Indigenous Resistance to Criminal Governance: Why Regional Ethnic Autonomy Institutions Protect Communities from Narco Rule in Mexico
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This article explains why some indigenous communities in Mexico have been able to resist drug cartels’ attempts to take over their local governments, populations, and territories while others have not. While indigenous customary laws and traditions provide communal accountability mechanisms that make it harder for narcos to take control, they are insufficient. Using a paired comparison of two indigenous regions in the highlands of Guerrero and Chihuahua—both ideal zones for drug cultivation and traffic—we show that the communities most able to resist narco conquest are those that have a history of social mobilization, expanding village-level indigenous customary traditions into regional ethnic autonomy regimes. By scaling up local accountability practices regionally and developing translocal networks of cooperation, indigenous movements have been able to construct mechanisms of internal control and external protection that enable communities to deter the narcos from corrupting local authorities, recruiting young men, and establishing criminal governance regimes through force.