Settings matter: Examining Protection’s influence on the illicit drug trade in convergence settings in the Paso del Norte metropolitan area


Marcus Felson suggests that analysis of “organized crime” should be undertaken via the study settings, events, and their sequences. This study examines four intertwining settings in the Paso del Norte area: Ciudad Juárez as a plaza, El Paso as a plaza, Prisons, and the streets. It shows just how important settings are for understanding the events that lead to the establishment and maintenance of the protection that allows organized criminal events related to the drug trade to unfold in the region. By examining one region, bifurcated by an international border, this article shows that settings, even those that are in close proximity with one another, can significantly shift the way that protection arrangements are developed, which in turn affect how events unfold. However, criminal actors who move between these settings adapt their strategies to the available protection to maximize opportunity for the illicit enterprises they are involved in.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Dewey, M. (2012). Illegal police protection and the market for stolen vehicles in Buenos Aires. Journal of Latin American Studies, 44(4), 679–702.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Gambetta, D. (1993). The Sicilian mafia: The business of private protection. Boston: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Tilly, C. (1985). War making and state making as organized crime. In P. B. Evans, D. Rueschemeyer, & T. Skocpol (Eds.), Bringing the state Back in. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Varese, F. (1994). Is Sicily the future of Russia? Private protection and the rise of the Russian mafia. European Journal of Sociology, 35(02), 224–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Hammar, T. (1986). Citizenship: Membership of a nation and of a state. International Migration, 24(4), 735–748.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Rousseau, J.-J. (2002). The Social Contract: And, the First and Second Discourses. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Thomson, J. E. (1995). State sovereignty in international relations: Bridging the gap between theory and empirical research. International Studies Quarterly, 39(2), 213–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Krasner, S. D. (1999). Sovereignty: Organized hypocrisy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Moncada, E. (2013). The politics of urban violence: Challenges for development in the global south. Studies in Comparative International Development, 48(3), 217–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Grayson, G. W., & Logan, S. (2012). The executioner’s men: Los Zetas, rogue soldiers, criminal entrepreneurs, and the shadow state they created. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

  11. 11.

    Shortland, A., & Varese, F. (2015). State-building, Informal Governance and Organised Crime: The Case of Somali Piracy. Political Studies.

  12. 12.

    Skaperdas, S. (2001). The political economy of organized crime: Providing protection when the state does not. Economics of Governance, 2(3), 173–202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Snyder, R., & Durán Martínez, A. (2009). Drugs, violence, and state-sponsored protection rackets in Mexico and Colombia. Colombia International, 70, 61–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Varese, F. (2001). The Russian mafia: Private protection in a new market economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Black, D. (1983). Crime as social control. American Sociological Review, 48, 34–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Campana, P., & Varese, F. (2018). Organized crime in the United Kingdom: Illegal governance of markets and communities. The British Journal of Criminology, 58(6), 1381–400.

  17. 17.

    Fijnaut, C., & Paoli, L. (Eds.). (2004). Organised Crime in Europe: Concepts, Patterns and Control Policies in the European Union and Beyond (studies of organized crime). Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Galeotti, M. (2017). Russian and post-Soviet organized crime. Routledge.

  19. 19.

    Gounev P. (2006). Bulgaria’s private security industry. In A. Bryden & M. Caparini (Eds.), Private actors and security governance (pp. 109–128). Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

  20. 20.

    Slade, G. (2013). Reorganizing crime: Mafia and anti-mafia in post-Soviet Georgia (Clarendon studies in criminology). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Volkov, V. (2000). The political economy of protection rackets in the past and the present. Social Research, 67(3), 709–744.

  22. 22.

    Arias, E. D. (2006). Drugs & democracy in Rio de Janeiro: Trafficking, social networks, & public security. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Atuesta, L. H., & Pérez-Dávila, Y. S. (2018). Fragmentation and cooperation: The evolution of organized crime in Mexico. Trends in Organized Crime, 21(3), 235–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Flom, H. (2018). Who Protects Whom?: Politicians, Police and the Regulation of Drug Trafficking in Argentina: Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

  25. 25.

