Criminal groups speak out: Information provision and competition among Mexico’s drug cartels


Prominent scholarship suggests that criminal groups generally avoid the
limelight, shunning publicity. However, in some instances these organizations overtly
communicate, such as through banners or signs. We explain the competition dynamics
behind public criminal communication, and provide theory and evidence of the conditions
under which it emerges. Relying on a new data set of approximately 1,800 banners publicly
deployed by Mexican drug cartels from 2007 to 2010, we identify the conditions under
which they decide to communicate overtly with rivals, the government, or the public. The
findings show 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. Interestingly, we find that the correlates of criminal
propaganda are sometimes distinct from those of criminal violence, suggesting that these
phenomena are explained by separate dynamics.

Last updated on 10/24/2018