Discourage the recruitment of organized crime 2023/10/03

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Ah, how you miss Alejandro Hope, who passed away last April! He was one of the best public security experts in Mexico. He was always thinking of solutions to attack the cancer of violence that, for several years now, has afflicted our country. postmortem, Alexander has sent us a new proposal that is worth reviewing.

The prestigious magazine Science published an extraordinary article on September 21: Reducing cartel recruitment is the only way to reduce violence in Mexico. Its authors are Hope and academics Rafael Prieto Curiel and Gian Maria Campedelli (the full essay can be seen here: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adh2888).

The article immediately caused a sensation on social media due to the finding that organized crime was the fifth largest employer in all of Mexico. This is, of course, an explosive note. However, it is neither true nor the main conclusion of the essay.

Given the lack of basic information on the size of organized crime in Mexico, the authors made a first attempt to “mathematically quantify the size of the cartel population in Mexico.” For this purpose, they carried out sophisticated work of mathematical and statistical simulations with cutting-edge methodologies.

This is what they estimated:

“That the population of the cartels counted between 160 thousand and 185 thousand units by 2022 and that, during the period 2012 to 2022, 285 thousand people acted as members of the cartel. Given these figures, we show that, in 2022, cartels needed to recruit between 350 and 370 units per week to avoid collapse as a result of the joint effects of conflict (fights between cartels), incapacitation (arrests and imprisonments of cartel members) and saturation (staff abandonment).”

In the essay a graph appears that demonstrates how the 175 thousand employees of organized crime are equivalent to the fifth employer in the country, only below Femsa, Walmart, Manpower and América Móvil. However, those same 175 thousand are above Oxxo, Bimbo, Pemex, Coppel, Grupo Salinas and Adecco.

Many went with the feint because, in reality, this graph is comparing pears with apples. On the one hand, there are companies and, on the other, the sum of employees of an entire economic activity, that is, that carried out by the group of cartels that operate all types of illegal businesses. If we added up all those that make up the convenience store industry (Oxxo, 7-Eleven, Circle K, Extra, Super Q, etc.), and not just Oxxo, it would surely have more employees than the cartels.

The authors themselves recognize that the 175 thousand employees are from many employers. The Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel employs 17.9%, Sinaloa 8.9%, the Nueva Familia Michoacana, 6.2%; Northeast, 4.5%, and Unión Tepito, 3.5%; The remaining 59% corresponds to dozens of small local criminal groups.

“The 10 largest cartels in Mexico have more than 50% of the active members in the country, but the conflict between them only produces 15% of the fatalities. Most cartels are small, local organizations that play a critical role in creating violence in the country and often become targets of more powerful organizations. (…) We estimate that more than half of the country's victims are due to the fight between the 140 smallest cartels and the 10 largest.”

Although this calculation is pure gold, it is not the most relevant conclusion for the authors. The important one is the following:

“We evaluated the effectiveness of two main scenarios for curbing cartel violence: preventive (aimed at preventing recruitment) and reactive (designed to increase incapacitation through incarceration). If current levels of incapacitation are doubled, some violence will be contained, but we would still expect an increase in weekly casualties. On the contrary, reducing recruitment by half leads to a 25 percent decrease in homicides.”

Ergo, if what we want is to reduce violence in Mexico, what we require is to discourage the recruitment of criminal organizations.


The authors acknowledge that this public policy issue is beyond the scope of this article. However, in passing, they talk about “offering educational and professional opportunities that exceed the short-term benefits offered by cartels.”

Wherever you are, dear AlexanderThank you very much for this new and magnificent essay. Let's see if the next government does listen to you...

X: @leozuckermann

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Nathan Rivera
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