Imprisonment vs. Reduce Recruitment: How to Stop Cartel Violence in Mexico?

A study published this week in the journal Science recommends paying more attention to reducing recruitment in Mexico to curb drug cartel violence .


Photo: El Financiero


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Leer en español: Encarcelamiento vs. reducir el reclutamiento: ¿Cómo frenar la violencia de carteles en México?

The only way to reduce the violence of organized crime in Mexico is to stop the recruitment of cartels, replacing the current reactive strategy with a preventive one, maintains a study published this Thursday in the magazine Science.

Headed by Rafael Prieto Curiel of the Center for Complexity Sciences, based in Vienna (Austria), the report states that increasing imprisonment leads to more homicides and a greater number of members of criminal groups. He specifies that judicial prosecutions and imprisonments will not make a dent in the crime that places Mexico among the most violent countries.

"In 2021, approximately 34,000 people died in intentional homicides in Mexico, the equivalent of almost 27 victims per 100,000 inhabitants," the article noted.

Researchers on Prieto's team analyzed data on homicides, missing persons and incarcerations in Mexico between 2012 and 2022 and cross-referenced it with information on violent interactions between criminal organizations.

Cartels: Mexico's fifth largest employer

Based on this data base, Prieto and his collaborators calculated that criminal organizations in Mexico currently have between 160,000 and 185,000 members, 17.9% of them affiliated with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the most violent of all.

The Sinaloa cartel has 8.9% of the members of these organizations, followed by the Nueva Familia Michoacana with 6.2%, the Northeast Cartel with 4.5%, the Unión Tepito with 3.5% and the remaining 59% of cartel members line up in smaller groups.

This places the cartels in fifth place as employers in the country after Fomento Economico Mexicano (the largest bottling company in the Coca-Cola system in the world), Walmart, Manpower and América Móvil, and above Pemex and the Salinas Group. .

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"The career in the cartel is very short and violent. In 10 years, 17% of individuals recruited by cartels will have died, and 20% will be incapacitated in prison."

Added to the loss of members due to deaths in the struggle for control of territories and criminal activities are desertions, which is why the study calculated that organized crime groups need to recruit 350 to 370 people per week to avoid collapse due to to total casualties.

According to the study, there are currently about 120 weekly deaths related to criminal organizations, and if the current trend continues towards 2027 that number will rise to around 170.

Imprisonment vs. Recruitment prevention

Regarding the number of members of criminal organizations, the study estimated that of the around 175,000 currently active members, the number will rise to 220,000 in five years if the current policy of captures, prosecutions and imprisonment is maintained.

But the figure would drop to 155,000 if recruitment is cut in half, and would decrease to 110,000 members if new members are prevented, the study added.

Deaths in Mexico related to criminal organizations have increased by 77% between 2012 and 2022 , and "if the country continues on this path it will experience 40% more deaths by 2027 and the cartels will have 26% more members," said the researchers.

"Mathematically, therefore, a preventive strategy is significantly more successful than the traditional reactive strategy," they added.

Still, these criminal organizations are so large that even if recruitment were reduced to zero, it would take three years to return to the already high levels of violence the country recorded in 2012, the report said.

According to the article, the results underscore the need to devote more attention to recruitment. "Reducing recruitment requires structural efforts at the state and local levels," he said.

"This applies especially to areas with high cartel support, where offering educational and professional opportunities that exceed the short-term benefits offered by the cartels represents a critical objective for the future of the country," he concluded.

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