Papers

Working Paper
Ríos V, Phillips B. Criminal groups speak out: Information provision and competition among Mexico’s drug cartels. Working Paper.Abstract
We question the assumption that criminal organizations avoid limelight, shunning publicity, and instead provide theory and evidence of the conditions under which violent criminal groups use propaganda. Relying on a data set of  approximately 1,800 banners publicly deployed by Mexican drug cartels from 2008 to 2010, we identify the conditions under which criminal groups decide to communicate overtly with the government, their rivals, and/or citizens.  show that criminal groups “go public” when they face interorganizational contestation, when there is competition over information with the local media, and when there is local demand for drugs. Furthermore, we find that the correlates of criminal propaganda are distinct from those of criminal violence, suggesting that this phenomenon is explained by separate dynamics. Our paper contributes to developing a more solid understanding of political communication among illegal actors and the informal rules dominating their markets.
phillipsrios_1.pdf
Ríos V, Ivaschenko O, Doyle J. Cash transfers and government approval ratings: The case of Fiji after Tropical cyclone Winston. Studies in Comparative International Development. Working Paper.Abstract

This paper explores the political economy of policy design by evaluating how di
verse types of government transfers may affect these assessments in post-emergency
contexts. Relying on a regression discontinuity design, with data collected from
700 Fijian households affected by tropical cyclone Winston in 2016, we identify that
providing cash transfers increases government approval ratings by up to 20 per
centage points (pp). Controlling for socioeconomic factors, emergency severity, and
magnitude of the transfers, we found heterogeneous effects for providing additional
benefits in the form of in-kind (+8 pp), vouchers (+23 pp), and pension savings (-2
pp).

 

Submitted
Rios V, Rivera J. How do criminal organizations react to media coverage? The case of Mexico's drug war. Politics, Groups, and Identities. Submitted.Abstract
Expanding on a long tradition of literature that tries to identify the conditions under which criminal organizations publicly take credit for their violent acts of terrorism, this paper presents empirical evidence that media attention influences the use of credit-taking expressions by Mexican drug cartels. Using a data set of 1,800 banners publicly displayed by drug trafficking organizations to take credit for their crimes, we estimate reaction functions to determine the media effects on credit-taking. We avoid the mistaken common assumption that press freedom is a proxy for press coverage, and find evidence of Granger causality from media coverage to credit-taking. When media coverage increases, criminal organizations react by further increasing the number of banners publicly displayed. We attribute this effect to changes in criminal strategy: credit-taking criminals decide to become more public when they know that their message will get more attention from the press. Our estimates show that a “shock” in media coverage generates up to 1.9% additional credit-taking banners from criminals during the following weeks.
Ríos V. Crime and violence effects on economic diversity. Journal of Conflict Resolution. Submitted.Abstract
This paper exploits a substantial increase in homicides created by a war between
drug trafficking organizations in Mexico to estimate the causal effects of crime and
violence in the diversity of local economies. Relying on a dataset of homicides
caused by organized criminal rivalry, a text-analysis algorithm that allowed us to
track activities of Mexico’s drug trafficking cartels, and an exceptionally detailed
economic census, we developed a panel fixed-effect model, and a model that controls
for the possible endogeneity using instrumental variables. Our identification shows
that subnational economies afflicted with large increases in crime and violence ex
perience reductions in the diversity of its production structure and increases their
degree of production concentration. Specifically, an increase of 10% in homicides
rates reduces the number of sectors that exists in an economy by 0.006 units. A
similar increase in the number of criminal organizations has a reduction effect of
0.032 units. Our results are robust by several specifications and various controls to
account for the potential endogeneity of violence.
 
