When Business Gets Bloody: State Policy and Drug Violence (Chapter 2) Small Arms Survey 2012 | Small Arms Survey
Benjamin Lessing  |  August 2012

This chapter reviews recent trends and theoretical explanations of drug violence in Latin America, with a focus on armed violence between organized actors—particularly cartels and prison-based syndicates—and state forces in Mexico, the Northern Triangle of Central America, and Brazil. It finds that the economic aspects of the drug market—demand, supply, and price—seem less related to outbreaks of cartel–state violence than changes in state policy. The legal status of drug consumption, sale, and trafficking; official policies on sentencing, surveillance, and extradition; the institutional structure and capacity of police and other state forces; and operational decisions such as where and when to apply repressive force all fundamentally shape the incentives and, ultimately, the actions of drug traffickers.