Anatomy of the Mexican State

Francisco “Pancho” Villa turned his criminal organization into an army and was warlord over Chihuahua until his death in 1923

Given the utter failure of the Mexican federal government to abide by its social contract to provide specific services to the large sectors of its population—i.e., education, health care, respect of civil liberties, protection of property, and most importantly, protection of life— coupled with the government’s failure to exercise sovereignty over territory firmly controlled by narco-warlords, indigenous insurgent groups, and self-defense militias, it’s reasonable to conclude that Mexico is a failing state.

Since the state still exists and provides services to some sectors of the population, it hasn’t failed altogether, but it certainly is in the process of failing.  More so since the erratic behavior of the Trump presidency and the announcement of the 20% wall tariff caused the peso to crumble.

Criminologist John P. Sullivan (of the Small Wars Journal) elaborates on the Mexican criminal insurgency; namely that the insurgency’s main goal is to gain autonomy and economic control over territory. By hollowing out the state and creating alternative states—in this case feudalistic fiefdoms ruled by narco-warlords through their narco-guerrilla armies—the criminal insurgency introduces a dual-state model. In this model, the Mexican state is allowed to continue operating, albeit with the understanding that true sovereignty lies with the criminals’ shadow government. The dual states model appears to be a twisted modern interpretation of “one country, two systems.”

To better understand the power struggle between the Mexican state and the warlords of the narco-state, it is necessary to take a new look at the anatomy of states. Economist and academic scholar Murray Rothbard drafts a paradigm of conquest and statecraft in which a conquering tribe realizes “that the time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure… if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute…” The paradigm continues by illustrating a bandit group’s conquest of a territory, the bandit chieftain proclaiming himself King, and “a new State has joined the ‘family of nations,’ and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm.”

Rothbard boils the state down to its most common denominator: the individual. Looking beyond the institutions perpetuated by the legal fiction of a state, the state is first and foremost a collection of individuals banding together to govern (or rule) other individuals. Rothbard’s model for states certainly holds true when applied to Mexican history, from the Spanish Empire’s conquest of Latin America and its rule over the indigenous peoples, to Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorship and system of political patronage, and extending to the conquest of territory and rule over its people by narco-warlords.

In this context, the Mexican state exists more so on paper than in actuality, whereas the narco-fiefdoms exist in actuality but not on paper.  The struggle for power, territory, and control between the various factions of conquerors—be they men in business suits in Mexico City or farmers with diamond-studded cowboy hats in Culiacán—as well as the total body count higher than 150,000, gives credibility to the case for labeling the Mexican drug war as a civil war.


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Image courtesy of Warfare History Network. Article content  excerpted from ‘Civil War in Mexico: Re-Examining Armed Conflict and Criminal Insurgency.’

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