Ríos V. The effects of media violence on organized criminals: A study of US-Mexico border cartels. Journal of Criminal Justice. Submitted.Abstract
While some scholars argue that exposure to violent media contents "triggers" crime and aggression, others contend that media may influence crime, but only as a source of information about crime techniques and styles, not as a motivation for crime. This debate keeps unsolved. We exploit a large-scale dataset that tracks 31,676 homicides, its stylistic characteristics, and its coverage by the press, to provide an empirical test of the effects of media on criminal behavior within the context of organized crime. Using drug cartels operating at the US-Mexico border as our study case, we estimated reaction functions to determine the Granger causality between the quality of media coverage, crime rates, and crime style. Our results show that media coverage of organized criminal violence influences the probability that other organized criminals will use similar styles but does not change overall rates of organized criminal activity. This is evidence against the "trigger" hypothesis.
2018
Ríos V. The Role of Drug-Related Violence and Extortion in Promoting Mexican Migration. Handbook of Latin American Politics. 2018;73.Abstract
Mexican immigration figures have reached their lowest point since 2000. Yet, even if as a whole the United States is receiving fewer Mexican migrants, the opposite is true for cities at the border. In this article, I present evidence to show that this sui generis migration pattern cannot be understood using traditional explanations of migration dynamics. Instead, Mexicans are migrating because of security issues, in fear of drug-related violence and extortion that has spiked since 2008. I provide the first estimate of this migration pattern, showing that 264,692 Mexicans have migrated in fear of organized crime activities. In doing so, I combine the literature on migration dynamics with that on violence and crime, pointing toward ways in which nonstate actors shape actions of state members.
riosv2014_larr2014_securityimmigration1.pdf
2017
Ríos V, Holland B. How criminal rivalry leads to violence against the press. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 2017 :1-25.Abstract

A well-functioning press is crucial for sustaining a healthy democracy. While attacks on
journalists occur regularly in many developing countries, previous work has largely
ignored where and why journalists are attacked. Focusing on violence by criminal
organizations (COs) in Mexico, we offer the first systematic, micro-level analysis of the
conditions under which journalists are more likely to be violently targeted. Contrary
to popular belief, our evidence reveals that the presence of large, profitable COs does
not necessarily lead to fatal attacks against the press. Rather, the likelihood of journalists
being killed only increases when rival criminal groups inhabit territories. Rivalry
inhibits COs’ ability to control information leaks to the press, instead creating
incentives for such leaks to be used as weapons to intensify official enforcement
operations against rivals. Without the capacity to informally govern press content,
rival criminals affected by such press coverage are more likely to target journalists.

hollandrios_jcr2015final_1.pdf
2015
Ríos V. How Government Coordination Controlled Organized Crime. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 2015;59 (8) :1433-1454.Abstract

This article provides empirical evidence showing that when a multilevel government is well coordinated, organized crime can be more effectively controlled. Using a time-variant data set of Mexico’s cocaine markets at the subnational level and Cox proportional-hazards regressions, I show that when Mexico’s democratization decreased the probability of government coordination—the same party governing a municipality at every level of government—drug traffickers were more likely to violate the long-standing informal prohibition on selling cocaine within the country. It was this decrease in government coordination that would set the conditions for a violent war between drug cartels to erupt in the mid-2000s.

jcr587052.pdf
2014
Ríos V, Eisenstadt T. Multicultural Institutions, Distributional Politics and Postelectoral Mobilization. Latin Americal Politics and Society. 2014;56 (2) :70-92.Abstract

Contrary to the predictions of “power sharing” to mitigate ethnic conflicts, multicultural rights recognition can actually increase the frequency of local postelectoral mobilizations. This article demonstrates that the adoption of an ethnic rights regime for electing local government representatives may actually increase conflict if these multicultural laws are not carefully circumscribed to avoid violating human rights. Focusing on the 1995 multicultural rights reforms in Oaxaca, it presents evidence that legal changes purportedly implemented to recognize indigenous rights actually increased postelectoral disputes due to conflicts between county seat communities and peripheral population hamlets over access to funding by the central government. Based on this finding, the article addresses normative implications of “power-sharing” multiculturalism, recommending that multicultural laws be implemented only together with legal mechanisms to solve postelectoral disputes.

eisenstadtrios2014_multicultural.pdf
Ríos V. The Role of Drug-Related Violence and Extortion in Promoting Mexican Migration. Latin American Research Review. 2014;49 (3) :199-217.Abstract

Mexican immigration figures have reached their lowest point since 2000. Yet, even if as a whole the United States is receiving fewer Mexican migrants, the opposite is true for cities at the border. In this article, I present evidence to show that this sui generis migration pattern cannot be understood using traditional explanations of migration dynamics. Instead, Mexicans are migrating because of security issues, in fear of drug-related violence and extortion that has spiked since 2008. I provide the first estimate of this migration pattern, showing that 264,692 Mexicans have migrated in fear of organized crime activities. In doing so, I combine the literature on migration dynamics with that on violence and crime, pointing toward ways in which nonstate actors shape actions of state members.

