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Alejandro Lerch

Alejandro Lerch


Drug trafficking and the state in Mexico

All states are legally and politically bounded to engage with the powerful forces of drug-trafficking. Weak states (such as Mexico) necessarily do so in informal ways. By doing so, however, drug trafficking is informally incorporated into the network of relationships that structures the edifice of political power in a given state. The ties that then develop obviously vary, but in contexts of high informality and vast illegal drug markets (such as Mexico) the most probable outcome is to see drug-trafficking affect politics to a large extent.

In Mexico, informality originated and sustained for seven decades the single-party regime that emerged after the 1910 revolution. Informality was central for state-building in Mexico, permeating the development of its most fundamental political processes and institutions. Informality can be found, for example, in the mechanisms for the transmission of political power (dedazo); in the opportunistic brokerage to keep rural and urban populations at bay (caciquismo); in the selective allocation of social benefits (clientelismo); in the highly selective management of justice, and in the vast power yielded by “imperial” presidents. Such pervasiveness in informality and patrimonialism is theoretically illustrative of the difference between governance under a "regime" and governance under a modern state.

My research looks into how drug-trafficking, also, was historically managed in informal, contingent and increasingly political ways. In Mexico, each administration has tended to shift to new institutions when implementing its drug policy choices and “agreements”. In a period of 25 years, this task went from the Direccion Federal de Seguridad to the Policia Judicial Federal, followed by the Army, followed by the Federal Police, followed by the Mexican Navy. In other words, institutions in Mexico are continuously “inoculated” with contingent and highly corrupting mechanisms to “manage” drug-trafficking in the short-term. While administrations come and go, the ethos and nexuses with organized crime that they encouraged within those institutions are likely to remain. This entails a growing loss of institutional capabilities, a criminogenic surge taking place inside security and judicial agencies, as well as a continuous incorporation of drug trafficking into state and electoral politics. Informality is highly problematic because it makes its object fall into the political, the contentious. My thesis analyses drug-trafficking in Mexico from this particular perspective.

Most of my fieldwork takes place in the state of Guerrero, where historic cacicazgos and vast political informality is now being coupled by a booming opium and heroin trade.

Before becoming a PhD student at CLAS, I completed an M.Phil in Security Studies at Sciences-Po Paris. I also completed a B.A. degree in Political Science from UNAM University. I have worked in security institutions in the private, national and international sectors.