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The Collapse of Solidarity in Criminal Civil War

Citizen Indifference towards the Victims

of Organized Violence in Mexico
Andreas Schedler

Centro de Investigacin y Docencia Econmicas
Department of Political Studies
Mexico City
E-mail: andreas.schedler@cide.edu
Web page: http://works.bepress.com/andreas_schedler
Paper prepared for presentation at the Research Seminar Politics and
Government, CIDE, Department of Political Studies, 3 September 2014.
Draft! Work in progress (hopefully). Version 1.0. 18 August 2014.
All rights reserved.
After its successful transition to democracy, Mexico has stumbled
into a criminal civil war, also known as the drug war, that to date
has cost well over 100,000 casualties, most of them consigned to
oblivion, without proper investigation or prosecution. Victims have
been organizing and protesting, yet ordinary citizens have
remained quiet. As I hypothesize, the primary reason for their
acquiescence is attitudinal: Criminal civil war destroys the moral
foundations of citizen solidarity, which is, the recognition of
victims as equal members of the political community. Based on
original data from the Mexican 2013 National Survey on Organized
Violence, I address two empirical questions. First, how much do
citizens care about the victims of criminal violence? I find that
average citizens are rather ignorant of and indifferent to their fate.
Second, what explains variations in citizen sympathies towards
victims? My theory of solidarity under criminal civil war focuses on
its cognitive framing. To the extent that citizens hold criminal
violence to be selective, an exclusive affair among criminals, they
tend to blame victims for their fate and deny them their
sympathies. Lineal regression analysis confirms the expected
framing effect, even when controlling for complementary
explanations, such as victimization, distance to war, class, and
political sophistication.


Imagine Mexico (or any other country) were governed by a dictatorship
that had killed around 85,000 people since the year 2000, had made
disappear about 26,000 more, and was storing some 16,000 unidentified
bodies in its morgues, a regime that exhibited its victims on public
places, hang them from bridges, abandoned them in trunks and on open
fields, naked, tortured, dismembered. Imagine the public outcry.
Fortunately, the scenario is different and Mexico is a democracy since
2000. Unfortunately, the figures of victimization are true. They are the
result of a criminal civil war, also known as narcoviolence, that has
escalated over the past years. Yet where is the outcry?
On the public surface of collective debate and political activism, there is
none, or only a feeble one. For the most part, those who participate in
either civil protest movements or armed self-defense forces are victims
of violence. Victims have also resorted to individual strategies of exit by
domestic withdrawal or migration. Ordinary citizens who are not directly
affected by the war stand by and watch, or look the other way. As I
hypothesize, the primary reason for citizens factual acquiescence to
violence and impunity is attitudinal: Criminal civil war destroys the moral
foundations of citizen solidarity, which is, the recognition of victims as
equal members of the political community.
I explore the cognitive foundations of citizen solidarity on the basis of
original data from the Mexican 2013 National Survey on Organized
Violence. I address two empirical questions. First, how much do citizens
care about the victims of criminal violence? I find that average citizens
are rather ignorant of and indifferent to their fate. Second, what explains
variations in citizen sympathies towards victims? My theory of solidarity
under criminal civil war focuses on its cognitive framing. To the extent
that citizens hold criminal violence to be selective, a self-contained affair
among criminals, they tend to blame victims for their fate and deny
them their sympathies. Lineal regression analysis confirms the expected
framing effect, even when controlling for complementary explanations,
such as victimization, distance to war, class, and political sophistication.
Mexicos New Civil War
Once in a century, it seems, Mexico stumbles into dramatic encounters
with collective violence. The war of independence between 1810 and
1821 left around two-hundred thousand dead, and the Mexican
Revolution from 1910 to 1917 no less than one million (see Krauze 2012:
15). Today, after decades of relative authoritarian peace and only two
democratic presidencies, the country finds itself immersed in yet
another epidemic of violence.

