Building States and Illicit Markets in Postrevolutionary Mexico

Joel Herrera, UCLA

In developing countries where the state’s reach is limited, illicit drugs have emerged as a locus of economic activity and insecurity. Under what conditions do drug markets grow and prosper? I argue that rural inequalities and geographic remoteness are necessary conditions for drug production to take root, but a series of direct and indirect state interventions are critical for the expansion of distribution networks. This claim is based on a comparative-historical analysis of drug trafficking in two Mexican states — Sinaloa and Michoacán — between the 1930s and 1960s. I show how a mix of developmental failures and successes created the conditions for illicit activities in rural communities, while integrating them into urban and international markets. In turn, the selective application of prohibition policies strengthened drug producers with political protection and pushed others to produce in new areas. Rather than byproducts of underdevelopment and weak states, this paper demonstrates that illicit industries reflect the state building and development strategies historically employed in the Global South.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 221. State Violence and Illegal Markets