Publications

2022
Ríos, Viridiana, Edgar Denova-Gutiérrez, and Simon Barquera. 2022. “Association between living in municipalities with high crowding conditions and poverty and mortality from COVID-19 in Mexico”. PLoS ONE 17 (2). Publisher's VersionAbstract
The present study explores the association between living in overcrowded conditions and poverty, and the probability of dying from COVID-19 in Mexico. It evaluates the socioeconomic characteristics of the municipality in which the patients reside and the individual characteristics of the patients, including their comorbidities. The present analysis includes a total of 288,152 cases from the Epidemiological Surveillance System for viral respiratory disease platform. The association between the main exposures (overcrowded conditions and poverty) and the outcomes of interest (death by COVID-19) was explored using mixed effects Poisson regression models. Living in crowded conditions increased the probability of dying from COVID-19 by 13% (96% CI: 1.05, 1.23). Individuals who reported an income below the welfare line (poverty) had a higher probability of dying from COVID-19 (RR= 1.82; 95% CI: 1.64, 2.02). Adjusted relative risks of death were 1.22 for patients with obesity and 1.24 for subjects with a hypertension diagnosis. Those living with diabetes were more likely to die from COVID-19 (RR = 1.41). Our data suggest that crowded conditions, poverty, and some vulnerabilities like indigenous ethnicity, food insecurity, lack of access to social security, lack of access to health services, age, and male sex are associated with a higher probability of dying from COVID-19.
Ríos, Viridiana. 2022. The Mining Fund: a federal tax to reduce Mexico's inequality that lost its course. [Spanish] Mexico city: Oxfam Mexico. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The "Mining Fund" is a Mexican federal tax on mining companies used to fund social projects in towns affected by their activities. This report documents the history of this tax and why it was ultimately incapable of improving living conditions in the communities where it was implemented. Overall, poor governance, lack of public administration skills, and constant changes in its rules caused it to be ineffective.
Holland, Bradly, and Viridiana Ríos. 2022. “Violence and Business Interest in Social Welfare: Evidence from Mexico”. Comparative Political Studies 5 (1) : 1844–1876 .Abstract

Countries in the Global South are particularly vulnerable to social and political violence. This paper suggests that such violence may make certain recalcitrant economic interests more open to taxes and spending on social welfare. Using results from a survey experiment of business owners and operators in Mexico, we show that relative to more innocuous institutional weaknesses, concerns over violence generally increase support for anti-poverty spending and decrease support for tax cuts. To build a theory, we explore heterogeneous effects and textual data. The findings suggest that business interests see anti-poverty spending as a tool for shoring up costs of violence in consumer markets, with some leaders even extending support to welfare-enhancing taxes. However, violence can create challenges in labor markets that increase operational costs, leading some business interests to resist tax policies that ask them to help fund social programs.