In the 2000 presidential balloting, the victory of opposition candidate
Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) capped a
long process of democratization by elections and ended seven straight
decades of hegemonic rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Yet even as Mexicos fledgling democracy has been struggling to find its
way, the country has slidat first imperceptibly, then dramaticallyinto
civil strife. It has suffered a pandemic escalation of violence related to
organized crime.
The Escalation of Violence
In 2006, after a close and contentious election, PANs Felipe Caldern
assumed the presidency amid a lingering security crisis. During Foxs
term in office, violent competition among drug-trafficking organizations
(so-called cartels) had been provoking more than a thousand homicides
per year, and the number was rising. Although it had not been an issue
during the election campaign, President Caldern decided to make the
fight against drug cartels the defining policy of his presidency, only to
see that fight turn into his terms defining failure. During his six years in
office, violence escalated both qualitatively and quantitatively.
In qualitative terms, modes of assassination moved toward
demonstrative cruelty, routinized and ritualized, including the public
display of tortured, dismembered, and decapitated bodies. In
quantitative terms, the number of annual homicides attributed to
criminal organizations shot up from around 2,200 in 2006 to more than
16,600 in 2011. In 2012, drug-related homicides started to decline for
the first time since 2001. This trend continued in 2013, even though
annual figures of executions remained at a level (over 11,000) many
times higher than in the early 2000s (see Figure 1). All these numbers
must be read with great caution, though. The problems that cluster
around the task of compiling accurate data on the violence are massive.
Besides, thousands of people have disappeared after being abducted.
According to official figures, more than 26,000 individuals were reported
missing during the Caldern years.

[Figure 1 about here]
When confrontations between armed groups within a state cause more
than a thousand battle-related deaths per year, academics speak of
civil war. At least since 2001, democratic Mexico has experienced
levels of internal war that surpass this conventional threshold. Yet the
war is not one but many. Its major lines of conflict run between criminal
enterprises. Many, perhaps most, acts of private coercion are hostile
acts within a multilateral war among competing cartels. Yet, while the

so-called drug war entails various interacting nonstate conflicts, it also
contains elements of one-sided violence that criminals unleash against
civilians. Profit-oriented participation in illicit markets forms only a
portion of organized crimes activity. The drug cartels are also massively
engaged in predatory crimes involving unilateral violence against
civilians. Organized homicides have only been the tip of the violent
iceberg. As criminal organizations have diversified their activities, the
country has seen the dramatic expansion of kidnapping, human
trafficking, and extortion (mafia-like protection rackets).
In addition,
insofar as the cartels wage a guerrilla war against state agents, they
participate in a kind of criminal insurgency. They have carried out
numerous attacks against the state, such as the kidnapping, torture, and
murder of security officials and assaults on police stations using hand
grenades and heavy weapons.
Thus the Mexican state is a warring party, too. In theory, it has a
monopoly on the wielding of legitimate violence. In practice, it commits
criminal violence on a large scale. International human-rights groups
agree in ascertaining widespread human-rights violations perpetrated
by security agents. In part, these violations are expression of state abuse.
They are the unintended but inevitable consequence of acting with brute
force, little actionable intelligence, and no oversight in an irregular war
characterized by endemic problems of information. In part, illegal state
violence is a symptom of partial state collusion. Between January 2008
and November 2012, more than 2,500 police officers and more than
two-hundred military personnel were murdered by criminal
organizations. Yet in numerous instances, public officials have
collaborated with criminal organizations.

The Language of Violence
The vocabulary of violence has been unstable and contested. Mexican
politics and society have been struggling with how to talk about the
hell it found itself dragged into.
The Fox administration talked
dramatically about narcoterrorism, the Caldern administration
euphemistically about thug rivalry (rivalidad delincuencial), and the
Pea Nieto administration prefers not to talk at all. Academics
commonly refer to drug violence, organized crime, or organized
violence. In the media and within civil society, the language of war
abounds. People habitually speak and write about the war, the war
against drugs, the war of drugs, or the war among cartels.
refer to multiple parallel wars (Hernndez 2012: 13). External
observers often concord. For instance, in its 2010 report, the Heidelberg
Institute for International Conflict Studies ascertains that the regional

predominance conflict between the main drug cartels [], on the one
hand, and the government, on the other, escalated to a full scale war
the first war in the Americas since 2003 (HIIK 2010: 48 and 42).

By logic and definition, since the conflict in question is not an external
conflict, if it is to be considered a war, it must be a civil war (Waldmann
2012: 17). Many, perhaps most, domestic observers would object. Many
object the language of war, as it involves the treatment of criminals as
enemies (see e.g. Escalante 2012: Ch. 1, Madrazo 2013). It also evokes
images of symmetrical warfare among regular armies (see Ovalle 2010),
while the Mexican war has been unfolding as a typical irregular war in
which most of the violence is perpetrated against defenseless unarmed
individuals. Irregular civil wars see many more executions than battles
(Antoine de Saint-Exupry, cited in Kalyvas 2006: 334).

