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Kingpin Strategy

The relationship between the kingpin or leadership decapitation strategy and increasing violence in Mexico has been amply theorized and tested, with most observers believing that removal of leadership led to fragmentation of groups and violent fights over succession and turf.

This interpretation has been supported by quantitative research that has broadly linked the kingpin strategy to increases in violence in Mexico


Detailed analysis has demonstrated that killing leaders results in more violence than arrest, and that removal of mid-level leadership may lead to a short-term reduction in violence. Interestingly, beyond a threshold, the fragmentation of criminal organizations may not result in increases in violence. However, recent research shows that the ways in which leadership removal may induce violence are not yet fully understood.


The internal dynamics of organizations prior to leadership removal have an important impact on what happens after an arrest or killing, with some research finding that the presence of an established successor resulted in minimal change to violence levels.


The importance of internal group dynamics may be the most important finding here, since fragmentation occurs without government intervention as well. Atuesta et. al. have documented how different leadership structures are prone to different kinds of ruptures and how factional breakdown occurs within organizations.


Author: Michael Lettieri

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The Mexico Violence Resource Project is a collaborative effort housed at UC San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.

Contact us at admin@mexicoviolence.org