    Fontes, A. W. (2016). Extorted life: Protection rackets in Guatemala City. Public Culture, 28(3 (80)), 593-616.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Fontes, A. W. (2018). Mortal doubt: Transnational gangs and social order in Guatemala City. Oakland: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Kostelnik, J., & Skarbek, D. (2013). The governance institutions of a drug trafficking organization. Public Choice, 156(1–2), 95–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Méndez, M. J. (2018). The violence work of transnational gangs in Central America. Third World Quarterly, 1–17.

  29. 29.

    Moncada, E. (2016). Cities, Business, and the Politics of Urban Violence in Latin America. Stanford University press.

  30. 30.

    Stanley, W. (2010). The protection racket state: Elite politics, military extortion, and civil war in El Salvador. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

  31. 31.

    Willis, G. D. (2015). The killing consensus: Police, organized crime, and the regulation of life and death in urban Brazil. Oakland: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Goga, K., & Goredema, C. (2014). Cape Town's protection rackets-a study of violence and control. Institute for Security Studies Papers, 2014(259), 16.

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Menkhaus, K. (2007). Local security Systems in Somali East Africa. In Fragile States and Insecure People? (pp. 67–97). Springer.

  34. 34.

    Raeymaekers, T. (2010). Protection for sale? War and the transformation of regulation on the Congo–Ugandan border. Development and Change, 41(4), 563–587.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Reno, W. (2000). Clandestine economies, violence and states in Africa. Journal of International Affairs, 53(2), 433–59.

  36. 36.

    Ruteere, M., Mutahi, P., Mitchell, B., & Lind, J. (2013). Missing the point: Violence reduction and policy misadventures in Nairobi's poor Neighbourhoods. Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

  37. 37.

    Wang, P. (2014). Extra-legal protection in China: How guanxi distorts China’s legal system and facilitates the rise of unlawful protectors. British Journal of Criminology, 54(5), 809–830.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Wang, P. (2017). The Chinese mafia: Organized crime, corruption, and extra- legal protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Wilson, I. D. (2015). The politics of protection rackets in post-New Order Indonesia: Coercive capital, authority and street politics. Routledge.

  40. 40.

    Butler, M., Slade, G., & Nunes Dias, C. (2018). Self-governing prisons: Prison gangs in an international perspective. Trends in Organized Crime.

  41. 41.

    Gundur, R. V. (2018). The changing social organization of prison protection markets: When prisoners choose to organize horizontally rather than vertically. Trends in Organized Crime.

  42. 42.

    Nunes Dias, C., & Salla, F. (2013). Organized crime in Brazilian prisons: The example of the PCC. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 2, 397.

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Skarbek, D. (2016). Covenants without the sword? Comparing prison self-governance globally. American Political Science Review, 110(4), 845–862.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Willis, G. D. (2009). Deadly symbiosis? The PCC, the state, and the institutionalization of violence in São Paulo, Brazil. In Youth Violence in Latin America (pp. 167–181). Springer.

  45. 45.

    Fontes, A. W., & O’Neill, K. L. (2018). La Visita: Prisons and survival in Guatemala. Journal of Latin American Studies, 1–27.

  46. 46.

    Kynoch, G. (1999). From the Ninevites to the hard livings gang: Township gangsters and urban violence in twentieth-century South Africa. African Studies, 58(1), 55–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Venkatesh, S. A. (2008). Gang leader for a day: A rouge sociologist takes to the streets. New York: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Felson, M. (2006b). The ecosystem for organized crime: European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations Helsinki.

  49. 49.

    Smith Jr, D. C. (1994). Illicit enterprise: An organized crime paradigm for the nineties. Kelly R. J., Chin, K.-L. und Schatzberg, R.(Hg.), Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States, 121-150.

  50. 50.

    Bowden, C. (2010). Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the global Economy's new killing fields. New York: Nation Books.

    Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    HIIK (2015). Conflict Barameter: 2014. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Institut für Internationale Konfliktforschung.