riosv2014_larr2014_securityimmigration1.pdf
2013
Rios V. Why did Mexico become so violent? A self-reinforcing violent equilibrium caused by competition and enforcement. Trends in Organized Crime. 2013;16 (2) :138-155.Abstract

 

This article explains why homicides related to drug-trafficking operations in Mexico have recently increased by exploring the mechanisms through which this type of violence tends to escalate. It is shown that drug-related violence can be understood as the result of two factors: (a) homicides caused by traffickers battling to take control of a competitive market, and (b) casualties and arrests generated by law enforcement operations against traffickers. Both sources of violence interact causing Mexico to be locked into a “self-reinforcing violent equilibrium” in which incremental increases in traffickers’ confrontations raise the incentives of the government to prosecute traffickers which promote further confrontations with traffickers when, as a result of the detention of drug lords, the remnants of the criminal organization fight each other in successive battles. This article presents quantitative evidence and case studies to assess the importance of the two mechanisms. It uses a unique dataset of recorded communications between drug traffickers and statistics on drug-related homicides.

 

rios2013_trendsorgcrime.pdf
2012
Ríos V, Coscia M. Knowing Where and How Criminal Organizations Operate Using Google. CIKM. 2012;12 :1412-1421.Abstract

We develop a framework that uses Web content to obtain quantitative information about a phenomenon that would otherwise require the operation of large scale, expensive intelligence exercises. Exploiting indexed reliable sources such as online newspapers and blogs, we use unambiguous query terms to characterize a complex evolving phenomena and solve a security policy problem: identifying the areas of operation and modus operandi of criminal organizations, in particular, Mexican drug tracking organizations over the last two decades. We validate our methodology by comparing information that is known with certainty with the one we extracted using our framework. We show that our framework is able to use information available on the web to efficiently extract implicit knowledge about criminal organizations. In the scenario of Mexican drug tracking, our findings provide evidence that criminal organizations are more strategic and operate in more differentiated ways than current academic literature thought.

cosciarios2012_wherehowcriminalsoperate.pdf cosciarios2012_database.csv
2010
Ríos V. Modeling Labor-Market Entry at Illegal and Informal Markets (Working Paper). 2010.Abstract

Violent deaths, kidnapping and extortion have spiked in Mexico’s border towns since 2004. Using a formal model and case studies from Mexico, I argue that such phenomena are partially explained by (a) a change in the politics of organized crime, (b) changes in the composition of illegal labor markets, and (c) the incentives generated at legal labor markets. With democratization, Mexico’s government became unable to keep performing its role as central enforcer of territorial boundaries between drug cartels. As cartels became guardians of their own territories, a need to recruitment new cartel members to form private armies emerged. As a result, an illegal labor market so far closed to non blood related individuals opened and modified the incentives to join/remain in the legal labor markets. The outcome was the emergence of a new generation of drug employees that (a) disdain old mafia laws, (b) are more violent and (c) are also more prone to take part of other forms of “entrepreneurial” illegal occupations such as kidnapping and extortion.

rios_mpsa2010_tobeornottobe.pdf
2008
Ríos V. Evaluating the Economic Impact of Mexico's Drug Trafficking Industry (Working Paper). 2008.Abstract

By analyzing and gathering quantitative data, this paper presents the first formal economic analysis of the impacts of the drug trafficking industry in Mexico until 2006. The analysis measures the number of drug-traffic employees, the amount of cash and investments generated by the drug-trafficking industry, the monetary costs of violence and corruption, the estimated losses in foreign investment, and the costs generated by local drug abuse. While the authors acknowledge that in some small and less diversified rural communities, drug-traffic cash flows may be helping to alleviate a grinding stage of povertyand underdevelopment, they conclude that the illegal-drug industry generates economic losses of about 4.3 billion dollars annually. Such a high figure is certainly impeding Mexican economic growth and development. Several policy options are considered.

rios2008_mexicandrugmarket.pdf