Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Barbara Elias


Organized crime related violence in Mexico remains at unprecedented levels despite decades of effort and billions of dollars spent attempting to weaken Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) through the Mérida Initiative (MI): a bilateral security partnership established in October 2007 between US President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The MI sought to combat TCOs (often called cartels), their drug trafficking operations, and their networks of corruption. However, since then TCOs have expanded their businesses beyond drug trafficking, and they have adopted violent practices that target civilians. Extortion, torture, murder, and human trafficking have become common as TCOs look to other illicit markets to make up for losses in drug profits, and to signal strength to their opponents. More specifically, the homicide rate in Mexico increased by more than 100% between 2007 and 2008, aligning with the creation of the initiative designed to have the opposite effect. However, case study research into the violence in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana determined that the MI was not actually implemented until mid-2009 because of bureaucratic delays, meaning it did not impact the initial spike in homicides in Mexico in 2008. Instead, the violence starting in 2008 is a result of changing dynamics between and within TCOs, as they adapted to survive and maintain control of resources. By supporting the Mexican government’s drug war efforts over the next several years, the Mérida Initiative became one of many complex domestic and international factors that ultimately contributed to extreme levels of violence in Mexico.