  52. 52.

    City of El Paso (n.d.). Economic and International Development: Population.

  53. 53.

    U.S. Census Bureau (2016). QuickFacts Beta. Accessed June 9th 2016.

  54. 54.

    United Nations Statistics Division. (2017). City population by sex, city and city type. In UN Data. United Nations.

  55. 55.

    Texas Department of Transportation. (2015). Border corridors and trade report. Austin: Texas Department of Transportation.

    Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Campbell, H. (2009). Drug war zone: Frontline dispatches from the streets of El Paso and Juarez. Austin: University of Texas Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Heinle, K., Molzahn, C., & Shirk, D. A. (2015). Drug violence in Mexico: Data and analysis through 2014. San Diego: Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego.

    Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Poppa, T. (2010). Drug Lord: A true story: The life and death of a Mexican kingpin. El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Bucardo, J., Brouwer, K. C., Magis-Rodríguez, C., Ramos, R., Fraga, M., Perez, S. G., Patterson, T. L., & Strathdee, S. A. (2005). Historical trends in the production and consumption of illicit drugs in Mexico: Implications for the prevention of blood borne infections. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 79(3), 281–293.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Durán Martínez, A. (2015a). Drugs around the corner: Domestic drug markets and violence in Colombia and Mexico. Latin American Politics and Society., 57, 122–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, & World Customs Organization (2014). Container Control Programme Annual Report.

  62. 62.

    Felson, M. (2006a). Crime and nature. Sage.

  63. 63.

    Felson, M., & Clarke, R. V. G. (1998). Opportunity makes the thief: Practical theory for crime prevention (Vol. 98). London: Home Office, policing and reducing crime unit, research, development and statistics directorate London.

  64. 64.

    Innes, M. (2014). Signal Crimes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Gundur, R. V. (2017). Using the internet to recruit respondents for offline interviews in criminological studies. Urban Affairs Review.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Worthen, M. G. F. (2013). An invitation to use craigslist ads to recruit respondents from stigmatized groups for qualitative interviews. In Qualitative Research.

    Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Carey, E. (2014). Women drug traffickers: Mules, bosses, and organized crime. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

    Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Ríos, V. (2013). Why did Mexico become so violent? A self-reinforcing violent equilibrium caused by competition and enforcement. Trends in Organized Crime, 16(2), 138–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Flores Pérez, C. A. (2009). El Estado en crisis: crimen organizado y política. Desafíos para la consolidación democrática. Mexico City: Publicaciones de la Casa Chata.

    Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Durán Martínez, A. (2015b). To kill and tell? State power, criminal competition, and drug violence. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 0022002715587047.

  71. 71.

    Durán, R. J. (2018). The gang paradox: Inequalities and miracles on the U.S.-Mexico border. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Mekelburg, M. (2018). Attorney for El Paso County says it already may be in compliance with ‘sanctuary cities’ law. El Paso Times. Retrieved from Accessed 26 Jan 2019.

  73. 73.

    Durán Martínez, A. (2017). The politics of drug violence: Criminals, cops and politicians in Colombia and Mexico. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Shirk, D. A. (2011). The drug war in Mexico: Confronting a shared threat (Vol. 60). New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

    Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    O’Neil, S. (2009). The real war in Mexico: How democracy can defeat the drug cartels. Foreign Affairs, 88(4), 63–77.

  76. 76.

    Velasco, J. L. (2005). Drogas, seguridad y cambio político en México. Nueva Sociedad, 198, 89–101.

    Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Lupsha, P. A. (1991). Drug lords and narco-corruption: The players change but the game continues. Crime, Law and Social Change, 16, 41–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Atuesta, L. H., & Ponce, A. F. (2017). Meet the Narco: Increased competition among criminal organisations and the explosion of violence in Mexico. Global Crime, 18(4), 375–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Hernández, A. (2012). Los señores del narco. México DF: Grijalbo.

    Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Jones, N. P. (2016). Mexico’s Illicit Drug Networks and the State Reaction. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

  81. 81.

