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Reading: La mafia muere: Violence, drug trade and the state in Sinaloa, 1940-1980


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La mafia muere: Violence, drug trade and the state in Sinaloa, 1940-1980


Wil G. Pansters ,

Utrecht University, NL
About Wil G.

Wil G. Pansters is a professor of social and political anthropology of Latin America at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. He has been a research fellow at El Colegio de México (1999), the University of Oxford (2010), and the University of Warwick amongst others (2017). He occupied the Friedrich Katz Chair at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. (2012). He has done ethnographic and historical research in Mexico and published on political culture, caciquismo, regional history, and democratization. Currently, he studies drug trafficking, violence, and justice from below. Among his books is La Santa Muerte in Mexico. History, Devotion, Society (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2019, ed.), Beyond the Drug War in Mexico. Human Rights, the Public Sphere and Justice (London: Routledge, 2018, with Benjamin T. Smith, Peter Watt eds.), and Violence, Coercion and State-Making in Twentieth-Century Mexico. The Other Half of the Centaur (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012, ed.).

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Benjamin T. Smith

University of Warwick, GB
About Benjamin T.

Benjamin T. Smith is a professor of Latin American History at the University of Warwick. His work focuses on the history of nineteenth and twentieth-century grassroots politics in Mexico. Benjamin has published The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade (Norton & Company, 2021). He co-edited Beyond the Drug War in Mexico: Human rights, the public sphere and justice (London: Routledge, 2017). He also published The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962 (University of New Mexico Press, 2012) and The Mexican Press and Civil Society, 1940–1976: Stories from the Newsroom, Stories from the Street (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), which received the LASA Howard Cline Award. He also co-edited with Paul Gillingham Dictablanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

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The article examines the rise in violence in the state of Sinaloa between the 1940s and the 1980s. It analyzes the shifting structure of the drug trade and the changing roles of federal and state authorities, bringing both observations together. By looking at the changing nature of the drug trade and its relationship to state authorities from the 1930s through to the 1970s, the article attempts to understand why Sinaloa experienced such an upsurge in violence during the period, and to engage with three broad conceptual debates: the role of violence and coercion in Mexican state-making, a more particular debate about the (subnational) historiography of the 1960s, and 1970s; and, finally about the relationships between violence and (organized) crime. In doing so, it contributes to a significant paradigm shift from approaches that prioritized non-violent forms of state-making and political mediation, and with a strong focus on national institutions, towards one that systematically examines the role of coercion, violence, repression and criminal networks in the workings of Mexican state power and state-making.  

Resumen: La mafia muere: Violencia, tráfico de drogas y el Estado en Sinaloa, 1940-1980
El artículo examina el aumento de la violencia en el estado de Sinaloa entre 1940 y 1980. Analiza la estructura cambiante del tráfico de drogas y los roles fluctuantes de las autoridades federales y estatales. Al observar la naturaleza cambiante del tráfico de drogas y su relación con las autoridades estatales desde la década de 1930 hasta la de 1970, el artículo intenta comprender por qué Sinaloa experimentó un aumento de la violencia durante el período y aborda tres debates conceptuales generales: El papel de la violencia y la coacción en la construcción del Estado mexicano, un debate más particular sobre la historiografía (subnacional) de las décadas de 1960 y 1970, y, finalmente, sobre las relaciones entre violencia y crimen (organizado). Al hacerlo, contribuye a un cambio de paradigma significativo desde enfoques que priorizaban formas no violentas de creación de estado y mediación política, con un fuerte enfoque en las instituciones nacionales, hacia uno que examina sistemáticamente el papel de la coerción, la violencia, represión y redes criminales en el funcionamiento del poder estatal mexicano y la creación de estado.
How to Cite: Pansters, W. G., & Smith, B. T. (2021). La mafia muere: Violence, drug trade and the state in Sinaloa, 1940-1980. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, (112), 91–116. DOI:
Published on 30 Dec 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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