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The unintended consequences of kingpin strategies: kidnap rates and the Arellano-Félix Organization

Abstract

Kingpin strategies— the targeting of the top-levels of terrorist or drug trafficking organization hierarchies— has become a centerpiece of US and Mexican efforts to combat drug trafficking. This study addresses the unintended consequences of these strategies by assessing the impact of the arrest or deaths of Arellano Felix Organization leaders on kidnap and homicide levels from the late 1990’s to 2011. Based on the study, the arrest of important AFO “lieutenants” increased kidnap rates. Arrests or the deaths of organization “kingpins” did not result in increased homicides or kidnappings, if respected successors were ready to fill leadership vacuums. When leadership succession was in question, the arrest of “kingpins” did result in internecine conflict and thus increased homicide and kidnapping rates. Following internecine conflict, kidnap and homicide rates dropped, but not to pre-conflict levels. This is likely attributable to the use of kidnapping and homicide as a dispute resolution mechanism in the growing Tijuana consumer drug market.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The author would like to thank the Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation, which funded 9 months of fieldwork in Mexico; the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, and the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, which funded preliminary research trips; and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, where much of the editing of this project was completed.

  2. 2.

    Before El Teo’s arrest in January 2010, I visited Tijuana in 2009 and noticed that municipal police always travelled in groups of two trucks, with at least two men each sitting in the truck bed with automatic weapons. Motorcycle police, that typically enforce traffic violations individually, rode in groups of three. Seven months after Teo’s January 2010 arrest, Police appeared calmer and rode in their trucks with one partner in the cab with them and no one in the truck bed. This is evidence of the impact that Teo’s arrest had on the Tijuana psyche. It has calmed municipal police by reducing the daily threat of police assassination (Anonymous Tijuana resident 2009).

  3. 3.

    Voluntary and anonymous surveys conducted regularly throughout Mexico might help to provide a more accurate picture of the kidnapping problem than reports based on statistics provided by law enforcement institutions that lack the faith of the populace. Indeed, websites like www.notecalles.org.mx appear to attempt to address this issue in this fashion by allowing Mexican citizens to self-report crime anonymously (No Te Calles - No+Inseguridad 2010).

  4. 4.

    This argument posits that certain factions of the organization became profit-starved while others may have continued to thrive. The profit-starved factions began to focus on the taxation of territory and the expansion into “high impact” crime like kidnapping and extortion. This was especially true in the internecine conflict period where the enforcers of the Teo faction attempted to take control of the territory and network. Thus, the argument is not dependent upon a commensurate reduction in drug trafficking, which might be measured or correlated with a reduction in confiscated drugs at the border. Rather drug confiscations at the border would represent an irrelevant variable because another portion of the illicit network continued to traffic.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my dissertation committee members Professors Caesar Sereseres, Etel Solingen, Kamal Sadiq and Louis Desipio. I would also like to thank Steve Duncan of the California Department of Justice for opening important doors for me in the course of my research on the AFO. Finally, I would like to thank the Institute Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), the UC Irvine Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies (CGPACS) and the UC Irvine Department of Political Science for funding various phases of research on which this analysis is based.

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Correspondence to Nathan Jones.

Appendices

Appendix

Data

ICESI annual kidnap data

1997 28 1
1998 72 3
1999 23 1
2000 47 2
2001 25 1
2002 22 1
2003 20 1
2004 9 0
2005 9 0
2006 38 1
2007 20 1
2008 115 4
2009 103 3
2010 79 2
2011 64  

ICESI Baja/National Kidnap Rates

Year Kidnap Rate Baja California Kidnap Rate National
1997 1 1
1998 3 1
1999 1 1
2000 2 1
2001 1 1
2002 1 0
2003 1 0
2004 0 0
2005 0 0
2006 1 1
2007 1 0
2008 4 1
2009 3 1.1
2010 2 1.1

Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP) data on homicides, kidnappings and extortion cases in Tijuana.

  Homicides - Tijuana Kidnappings Tijuana Extortions in Tijuana
2006-1-January 25 3 10
2006-2 -February 27 3 5
2006-3-march 20 1 4
2006-4-april 26 3 5
2006-5-may 27 4 10
2006-6-june 28 1 23
2006-7-july 25 5 17
2006-8-august 29 3 21
2006-9-September 32 0 23
2006-10-october 26 3 20
2006-11-november 23 1 7
2006-12-December 26 3 19
2007-1-January 22 0 13
2007-2 -February 27 0 19
2007-3-march 24 2 12
2007-4-april 25 2 5
2007-5-may 22 1 7
2007-6-june 32 0 7
2007-7-july 22 4 7
2007-8-august 27 1 7
2007-9-September 24 0 11
2007-10-october 23 1 6
2007-11-november 38 2 8
2007-12-December 24 1 6
2008-1-January 30 11 5
2008-2 -February 33 11 7
2008-3-march 48 10 11
2008-4-april 42 10 10
2008-5-may 21 5 17
2008-6-june 33 3 29
2008-7-july 28 5 14
2008-8-august 29 5 4
2008-9-September 32 7 11
2008-10-october 87 7 23
2008-11-november 123 16 19
2008-12-December 71 2 17
2009-1-January 56 7 14
2009-2 -February 36 9 14
2009-3-march 47 12 21
2009-4-april 38 7 9
2009-5-may 43 15 9
2009-6-june 31 3 9
2009-7-july 41 3 9
2009-8-august 51 5 18
2009-9-September 45 5 26
2009-10-october 32 5 17
2009-11-november 38 12 22
2009-12-December 98 12 18
2010-1-January 99 9 19
2010-2 -February 51 3 19
2010-3-march 57 4 23
2010-4-april 54 5 25
2010-5-may 50 6 25
2010-6-june 44 6 22
2010-7-july 52 6 20
2010-8-august 45 9 16
2010-9-September 58 5 21
2010-10-october 50 3 14
2010-11-november 69 7 13
2010-12-December 59 5 15
2011-1-January 51 4 18
2011-2-February 27 11 13
2011-3-March 45 4 9
2011-4-April 28 4 16
2011-5-May 42 4 6
2011-6-June 41 5 8
2011-7-July 35 1 14
2011-8-August 38 0 11
2011-9-September 33 6 14
Oct-11 28 4 12
Nov-11 24 1 11
Dec-11 26 1 19
Jan-12 39 1 19
Feb-12 22 0 26
Mar-12 24 1 16
Apr-12 26 0 12
May-12 27 1 14

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Jones, N. The unintended consequences of kingpin strategies: kidnap rates and the Arellano-Félix Organization. Trends Organ Crim 16, 156–176 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-012-9185-x

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Keywords

  • AFO
  • Arellano Felix Organization
  • Counternarcotics
  • Decapitation strikes
  • High value targets
  • Kidnapping
  • Kingpin
  • Mexican drug trafficking organizations
  • Second order effects
  • Tijuana Cartel