Blurred Lines: Mexican Cartels and the Narco-Terrorism Debate

Alexander Salt


Since 2006, well over 70 000 lives have been claimed by Cartel and narcotics related violence in Mexico.  The sheer scale of this conflict has attracted considerable scholarly attention, particularly that which seeks to classify what type of violence this is, be it terrorism, insurgency or something else altogether. This paper addresses this issue by asking: Can Mexican Cartels be considered terrorist organizations? The paper explores the evolution of the Cartels in Mexico from 2006-present, analyzing their motivations, tactics and operations, organizational structures, and targets of violence. The paper concludes that Cartels should not be defined as terrorists as they lack political motives for their use of violence. However, Cartels can be said to have a dual nature; sometimes they act like terrorists in terms of their operational and tactical level behavior, and the rest of the time they act as illicit businessmen.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.