Small Wars Journal

El Centro

Organized Crime Groups and their Discourse in Mexico ZFTWARNING Sun, 02/18/2024 - 1:30am
Organized crime groups (OCGs) in Mexico are some of the most violent and sophisticated active criminal cells. The conflict with the Mexican state, commonly understood to have begun in 2006, has resulted in approximately 400,000 casualties. The focus of this research is the discourse produced by Mexico’s OCGs. The tropes within the discourse projected by these groups present an ominous threat to the legitimacy of the Mexican state. OCGs operate, largely, in the rural areas of Mexico, those with populations that have been, in their eyes, long forgotten by the central government. These groups establish a discourse in which the state is weak, corrupt, and a distant outsider in their communities. Further, the populations of these regions should invest their trust and loyalties to the OCG rather than the state. This paper utilizes available theoretical frameworks to trace the parameters of OCG discourse to better understand how it functionally serves these groups and how it serves to undermine the legitimacy of the Mexican state. In doing so, this paper draws on the teachings of several scholars of the region from various diverse backgrounds. This paper also utilizes data collected from several organizations measuring the mood of the Mexican people surrounding their relationship with their government. Finally, this paper uses available examples of discourse through the works of prominent journalists who work in Mexico. This paper concludes that while these groups do not have a direct objective to replace the state, the discourse they produce to legitimize their activities is expansive in scope and successfully devalues the popular perception of the state.
SWJ El Centro Book Review – Narcas: The Secret Rise of Women in Latin America’s Cartels ZFTWARNING Tue, 02/06/2024 - 4:03pm
Book Review of Deborah Bonello's "Narcas: The Secret Rise of Women in Latin America’s Cartels" by SWJ−El Centro Senior Fellow Dr. Nathan P. Jones.
Drugs, Elites and Impunity: The Paradoxes of Money Laundering and the “Too-Big-To-Fail” Concept ZFTWARNING Fri, 01/26/2024 - 4:27pm
This paper puts forward the thesis that the concept of “Too-Big-To-Fail” functions as a cover for the impunity conferred to financial elites in the United States in cases that also involve transnational organized crime, such as drug trafficking activities and drug-related violence. The authors illustrate their argument by examining the case of the HSBC bank (2012), in which no entity or person suffered a federal conviction for extensive criminal conduct for banking/financial violations that facilitated money laundering by Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations. In Mexico, these criminal enterprises seek political protection through the bribery of public officials. By explaining this case, the authors demonstrate the futility of protecting big banks in related circumstances, and note that larger banking institutions have indeed failed without precipitating a collapse of the economy. The authors conclude with recommendations for reforms to the penalties typically applied in these types of cases facilitating money laundering of criminal groups.

In Memoriam Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr.

Thu, 01/18/2024 - 2:47pm

In Memoriam Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr.

Small Wars Journal is saddened to acknowledge the death of Major General Robert Hinds Scales, Jr. (5 August 1944 – 12 January 2024). General Scales was a founding Small Wars Journal–El Centro Fellow. General Scales was a 1966 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

RH Scales

Robert H. Scales was involved as a founding SWJEl Centro Fellow until his death in January 2024.He was one of America’s best known and most respected authorities on land warfare. He was President of Colgen, Inc, a consulting firm specializing in issues relating to landpower, wargaming and strategic leadership. Prior to joining the private sector Dr. Scales served over thirty years in the Army, retiring as a Major General. He commanded two units in Vietnam, winning the Silver Star for action during the battles around Dong Ap Bia (Hamburger Hill) during the summer of 1969. Subsequently, he served in command and staff positions in the United States, Germany, and Korea and ended his military career as Commandant of the United States Army War College. He is the author of Certain Victory, Firepower in Limited War, Future Warfare, Yellow Smoke: the Future of Land Warfare for America’s MilitaryThe Iraq War: a Military History (with Williamson Murray), and Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment (with Barry McCaffrey). He was a graduate of West Point and earned his PhD in history from Duke University.



A Social Network Analysis of the Guerreros Unidos Crime Syndicate

Fri, 01/05/2024 - 12:09am
Guerreros Unidos, a transnational crime organization (TCO) based in the Mexican state of Guerrero, has been linked to violent crimes, including the disappearance of 43 university students in 2014. The organization’s history of widespread violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and other crimes has made the Guerreros Unidos a notable concern to both the United States and Mexico. Understanding how this illicit network operates can provide valuable information on how to disrupt other transnational crime organizations. Social network analysis was used to map the relationships of members of the organization and measure their centrality within the network. The data for this analysis was collected from the United States v. Cuevas et al. (2014) indictment, which included wiretaps and surveillance conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This counternarcotics operation included the Illinois subnetwork of the Guerreros Unidos organization. This portion of the Guerreros Unidos network was centralized around a few highly central actors and densely interconnected. Based on this information, comparisons to other illicit networks can be made to identify trends and create strategies for disruption.