Classic conceptions of civil war require that the parties in conflict are
politically and militarily organized, and have publicly stated political
objectives (Sambanis 2004: 829). Prototypical civil wars are fought by
well-organized groups with political agendas, challenging the sovereign
authority (ibidem: 820). The new Mexican civil war is different. It is not
a classical civil war in which ideological insurgencies fight to topple state
power or transform the political regime. It is a prototypical new civil
war, fought for material gain not social justice.
It is a war without even
the pretense of ideological justification. Its only ideology is the free
market. If the political insurgents of the 20
century strove to abolish
capitalism, the criminal insurgents of today strive to unbound it.
Capitalism without moral (or legal) limits is their utopia.
Public Responses to Violence
The statistics of murder, torture, and disappearance represent an
atrocity on a massive scale. But they also represent an injustice on a
massive scale. Even though they are not planned and executed by the
central state, they are tolerated by a state that has renounced the
effective judicial prosecution of organized violence. The criminal war has
escalated in a context of near complete impunity. According to figures
collected by Human Rights Watch, between December 2006 and January
2011, Mexican authorities counted 35,000 homicides they attributed to
organized crime. Of these, 997 led to formal criminal investigations (2.8
percent), of which 343 led to formal criminal accusations (0.9 percent),
of which 22 led to firm convictions (0.06 percent) (see HRW 2011: 15). For
all practical reasons, the rate of successful persecution is zero, which
amounts to something we have seen at other places in Latin America:
the de facto privatization of the death penalty. The states grants private
actors (as well as its own agents) a license to kill.


How have Mexican citizens responded to the epidemic of death and
injustice in their fledgling democracy? The direct and indirect victims of
crime have responded in many ways. Individually, they have mostly
sought refuge in exit strategies, such as changing their place of residence
(internal and international migration) or shutting down business
operations in the face of extortion. Collectively, their responses have
been bifurcated. Some have turned to peaceful mobilization, others to
armed resistance. On the side of civil protest, over the past years, across
the entire geography of organized violence, numerous local civic
movements and associations have been formed by victims of violent
crime and their families and friends. These initiatives gained national
visibility in Spring 2011 when poet Javier Sicilia, after his son had been
killed by local police officers, founded the nation-wide Movement for
Peace with Justice and Dignity.
On the side of societal counter-
violence, paramilitary self-defense forces have risen in more than a
dozen of Mexican states. They have gained most prominence in 2013 in
Michoacn where the federal government responded with large-scale
intervention attempting to regain control through a mixture of military
action, institution building, and social policy.

The question of political solidarity, however, does not concern the
victims of violence, but those of their co-citizens who have not (yet)
been directly affected by criminal civil war. The key test of political
solidarity is not the solidarity among victims, but the solidarity towards
victims. How, then, have ordinary citizens been responding to the civil
war that has been unfolding on their television screens? In essence, they
have adopted the role of passive onlookers. They have been trying to
accept the new realities of war as normal and to carry on their daily lives
as smoothly as possible. Yes, a few thousand people accompanied Javier
Sicilia at the rallying points of his 2011 tours across Mexico and in 2012
citizens voted Felipe Calderns National Action Party out of the
presidential office (in the wake of an election campaign in which parties
and candidates kept silence on the war). But not much more. We have
seen few public displays of sorrow or anger, little serious debate, no
sustained pressure on authorities. Rather than a nation of concerned
citizens mobilizing their energies towards the construction of a decent
system of justice, we have seen a nation of bystanders who have been
quick to absorb the atrocious realities of civil war into their linguistic and
statistical routines.


