The Topography of Banditry
Earlier in the week I compared the folk music genres of narcocorridos – Mexican gangland music – to the Calabrian mafia sound. The history of northern Mexico shares similarities to the history of southern Italy. The struggles for independence and the folk heroism of bandits, villains, thieves, and organized criminals. What I started to do but didn’t have the confidence to fully tease out concerns the impact of the similar topographies of northern Mexico and southern Italy.
But in his book El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency ($2.99 on Kindle, very much worth the price), Ioan Grillo goes there:
Like Sicily, Sinaloa has geographical traits that are conducive to organized crime. The state is a little smaller than West Virginia, but anyone who wants to disappear can move rapidly into the Sierra Madre and slip over peaks into Sonora, Chihuahua, or Durango. Beneath the highlands, Sinaloa boasts four hundred miles of Pacific coastline, where contraband has been smuggled in and out for centuries. Silver, muskets, opium, and pseudoephedrine pills to make crystal meth have all been sneaked across its shores. Between the sea and the mountains, Sinaloa has fertile valleys that have spawned great plantations – particularly in tomatoes and onions – and earth teeming with gold, silver, and copper. This natural wealth fueled the growth of the state capital, Culiacan, a lively city built where the gushing Tamazula and Humaya rivers meet, and the buzzing port of Mazatlan.
Commercial hubs are crucial for organized crime, providing headquarters and businesses to launder money. Again, such merchant centers mark a similarity between Sinaloa and other criminal hotspots. Sicily developed a mafia that bridged an unruly countryside and the commercial hub of Palermo, a port linking North Africa and Europe. Medellin in Columbia was a buzzing market city surrounded by bandit hills when its infamous son Pablo Escobar rose to be the world’s number one cocaine trafficker. Criminal conspiracies do not spring up in certain regions by pure chance.
And from Thomas Gallant in his essay “Brigandage, Piracy, Capitalism, and State-Formation“:
Military entrepreneurs literally and figuratively lived on the edge of society. When they operated without the sanction of the law as brigands rather than as enforcers, they often found themselves drawn and pushed into remote, inaccessible areas and frontier zones. Attracting them was the peculiar economic geography I discussed earlier and the fact that most of these men had their roots in rural society and, quite frequently, in that worlds’ most marginal quarters. Compelling them to move to the margins was the need to seek protection from their pursuers in areas with rugged, difficult topographies and social environments open to them but inhospitable to outsiders.
Just something I found interesting.