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Small Wars Journal–El Centro Top 10 Articles for 2023

Tue, 01/02/2024 - 10:10pm

Small Wars Journal–El Centro Top 10 Articles for 2023

These articles represent the best of SWJ–El Centro for 2023. These articles were selected by the SWJ–El Centro Senior Fellows. This list includes nine peer reviewed research articles and one strategic research note. All SWJ–El Centro content is available at

Tire Shop

Tire Shop Sign. Photo by Tomás Andres Michael Carvallo

  1. Raúl Benítez Manaut and Josué González, “The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación: The Most Significant Security Challenge in the Mexico-United States Relationship,” Small Wars Journal, 30 September 2023.[1]
  2. Tomás Andres Michael Carvahlo, “Why Tire Repair Workshops Are the Target of a Wave of Violence in Guanajuato, Mexico,” Small Wars Journal, 19 January 2023.
  3. Sean Fiorella, Tony Payan, Daniel Potter, and Rodrigo Montes de Oca Arboleya. “Crime and COVID-19 in Mexico: Some Counterintuitive Results,” Small Wars Journal, 23 July 2023.
  4. Howard Campbell, “Changing Faces of Immigrants Crossing through Ciudad Juárez and into the United States: Reflections on Migrants, Culture, and Crime,” Small Wars Journal, 24 March 2023.
  5. Russell W. Glenn, “Monterrey, 1846: Still Offering Urban Combat Lessons after All These Years,” Small Wars Journal, 6 March 2023.
  6. Pamela Ruiz, “Security at the Expense of Constitutional Guarantees: The Case of Honduras,” Small Wars Journal, 6 February 2023.
  7. Mahmut Cengiz and Camilo Pardo-Herrera, “Hezbollah’s Global Networks and Latin American Cocaine Trade,” Small Wars Journal, 25 April 2023.
  8. Diego Ramírez Sánchez, “Organized Crime in Chile: The Challenge Ahead,” Small Wars Journal, 4 May 2023.
  9. Girisanker SB, “Demystifying the Synthetic Drug Menace: India’s Struggles and Strategies,” Small Wars Journal, 11 September 2023.
  10. Daniel Weisz Argomedo, John P. Sullivan, and Robert J. Bunker. “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 35: Mexican Security Forces Arrest Ovidio Guzmán,” Small Wars Journal, 17 January 2023.[2] 

The SWJEl Centro Senior Fellows thank all of our contributors and peer reviewers for their support in contributing to the literature needed to build a comprehensive understanding of crime wars, criminal insurgency, criminal governance, corruption, conflict, and state transition. We look forward to next year’s articles.


[1] This article is also available in the original Spanish Version, “El Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación: El mayor reto de seguridad en la relación México-Estados Unidos,” Small Wars Journal, 30 September 2023. 

[2] For an in-depth treatment of this subject see:  Daniel Weisz Argomedo, Nathan P. Jones, and John P. Sullivan, “Virtual Urban Siege: Modern Urban Siege and Swarming in Culiacán 2019 & 2023,” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 16, no. 3 (Fall 2023): pp. 30–52,

The Venezuelan Exodus: A New Migrant Diaspora in the United States

Mon, 12/18/2023 - 11:23pm
Over the last year an unprecedented wave of Venezuelan immigrants flooded the US-Mexico border prompting talk of a new migrant crisis. The Venezuelan migration to the US is part of the largest such exodus in the history of the Americas. The scale and scope of the Venezuelan migration crisis raises important questions. Why have so many Venezuelans opted to leave their country in recent years? How have Venezuelan migrants fared in other countries and how in turn have they affected those countries that receive them? What dangers and opposition do they face on their journeys? What is the future of Venezuelan migrants in the US? And how is this phenomenon impacting US-Venezuelan relations? In this article, we draw on dozens of semi-structured interviews and informal conversations conducted between 2019 and the present by the authors with Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. Combining these primary sources with other available academic and media-based publications, we explore why so many Venezuelans have left their country in recent years, the realities awaiting them in receiving countries and along their journeys, and what ultimately this means for this new diaspora in the United States and for the country itself.

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Radical Islamist Weaponized Drone Use I&W (Indications & Warning) in Africa: A Terrorism Research Note

Fri, 12/01/2023 - 8:39pm
Categories: drones - unmanned aerial systems - El Centro 1 December 2023 The global rise of drones has made vast changes to how countries wage war, spy on their enemies, and even deliver goods. Terrorist groups are also rapidly incorporating drone technology for intelligence, propaganda, and attack purposes. The impact of weaponized drone use has been felt in conflicts all over the world including the Russo-Ukraine war, conflicts in the Middle East, and now it has begun to enter Africa. There have been more struggles between governments and violent nonstate actors in Africa than anywhere in the world, and now that drones are actively being used by radical Islamist terrorist organizations in the continent, it is important to analyze how they have utilized drones since 2018 and how that usage may change via an indications and warning (I&W) perspective.

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 54: Milícia Arson Attacks in Retaliation for Police Action in Rio de Janeiro

Thu, 10/26/2023 - 5:04pm
A milícia (militia) in the Western Zone of Rio de Janeiro, known as the Bonde de Zinho (Zinho’s Band), conducted arson attacks against ~35 buses, four trucks, and one rapid transit train on Monday, 23 October 2023. The series of attacks were in retaliation for the killing of a senior militia leader Matheus da Silva Rezende, also known as the ‘Senhor de Guerra’ (Lord of War).

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The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación: The most significant security challenge in the Mexico-United States relationship

Sat, 09/30/2023 - 8:50pm
This essay argues that the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is currently the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico. This is due to two factors: first, due to the blows that the Mexican government, supported by the United States and its intelligence systems, has dealt to the main dominant cartel in Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel, capturing Joaquín Guzmán, (aka) “El Chapo,” his sons and members of the leadership structure. Secondly, the CJNG has managed to control a significant part of fentanyl production and has managed to penetrate the distribution networks of this drug to the United States. For the authors, the war on drugs and the fight against fentanyl has become one of the main security problems between the two countries.

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