Requisites of Political Solidarity
Whenever severe violations of human rights, such as torture, murder,
and disappearance, spread within a modern nation state, ordinary
citizens face discomforting questions.
What do they know? What
should they know? What do they want to know? How much do they
care? How do they relate to victims and perpetrators? Whom do they
sympathize with? Which acts of violence do they condemn, which
condone? What can they do to stop or alleviate the suffering of victims?
What do they actually do? Do they do enough? Do they do everything
they could? These questions touch the essence of political solidarity,
which is: citizens willingness to assist the victims of severe and
systematic injustice. Citizens face such questions whenever direct human
intervention by either public or private actors produces suffering and
death on a massive scale: under repressive dictatorship, in the face of
genocide, in civil war, in epidemics of criminal violence.
More often than not, citizens fail to meet the high demands of political
solidarity. They fail their responsibility to protect their co-citizens. They
let atrocities run their course, know little, care little, do little about the
fate of victims. Even worse, they often act in opportunistic ways, reaping
personal advantage of acts of injustice, in complicit manner, encouraging
victimization by omission or commission, or even in collaborative
fashion, participating directly in the organization of violence and
What explains empirical variations in political solidarity? When are
citizens able and willing to mobilize the moral resources of solidarity?
When by contrary do they refuse to assist co-citizens who suffer from
injustice? As most of contemporary political science comprehends
political actors as acting under the primacy of self-interest, the discipline
has paid scarce attention to moral interventions in the face of injustice.
Modern political science is not a science of solidarity, but one of utility.
Reflections on political solidarity have been largely left to normative
political theorists (e.g. Brunkhorst 2005 and Rorty 1989), to historians of
totalitarian systems (e.g. Longerich 2006), and to a certain extent to
students of social movements, interest groups, and ethnic mobilization
(for a synthesis, see Scholz 2008: Introduction).
Much theoretical reflection and empirical work on the logic of moral
intervention of behalf of victims has taken place in sociology and social
psychology. The language is usually different. Authors rarely frame their
work under the positively connotated heading of solidarity, but rather
focus on its opposites, such as moral disengagement (e.g. Bandura et al.
1996), denial (e.g. Charny 2003 and Cohen 2001), and passive bystanding

(e.g. Nickerson, Mele, and Princiotta 2008 and Pozzoli and Gini 2013). In
my reading, this dispersed sociological and psychological literature on
moral action suggests that the degree of solidarity actors offer or deny
others critically depends on how they conceive the situations of injustice
they witness. It depends on how they perceive and frame the four basic
building blocks of such situations: the nature of victims, the nature of
injustice, the effectiveness of their own intervention, and the risks of
such intervention.
a) Identification with victims: The concept of solidarity is bounded. It
describes reciprocal horizontal obligations among members of a
community of equals. It differs from neighboring concepts, such as
benevolence, which refers to relations among individuals, charity,
which refers to hierarchical relations between donors and
recipients, or clemency, which refers to relations between victors
and losers. The original Roman concept of solidarity was a legal
concept. It described reciprocal financial obligations among
members of a community, their joint liability for personal debts.
One for all, all for one. Everyone assumes responsibility for
anyone who cannot pay his debt (Brunkhorst 2005: 2). The
modern concept of political solidarity is a moral concept. It
describes reciprocal moral obligations among strangers who share
membership in an imagined community (Benedict Anderson)
defined by some abstract criterion, such as class, occupation,
gender, age, ethnicity, nation, or humanity.
In principle, group membership is binary. Either you are in or you
are out. Either you qualify as potential addressee of group
solidarity or you dont. To the extent that politics polarizes
between opposing camps of friends and foes, such dichotomies of
belonging tend to map the scope of political solidarity well. Yet,
the relevant social psychological literature on moral action neither
deals with social groups nor with situations of political polarization.
It studies individual relations in more ordinary settings, in which
group boundaries are fuzzy, groups are internally diverse, and
people belong to multiple groups at a time. Accordingly, this
literature does not ask whether spectators categorize victims in a
binary fashion as either insiders or outsiders of some abstract
community. Rather, it asks where they place them along a
continuum of proximity versus distance. Just as social distance
between victim and perpetrator increases the probability of
criminal violence (e.g. Sykes and Matza 1957, Grossman 2009),
positive attitudes towards victims (Pozzoli and Gini 2013: 231)
increase the probability of defensive intervention by third parties.

