “Maras Morphing: Revisiting Third Generation Gangs,” Global Crime, August-November 2006, pp. 488-490.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid. Also see Francisco Rojas Aravena, “Nuevo contexto de seguridad internacional: nuevos desafios, nuevas oportunidades?” in Francisco Rojas Aravena, (ed)., La seguridad en America Latina pos 11 Septiembre, FLACSO—Chile, 2003; and Arturo Contreras Polgatti, Conflicto en la Post Modernidad, Santiaago, Chile: Mago Editores, 2004.

17. T.C. Bruneau, “The Maras and National Security in Central America,” Strategic Insights, Vol. 4, Issue 5, 2005.

18. Daniel C. Esty, Jack Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, and Pamela T. Surko, “The State Failure Project: Early Warning Research for U.S. Foreign Policy Planning,” in John L. Davies and Ted Robert Gurr, (eds.), Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

19. Chester A. Crocker, “Engaging Failed States,” Foreign Affairs, September-October 2003, pp. 32-44; Stephen D. Krasner and Carlos Pascual, “Addressing State Failure,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 2005, pp. 153-163.

20. The author has conducted a series of interviews with more than 300 senior U.S. and Latin American officials and journalists. These interviews took place from October 1989 through July 1994, September 1996, December 1998, November 2000, February 2001, March 2002, February 2003, March and August 2004, and March through May 2006. To allow anonymity for those who have objections to their names being made public, these are cited hereafter as Author Interviews. Also see Griffith, 1997; Rensselaer W. Lee III, The White Labyrinth (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1990); and Luis Bustamente Belaunde, “Corrupción y discomposición del Estado,” in Pasta Basic de Cocaina, abuso de drogas, eds. Federico R. Leon and Ramiro Castro de la Mata (Lima, Peru: CEDRO,1990), pp. 301-321; Stephen E. Flynn, The Transnational Drug Challenge and the New World Order (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993); and David C. Jordan, Drug Politics: Dirty Money and Democracies, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

21. Bruneau, 2005.

22. “Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment,” (Washington, D.C.: USAID Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean Affairs, April 2006), hereinafter referred to as AID Paper, 2006.

23. Ana Arana, “The New Battle for Central America,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 2001), pp. 88-101; Ana Arana, “How the Street Gangs Took Central America,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2005), pp. 98-110; Oscar Bonilla, “Current Situation of Gangs in El Salvador,” unpublished paper written for the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Pública del Salvador, November 2004.

24. Ibid. Also see: Mark Lacey, “Drug Gangs Use Violence to Sway Guatemalan Vote,” The New York Times, August 4, 2007. 2007/08/04/world/Americas/04guatamals.html.

25. AID Paper, 2006; see also, Manwaring, 2005.

26. See <>.

27. J. Londono and R. Guerrero, “Violencia en América Latina: epidemiología y costos,” IADB Working Paper, No. R-375, p. 22. Also see Aid Paper, 2006.

28. AID Paper, 2006.

29. “U.S., Guatemala to jointly battle crime,” The Miami Herald, September 20, 2007.

30. Ibid.; Arana, 2005.

31. Ibid.

32. Bonilla, 2004.

33. AID Paper, 2006; Author Interviews.

34 Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. Sullivan and Bunker, 2003, pp. 48-49.

37. Ibid.; Manwaring, 2005, pp. 9-10.

38. Arana, 2005, p. 101; Sullivan and Bunker, 2003, pp. 45-53.

39. Ibid.

40. Sullivan, “Maras Morphing,” 2006, pp. 493-494.

41. Ibid., p. 501.

42. Fishel and Grizzard, 2005, p. 4; AID Paper, 2006; Author Interviews.

43. Ibid.

44. In 2007, the United States pledged $4 million to fight street gangs and drug trafficking in the Central American region. That money is to help Central American governments draft a regional security policy. See:

45. Reported by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), December 12, 2005, and found at

46. Sullivan, “Maras Morphing,” 2006.

47. AID Assessment, 2006.

48. Ibid. Also see: Mark Stevenson, “Mexico: Drug gangs using terror tactics,” Miami, May 17, 2007.

49. Ibid., Also see: “Drug gangs set their sights on the military,” El Universal, May 15, 2007. Kevin G. Hall, “Mexican drug war getting bloodier,” Miami, March 21, 2007. “Mexican gangs terrorize border,”, March 1, 2006.; and David Jordan, 1999.