2021
Ríos, Viridiana. 2021. “Privilege and the relationship between political and economic power in Mexico”. [Spanish] Estudios y perspectivas. Sede subregional de la CEPAL en México (193). Publisher's VersionAbstract
This report studies the political influence of economic power in Mexico. It shows evidence of this influence in the regressiveness of taxes and public spending, the ineffectivenes of labor and antitrust laws, and a general accpetance of racism. The study provides recommendations to limit the influence of economic elites in the design and implementation of public policy.
Headworth, Spencer, and Viridiana Ríos. 2021. “Listening to snitches: race/ethnicity, English proficiency, and access to welfare frauds enforcement systems”. Law & Policy 43 (4) : 319-347. Publisher's VersionAbstract
How does the state respond to members of the public seeking to mobilize its coercive power? Focusing on welfare fraud control units in the United States, we examine how race/ethnicity and written English proficiency affect access to systems for reporting welfare fraud suspicions. Using a correspondence audit, we assess fraud control authorities’ likelihood of taking up reports from Latinas and Whites with higher and lower English proficiency. We find that fraud units are less likely to take up lower-proficiency Whites’ reports, but that lower proficiency's uptake-dampening effect does not hold for Latinas. To explain the mechanisms underlying our experimental results, we draw on interviews with fraud investigators. The interview evidence reveals the determinations of investigative promise underlying these uptake disparities. For White reporters, English errors cue gatekeepers’ preexisting skepticism about public reporters’ reliability, decreasing enthusiasm for investing resources in these reports. Reports from lower-English proficiency Latinas offer special viability appeal, however, offsetting the negative influence on uptake probability that errors demonstrate for White reporters. Our results shed new light on contemporary racial/ethnic dynamics in the US welfare system, and advance social scientific understanding of how bureaucratic gatekeepers decide what to do — if anything— with volunteered reports of misconduct.
Nieto, Fernando, and Viridiana Ríos. 2021. “Human resource management as a tool to reduce corruption: evidence from Mexico”. Public Administration. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Most literature relies on the dominant principal-agent framework to emphasize how incentives, monitoring and sanctions are prime deterrents of corruption but stop short when evaluating how these general principles turn into concrete Human Resource Management (HRM) policies. Following a call made at Public Administration to develop innovative research about how day-to-day management operations change incentives to be corrupt, we use a fine-grained data of 5.22 million USD audited to 544 Mexican local governments over a period of 3 years, to test the correlation between the misappropriation of public resources at subnational level and HRM functions. Our results suggest that HRM is a critical, underseen factor to understand corruption. We find that having merit-based recruitment, performance evaluations, and less unequal structure of remunerations can help local governments to effectively prevent the misappropriation of public resources
2020
Rios, Viridiana. 2020. Overcrowding and COVID-19 mortality in Mexico. Mexico City: [Spanish] Habitat para la Humanidad. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We explore the association between household overcrowding conditions and the probability of dying from COVID-19 in Mexico. Using a dataset of 117,851 participants who tested positive for COVID-19, our data suggests that overcrowding conditions, and poverty (measured by the income below the welfare line) are associated with higher probability of dying from COVID-19 in adult population. Other vulnerabilities such as belonging to an indigenous community, illiteracy, food insecurity, lack of access to social security, lack of access to health services, living in places with less than 5,000 inhabitants and age, are also associate with higher COVID-19 mortaltiy.
Ríos, Viridiana. 2020. Corruption and inequality in Mexico. [Spanish] Mexico City: Oxfam Mexico. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Analyzing 18 thousand audit actions in Mexico from 2000 to 2018, this report shows that there are more irregularities in public spending in (a) programs with greater redistributive potential, (b) municipalities with higher levels of poverty, and (c) in items related to health, education and development services.

Phillips, Brian, and Viridiana Ríos. 2020. “Narco-messages: competition and public communication by criminal groups”. Latin American Politics and Society 62 (1) : 1-24. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Criminal groups often avoid the limelight, shunning publicity. However, in some instances, they overtly communicate, such as with banners or signs. This article explains the competition dynamics behind public criminal communication and provides theory and evidence of the conditions under which it emerges. Relying on a new dataset of approximately 1,800 banners publicly deployed by Mexican criminal groups from 2007 to 2010, the study identifies the conditions behind such messaging. The findings suggest that criminal groups “go public” in the presence of interorganizational contestation, violence from authorities, antagonism toward the local media, local demand for drugs, and local drug production. Some of these factors are associated only with communication toward particular audiences: rivals, the state, or the public. An interesting finding is that the correlates of criminal propaganda are sometimes distinct from those of criminal violence, suggesting that these phenomena are explained by separate dynamics.
Ríos, Viridiana, Oleksiy Ivaschenko, and Jesse Doyle. 2020. “Cash transfers’ effect on government support: the case of Fiji”. Disasters 44 (1) : 152-178. Publisher's VersionAbstract

While some scholars have found that post-disaster government assistance benefits the incumbent, others have shown that incumbent effects are imperceptible or negative. This article contributes to this debate by using a regression discontinuity design of households affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji, to show that the type of assistance provided is an important variable to understand the effects of aid on government support. Fijians receiving a post-disaster cash transfer are up to 20 percent more likely to be “very satisfied” with the government as opposed to those that did not. The probability further increases if the CT is provided along with in-kind benefits or vouchers but is not affected if citizens are also encouraged to use their own pension savings. This paper provides evidence in favor of an “attentive” citizen, capable of identifying government responses, and of possible effects of elite capture on the relationship between government and citizens.