b) Perceptions of injustice: Solidarity is a response to the suffering of
others. Political solidarity, more narrowly, is a response to
injustices co-citizens suffer. It involves the acceptance of positive
duties in response to a perceived injustice (Scholz 2008: L. 105). It
is the perception of injustice that creates the demand for solidary
action. A just world has no need for political solidarity. Citizens can
uphold the delusion of a just world (Marvin Lerner) either by
ignoring acts of injustice (the logic of denial) or by re-describing
them as acts of justice (the blaming of victims). By pleading
blindness, citizens can remain deaf to the calls of solidarity.
Alternatively, if they invert responsibilities by blaming the victims
for their own misfortune, if they hold them to be deserving of
punishment, rather than worth of protection, then their very sense
of justice will impel them to side with perpetrators, rather than
victims (see e.g. Lerner 1980, Ryan 1976).
c) The effectiveness of intervention: Much of the psychological US
literature on passive bystanding was triggered by a high-profile
case of citizen unresponsiveness: the abuse and murder of
Catherine Kitty Genovese on a 1964 winter night in New York
City, in which dozens of neighbors could have intervened by calling
the police. But only one did, hesitantly, when it was too late
One of the fundamental irritations the case produced
stemmed from the ease with which the witnesses could have done
something: by simply dialing the emergency number. They faced
no problems of coordination, no uncertainty about the choice of
means. They had effective individual means of intervention at their
disposal: their telephones. Cases of injustice that call for political
solidarity are not like this. In politics, individuals possess only
limited capabilities of effective intervention. To aid victims in an
effective manner, they need to coordinate with their co-citizens
and herewith face all the costs and uncertainties of collective

d) The risks of intervention: In contexts of severe and systematic
violations of human rights, any intervention on behalf of victims
carries high potential risks. It is legitimate for sympathetic citizens
to weight the risks solidary action involves for their own physical
integrity against the benefits it promises for the victims.
For citizens to take solidary action in favor of victims of injustice, they
must frame each element of the situation they encounter in an
appropriate manner: they must identify victims as one of us, they must
recognize them as victims of grave injustice, they must see feasible

courses of defensive intervention, and they must hold these safe enough
to be taken. All four bundles of perceptions are necessary components
of active political solidarity. In addition, they form a logical sequence. If
bystanders to injustice do not fulfill first conditions, they need not
ponder latter ones. If they place the victims of injustice outside the
bonds of their moral community and in addition conceive their suffering
as a higher form of justice, all further considerations of solidary
intervention turn moot.
Situations of criminal civil war, like other situations of systemic violence,
place tight limits and high risks on solidary action. Under the shadow of
illegitimate violence, it is difficult to see what individual citizens could
possibly do to protect victims (condition c) and anything they might be
doing is likely to entail considerable threats to their own physical
integrity (condition d). While the constraints criminal violence places on
citizen behavior are easy to comprehend, the constraints it places on
citizen attitudes are less easily understood. No doubt, criminal civil war
affects citizens capacities of solidary action towards victims. Yet, as I
wish to argue, it affects their attitudinal dispositions towards victims in
the first place. Even before destroying citizens abilities to help victims,
criminal violence destroys their desire to do so. As I hypothesize, civil
criminal war tends to destroy the bonds of sympathy between citizens
and victims, because its official description (as a war among criminals)
tends to place victims into one community with perpetrators.
The Imagined Community of Perpetrators and Victims
Generally speaking, how do citizens relate to the perpetrators of
illegitimate violence and their victims? With whom do they identify?
Which types of imagined communities do they construct? The classic
criminal triangle of perpetrators, victims, and spectators contains four
ideal-typical possibilities which are illustrated in Figure 2:
a) Sympathy: the imagined community between citizens and victims.
Citizens sympathize with victims, identify with their plight,
recognize them as victims of injustice who are worthy of
protection. Typical example: ordinary citizens in the face of
ordinary crime.
b) Complicity: the imagined community of citizens and perpetrators.
Citizens sympathize with perpetrators, identify themselves with
their cause, recognize them as agents of justice who deserve
support. Typical example: pro-regime actors who sympathize with
repressive campaigns against the enemies of the people under