50. Ibid. Also see: Sullivan, “Maras Morphing,” 2006.

51. George W. Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, August 17, 2007. See:

52. Sullivan, “Maras Morphing,” 2006.

53. Ibid. Also see: “Mexican drug lords use new tools to intimidate,”, April 13, 2007. http://cnn.worldnews.print; and Duncan Kennedy, “Mounting toll in Mexico’s drug war,” BBC News, July 5, 2007.

54. Manwaring, 2005, p. 24.

55. Peter A. Lupsha, “The Role of Drugs and Drug Trafficking in the Invisible Wars,” in Richard Ward and Harold Smith, eds., International Terrorism: Operational Issues, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987; and Peter A. Lupsha, “Towards an Etiology of Drug Trafficking and Insurgent Relations: The Phenomenon of Narco-Terrorism,” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, Fall 1989, pp. 70-74; and William J. Olson, “International Organized Crime: The Silent Threat to Sovereignty,” The Fletcher Forum, Summer/Fall 1997, pp. 75-78.

56. Ibid.

57.. Ibid.

58. Jordan, 1999, p. 19.

59. Ibid.; Arana, 2001 and 2005; Sullivan and Bunker, 2003; and Sullivan, “Maras Morphing,” 2006.

60. Jordan, 1999, pp. 142-157.

61. Ibid., pp. 193-194.

62. “Five slain in Nuevo Larerdo, pushing year’s total over 100,” Huston Chronicle, May 9, 2006. This is just the first five months of the year, in a city of only 330,000 population.

63. Stevenson, 2007; Hall, 2007, and Kennedy, 2007.

64. Rodolfo Rojas-Zea, "Narcotrafico, la Multinacional Mas Importante del Crimen," El Financiero, May 15, 1994, p. 18.

65. Jordan, 1999, p. 152.

66. Jordan, 1999, p. 152.

67. Grayson, 2007

68. Ioan Grillo, “’Cop-killer’ guns from U.S. seen crossing into Mexico,” The Boston Globe, August 19, 2007. Duncan Kennedy, “Mounting toll in Mexico’s Drug War,” BBC News, July 5, 2007. uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news/ “Armed gang kills Mexican police,” BBC News, May 17, 2007. www/ uk/2/hi/Americas/6664215.

69. Mary Beth Sheridan, “Traffickers Move into Yucatan Peninsula,” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1998. Also see: Bunker and Sullivan, 2003

70. Bunker and Sullivan, “Cartel Evolution: Potentials and Consequences,” Transnational Organized Crime, Summer 1998, pp. 55-74.

71. Robert J. Bunker and Matt Begert, “Overview: Defending against the Enemies of the State, Global Crime, August-November, 2006, p. 309.

72. Ibid.

732. Olson, 1997.

74. Sullivan and Bunker, 2003.Daniel C. Esty, et al., 1998; Robert H. Dorff, “Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Search for Strategy, in The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, eds. Max G. Manwaring, Edwin G. Corr, and Robert H. Dorff (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003), pp. 127-240.

75. Daniel C. Esty, et al., 1998; Robert H. Dorff, “Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Search for Strategy, in The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, eds. Max G. Manwaring, Edwin G. Corr, and Robert H. Dorff (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003), pp. 127-240.
Sun Tzu,1971, pp. 77-78.


Dr. Max G. Manwaring Dr. Max G. Manwaring holds the General Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research, is Professor of Military Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, and is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Dickinson College.  He is a retired U.S. Army colonel and has served in various military and civilian positions, including the U.S. Army War College, the United States Southern Command,  the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the University of Memphis.  Dr. Manwaring holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.  He is the author and co-author of several articles, chapters, and reports dealing with political-military affairs, and global and regional security concerns.   He is the editor or coeditor of, inter alia, El Salvador at War, 1988; Gray Area Phenomena:  Confronting the New World Disorder,1993; Managing Contemporary Conflict:  Pillars of Success, 1996; Beyond Declaring Victory and Coming Home:  The Challenges of Peace and Stability Operations, 2000; and The Search for Security:  A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, 2003; and co-author, with John T. Fishel, of Uncomfortable Wars Revisited, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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