 

Ríos, Viridiana, and Chris Ferguson. 2020. “News media coverage of crime and violent drug crime: a case for cause of Catalyst?”. Justice Quarterly 37 (6) : 1012-1039. Publisher's VersionAbstract

 

Evidence about the relationship between exposure to media violence and criminal activity remains mixed. While some scholars argue that exposure to violent media content "triggers" crime and aggression, others contend that media may influence crime, but only as a source of information about techniques and styles, not as a motivation for crime. This debate has critical implications for criminal justice academics as calls for policy are regularly made on the basis of research in this area. This article contributes to this literature by presenting detailed empirical evidence of how media coverage of violent crimes affects homicides perpetrated by drug traffickers at Mexico, and their crime style. With an empirical model that addresses possible bidirectionalities between drug homicides and media coverage, we tracked 32,199 homicides, their stylistic characteristics, and their coverage by the press. Our results show that when media covers drug homicides it influences the probability that other criminals use similar styles of crimes, but it does not change overall rates of homicidal activity. This is evidence against the "trigger" hypothesis, and in favor of “copycat” effects.

 

2019
Rios, Viridiana, and Johanan Rivera. 2019. “Media effects on public displays of brutality: the case of Mexico’s drug war”. Politics, Groups and Identities 7 (1) : 194-206. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper presents preliminary empirical evidence to show that media attention may influence public displays of brutality by Mexican drug cartels. We defined public displays of brutality as the presence of banners paired with corpses or dismembered bodies at unconcealed crime scenes. Using a data set of 857 such instances, we estimated reaction functions to determine whether public displays of brutality became more frequent when drug cartel violence was covered more by the press. Our estimates show that public displays of brutality increase in a statistically significant way during the month following media coverage of similar crimes. We attribute this effect to changes in criminal strategy: increased brutality may be a way for criminals to more effectively deliver intimidating messages to their enemies. Whether increased displays of brutality also amount to increased crime rates, rather than merely increased visibility, is a question that remains to be studied.

2018
Ríos, Viridiana. 2018. “The role of drug-related violence and extortion in promoting Mexican migration.”. Handbook of Latin American Politics 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.
2017
Ríos, Viridiana, and Bradley Holland. 2017. “Informally governing information: how criminal rivalry leads to violence against the press in Mexico”. Journal of Conflict Resolution 61 (5) : 1095-1119. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

2015
Ríos, Viridiana. 2015. “How government coordination controlled organized crime: the case of Mexico’s cocaine markets”. Journal of Conflict Resolution 59 (8) : 1433-1454. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

2014
Ríos, Viridiana, and Todd Eisenstadt. 2014. “Multicultural institutions, distributional politics, and postelectoral mobilization in indigenous Mexico”. Latin American Politics and Society 56 (2) : 70-92. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

Ríos, Viridiana. 2014. “The role of drug-related violence and extortion in promoting Mexican migration”. Latin American Research Review 49 (3) : 199-217. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

2013
Rios, Viridiana. 2013. “Why did Mexico become so violent? A self-reinforcing violent equilibrium caused by competition and enforcement”. Trends in Organized Crime 16 (2) : 138-155. Publisher's VersionAbstract

 

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.

 

2012
Ríos, Viridiana, and Michele Coscia. 2012. “Knowing where and how criminal organizations operate using web content”. CIKM October : 1412-1421. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

Dataset