    Chinchilla, F. A. (2017). A hard-to-escape situation informal pacts, kingpin strategies, and collective violence in Mexico. Crime, Law and Social Change. 69(4), 533–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Astorga, L. (2005). El Siglo de Las Drogas: El narcotráfico, del Porfiriato al nuevo milenio. México DF: Plaza Janés.

    Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Wolff, M. J. (2018). Violence and criminal order: The case of Ciudad Juarez. Urban Geography, 10, 1–19.

  84. 84.

    Correa-Cabrera, G. (2017). Los Zetas Inc.: Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  85. 85.

    Manwaring, M. G. (2011). Security, stability and sovereignty challenges of politicized gangs and insurgents in the Americas. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 22(5), 860–889.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Davis, D. E. (2006). Undermining the rule of law: Democratization and the dark side of police reform in Mexico. Latin American Politics and Society, 48(1), 55–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    México Evalúa. (2010). Índice de Inseguridad Ciudadana y Violencia. México D.F.: México Evalúa.

  88. 88.

    Wolf, S. (2016). Drugs, violence, and corruption: Perspectives from Mexico and Central America. Latin American Politics and Society, 58(1), 146–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. 89.

    Bright, D., Koskinen, J., & Malm, A. (2018). Illicit network dynamics: The formation and evolution of a drug trafficking network. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1–22.

  90. 90.

    Murji, K. (2007). Hierarchies, markets and networks: Ethnicity/race and drug distribution. Journal of Drug Issues, 37(4), 781–804.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    DiIulio, J. J. (1990). Governing prisons. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  92. 92.

    Fong, R. S., & Buentello, S. (1991). Detection of prison gang development: An empirical assessment. The. Fed. Probation, 55, 66.

    Google Scholar 

  93. 93.

    Skarbek, D. (2011). Governance and prison gangs. American Political Science Review, 105(04), 702–716.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  94. 94.

    Skarbek, D. (2014). The social order of the underworld: How prison gangs govern the American penal system. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  95. 95.

    Rivera Fierro, J. R. (Unpublished). American Wetback.

  96. 96.

    Justice, W. W. (1981). Consent decree in the matter of Ruiz v. Estelle, Jr.: U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas.

    Google Scholar 

  97. 97.

    Ekland-Olson, S. (1986). Crowding, social control, and prison violence: Evidence from the post-Ruiz years in Texas. Law and Society Review, 20, 389–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  98. 98.

    Burman, M. L. (2012). Resocializing and repairing homies within the Texas prison system: A case study on security threat group management, administrative segregation, prison gang renunciation and safety for all.

  99. 99.

    Fong, R. S. (1990b). Organizational structure of prison gangs: A Texas case study. The. Fed. Probation, 54, 36.

    Google Scholar 

  100. 100.

    Cruz, J. M. (2010). Central American maras: From youth street gangs to transnational protection rackets. Global Crime, 11(4), 379–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  101. 101.

    Irwin, J. (1980). Prisons in turmoil. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  102. 102.

    Buentello, S., Fong, R. S., & Vogel, R. E. (1991). Prison gang development: A theoretical model. The Prison Journal, 71(2), 3–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  103. 103.

    Fong, R. S. (1990a). The organizational structure of prison gangs: A Texas case study. Federal Probation, 54, 36.

    Google Scholar 

  104. 104.

    Tapia, M. (2018). Barrio criminal networks and prison gang formation in Texas. Journal of Gang Research, 25(4).

  105. 105.

    Texas Department of Public Safety. (2013). Texas gang threat assessment 2012. Austin: Texas Department of Public Safety.

    Google Scholar 

  106. 106.

    Morris, S. D. (2019). Linking crime and corruption: The case of Mexico. In Corruption in Latin America (pp. 207–233). Springer.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. V. Gundur.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gundur, R.V. Settings matter: Examining Protection’s influence on the illicit drug trade in convergence settings in the Paso del Norte metropolitan area. Crime Law Soc Change 72, 339–360 (2019).

Download citation