Small Wars Journal

El Centro

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 51: Milícias (Militias) Continue to Surpass Gangues (Gangs) in Dominating Criminal Territory in Rio de Janeiro

Tue, 09/27/2022 - 9:03pm
Areas controlled by criminal armed groups (CAGs) in Rio de Janeiro grew by 131% over the past 16 years according to a new study released jointly by the Instituto Fogo Cruzado (Cross-Fire Institute), Grupo de Estudos dos Novos Ilegalismos (Study Group for New Illegalisms) at Universidade Federal Fluminense (Fluminense Federal University) (GENI/UFF) on 13 September 2022. Militias were the fastest growing group, expanding rapidly in suburbs while narcotrafficking gangs retained control of favelas.

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Small Wars Journal–El Centro Fellow Dr. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera Promoted to Full Professor

Thu, 08/25/2022 - 5:52pm

Small Wars Journal–El Centro Fellow Dr. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera Promoted to Full Professor

Small Wars Journal–El Centro is proud to announce that SWJ–El Centro Fellow Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera has been promoted to the rank of full professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Public Policy and Government.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera

Professor Correa-Cabrera has had a prolific career including publishing the acclaimed Los Zetas Inc.: Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico with the University of Texas Press in 2017. The book applies corporate models to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Over her career she has served as president of the Association of Borderlands Studies and co-edits Oxford University Press’s International Studies Perspectives. She became a Small Wars Journal–El Centro Fellow in 2021.

Some of her recent publications include: Dismantling Migrant Smuggling Networks in the Americas,” Policy Paper (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2022) and “The End of the Mérida Initiative?Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Vol.  23, no. 1 (2022): pp, 59–64.

We have been honored to have her write and work with us and wish her the best of luck in the future. Congratulations again on this well-deserved promotion!

Calling to End the Killing of the Clergy: Information Operations of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación

Sat, 08/20/2022 - 6:20pm
The assassination of two Jesuit priests in the state of Chihuahua led to calls by the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) to protect priests, teachers, and doctors. I argue that this video is simply another form of information operations utilized to portray the cartel in a favorable light. Information operations are incredibly diverse within Mexico’s organized crime system and can include: digital campaigns to make specific cartels look better, narcocorridos (narco-ballads) to construct mythological personas for cartel members, extreme forms of violence like beheadings to communicate to rivals and the local population, food pantries to win over the local population, and even dispute resolution services to become de facto governors, etc.

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Why is Mexico so Dangerous for Journalists?

Wed, 08/17/2022 - 1:28am
This essay examines the problem of violence against journalists and media workers in Mexico. We use data on killings collected over the past three decades by advocacy groups to provide an empirically rooted answer to why Mexico seems so dangerous for media workers. The reasons, tied to the country's overall governance problems, lead to impunity, government collusion with drug trafficking organizations, and widespread corruption. Further, we find some issues with collecting and maintaining data by advocacy groups, creating problems of accuracy about the scope of killings in Mexico.

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SWJ–El Centro Announces New Fellows

Wed, 07/20/2022 - 10:03pm

Small Wars Journal-El Centro (SWJ–El Centro) is pleased to announce the addition of two new fellows to the Cadre of El Centro Fellows.


The new El Centro Fellows are Dr. Marzena Żakowska and Dr. Paloma Mendoza-Cortés:

New Fellows

New SWJ−El Centro Fellows: Dr. Żakowska (left) and Dr. Mendoza-Cortés (right)

Marzena Żakowska is an assistant professor at the National Security Faculty at the War Studies University in Warsaw. Poland. She holds a PhD. in Security Science from the National Defence University, Warsaw, Poland. She is Director of the Global Affairs and Diplomacy Studies at National Security Faculty, War Studies University and Chair of War Studies Working Group at the International Society of Military Sciences.

Paloma Mendoza-Cortés is a Mexican Professor, researcher, and consultant on national security, defense, intelligence, and private military issues. She holds a degree in Political Science and Public Administration, Master in Government and Public Affairs, from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and a PhD in Government and Public Affairs  from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM).

Both Dr. Żakowska and Dr. Mendoza-Cortés enhance the depth of knowledge of the El Centro initiative.  Dr. Żakowska will focus on hybrid threats and bring global perspective and Dr. Mendoza-Cortés will focus on Mexican military and security issues. 

