Jose de Jesus Mendez, described as a top leader of La Familia drug trafficking organization (DTO), has been captured. The Mexican government appears enthusiastic about the results of arresting Mendez, who has had a $30 million peso bounty (~US$2.4 million) on his head for some time. I am less optimistic, at least where levels of violence are concerned. My recent research (forthcoming) suggests that the removal of leaders in Mexico is a significant factor in the rising levels of violence there. Here are two charts which show expected levels of murders (relative to the mean level) following a leadership transition:


The first shows that killing leaders leads to an almost immediate (1 month lag) and more dramatic increase in violence than capturing leaders, so we have that to be thankful for at least. Mendez's capture probably won't show an increase in violence for about three months, long enough for politicians to place the blame elsewhere (or more likely, just express that they are baffled).

The second chart shows that the the removal of top-tier leaders results in a substantively small but persistent decrease in violence, while the removal of midlevel leaders causes larger increases. Mendez is described as a "top leader" in many of the articles coming out, but the LA Times piece linked above also says that he was a commander of a faction of the DTO, so given the information immediately at hand I would probably assign him to tier two. In a "real" quantitative analysis, of course, I would dig a little bit deeper but I feel comfortable with saying that here. I'll keep an eye on this and if I can get murder data for Michoacan (where La Familia is based) three months from now, I'll post it as a follow-up.

For more on Mexican DTO's, Sylvia Longmire recently pushed her new book shared her expertise, also at the LA Times. She discusses her view that legalizing marijuana won't cause the spontaneous collapse of the DTO's. (Short version: they have other revenue streams. Short response: duh--but what business would relish a significant decline in profits on 60% of its sales volume?)

And here's someone with undoubtedly more expertise on Mexico and its current drug-related violence than me, Professor Eduardo Gutierrez:

The policy of ‘dismantling’ the cartels (as conceived of and executed by the Mexican government) has had three unwanted effects: it generates or exacerbates cycles of violence, multiplies the number of criminal organizations, and extends their presence into new areas the country.

Original (in Spanish) here. I'll post a full translation when I'm done, and more about the paper as it proceeds toward publication.