Dr. Robert J. Bunker

Dr. Nathan P. Jones

Dr. John P. Sullivan 

Senior Fellows, SWJEl Centro


Criminal Armed Groups Compete with the State and Each Other

Thu, 07/14/2022 - 5:03pm

SWJ-El Centro Senior Fellows John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker discuss their recent curated collection Competition in Order and Progress: Criminal Insurgencies and Criminal Governance in Brazil in "Criminal Armed Groups Compete with the State and Each Other" at the Urban Violence Research Network Blog "Word on the Street" today.

Police Brazil

Their curated collection looks at the competition for power among Brazil's criminal armed groups (CAGs). and the state.  

The text includes research notes and works by Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, Pablo A. Baisotti, as well as a “Foreword: A Practitioner-Academic Dialogue on Criminal Insurgency and the Crime-Terror Nexus in Brazil” by Rashmi Singh, essays by José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Becky Kohler da Cruz, Robert Muggah, Christian Vianna de Azevedo, Luis Jorge Garay-Salamanca, Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán and Guillermo Macías, Matthew Aaron Richmond, Carlos Frederico de Oliveira Pereira, Natalie D. Baker and Gabriel Leão, Andrea Varsori, and Steven M. Nogera. 

Back matter includes a conclusion by the editors joined by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, an afterword by Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabó, and a postscript in English and Portuguese by Carlos Frederico de Oliveira Pereira.  The appendices include works by Paul Rexton Kan, Pablo Baisotti and Alma Keshavarz. The text concludes with a set of recommended additional readings.

Their article "Criminal Armed Groups Compete with the State and Each Other" is at the "Word on the Street" Blog.


John P. Sullivan, "Criminal Armed Groups Compete with the State and Each Other," Word on the Street (Urban Violence Research Network), 14 July 2022.


The edited collection John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds. Competition in Order and Progress: Criminal Insurgencies and Governance in Brazil, a Small Wars Journal–El Centro Anthology was published in March 2022.


Drug Networks and Weak States: Infrastructural Capacity and Transnational Power in Central America’s “Northern Triangle”

Mon, 06/27/2022 - 4:49pm
Transnational drug networks have posed a fundamental challenge to the political systems of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the 21st century. These “Northern Triangle” nations of Central America were among the most violent in the world in the early 2010s, and their governments have struggled to exert even the most basic kinds of political authority as they have been caught up in the global drug trade. This article analyzes how these conditions came about, their impact on these nations, and how vulnerable national governments have responded in recent years to the challenges posed by transnational drug networks. It does so in the context of the capacity of Northern Triangle governments to confront the power of transnational drug networks, with reference to the concept of “state infrastructural capacity.” The article employs this concept to describe the drug networks’ usurpation of basic national government functions in recent decades. And it assesses recent attempts by these national governments, often in collaboration with outside forces, to cope with and challenge the power of transnational drug networks in this same theoretical context. The larger conclusion points to shocking cases of transnational drug network power, but also significant and unexpected efforts by seemingly powerless national governments to counter it.

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 50: Criminal Car Bombings, Explosives, Drones, and Organizational Adaptation in Ecuador

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:10pm
A series of car bombings by criminal gangs in Ecuador demonstrates the challenge of criminal enterprises directly confronting the state. In a recent (29 May 2022) car bombing in front of a police station (Unidad de Vigilancia Comunitaria/Community Surveillance Unit – UVC) in La Florida, Guayaquil, a taxi exploded. The day before, police conducted a controlled removal of an explosive device left in front of a local business. Officials claim the attack was a response to the removal of gang graffiti associated with Los Tiguerones prison gang.

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What the “Bad Guys” Teach Us About Contemporary Conflict—An Opinion Essay

Wed, 06/15/2022 - 1:48am
A new and dangerous dynamic is at work around the world today. The new dynamic involves the migration of political power (i.e., the authoritative allocation of values in a society) from the traditional nation-state to unconventional non-state actors such as transnational criminal organizations, Maoist-Leninist insurgents, militias, private armies, enforcer gangs, and other modern mercenaries. These actors promulgate their own rule-of-law and have the capability to seriously threaten the security and well-being of the global community. That hegemonic activity must inevitably result in an epochal transition from the traditional Western nation-state system and its values to something else dependent on the values—good, bad, or non-existent—to the winner.

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