c) Polarization: the confrontation between communities of
perpetrators, victims, and citizens. In violent conflict among
communities, citizens sympathize with those victims and
perpetrators who belong to their own imagined community.
Drawing a sharp line between insiders and outsiders, they side
with our victims (aka martyrs) and our perpetrators (aka
heroes) against their victims (who are deserving) and their
perpetrators (who are evil). Typical examples: the distribution of
national sympathies in international war, the distribution of ethnic
sympathies in ethnic war, and the distribution of political
sympathies in internal political war.
d) Detachment: the community of victims and perpetrators. Citizens
sympathize or identify with no-one. In their perspective, both
perpetrators and victims belong to a community separate from
their own. They are not community members, but some sort of
aliens entangled in extraneous violent encounters. Both are
barbarians, neither of them merits support. Typical example: the
perception of revolutionary warfare by apolitical observers.
Now, as I wish to argue, the very notion of criminal warfare pushes
citizens towards a position of detachment. Prototypical criminal wars are
not structured by pre-established collective identities. As these are wars,
collective actors are battling each other. But there are no collective
identities involved. The parties in conflict are not, and do not pretend to
be, representative of larger groups. They do not fight in the name of
anybody. They only fight for themselves. Against others, who do the
same. The notion of criminal warfare, though, does not suggest a
situation of anomie, amorphous and chaotic. It does impose some sort of
symbolic structure on the Hobbesian state of nature. It blurs one social
boundary (between perpetrators and victims) and creates another one
(between criminals and decent citizens).
These two conceptual
operations merge in the notion of selective violence that defines violence
as an exclusive affair among criminal organizations.
Students of civil war speak of selective violence when the election of
victims is personal. They speak of indiscriminate violence when victims
are anonymous; when they are elected, not on the basis of individual,
but collective criteria, like group membership or place of residence. With
light shifts in connotation, we can translate this conceptual pair into
criminal wars. In criminal civil wars, we can describe violence as
selective as long as it serves as a means of conflict settlement among
the members of criminal enterprises. We can describe violence as
indiscriminate when it reaches beyond the criminal world and sows its

victims among civilians unrelated to criminal activities. Selective criminal
violence is self-contained, indiscriminate violence is expansive.
Selective violence in criminal civil war presupposes that the boundary
line that separates combatants (criminals) from non-combatants
(civilians) is crystal clear, while the boundary line that separates
perpetrators from victims is fuzzy. Criminals form an imagined
community distant from, or even outside of, society that conceives itself
as innocent. Both perpetrators and victims belong to the criminal
community whose members are guilty of whatever happens to happen
to them. The armed conflict runs among criminal organizations who
supply the assassins and the corpses. Decent citizens have nothing to
fear as long as they stay out of their business. It is a war among them,
not against us. In this ideal-typical criminal war, criminals kill criminals
before the audience of passive citizens who watch murder news and
read the homicide statistics in the relative safety of their homes.
During most of the presidency of Felipe Caldern (20062012), official
discourse produced and reproduced the idea of selective violence. Its
basic message was simple: The war is about bad guys killing each other.
More than 90 percent of all fatal victims are criminals murdered by
criminals. The rest divides among public officials who were killed by
criminals and decent citizens who were killed by accident, as collateral
damage of public military confrontations among armed groups or
between them and state agents. As the former president himself
More than 90% of the homicides and executions, as we have been classifying
them, derive from the fight of some cartels against others []. Many soldiers
and many police officers have fallen in fulfillment of their duty, but their share
does not reach even 5% of these deaths. There have been even many less cases,
although unfortunately they have happened and we deplore it, of innocent
civilians who have been caught in the cross-fire between delinquents or
between the police and delinquents, but these are really the fewest.

The idea of criminal selectivity has not been exclusive to top government
circles. Lower-level officials have embraced it, too. Victim families have
given countless testimonies of state officials who treated them with
disdain and refused to investigate their cases under the speculative
suspicion that their murdered or disappeared family member had been
connected to criminal groups.
In the public sphere, too, even media
outlets critical of the government like the weekly Proceso habitually
describe the victims of narcoviolence as criminal subjects who are
victims of selective violence and distinguish their routine deaths
(explicable and comprehensible) from those few (deplorable and

exceptional) cases of innocent passers who are hit by stray bullets (see
Lemaitre 2013).
The idea of selective criminal violence involves the assumption that
criminal organizations are able to solve the problem of identification
(Kalyvas 2006) that is endemic to irregular civil wars. In regular modern
wars the parties in conflict confront each other on the battlefield. They
are proletarian professionals of violence, carry flags and wear uniform,
and the frontline keeps one side apart from the other. The distinctions
between combatants and civilians and between combatants of one side
and the other are clear. In irregular civil war, they are not. Civil wars are
beset by uncertainties over the identity of actors. We never know for
sure who is who in the complex field of private and public actors.
The notion of criminal selectivity, however, assumes that criminals are
able to identify those who are guilty of having committed any of the
numerous infractions that are punishable by death, according to their
draconian criminal codes which do not know the distinction between
civil and criminal offenses. It is not without irony that the official
discourse on the selectivity of criminal violence under Felipe Caldern
carried assumptions of judicial efficacy that corresponded to the self-
image of criminal groups themselves (see also Escalante 2012: 46 and
50). As the cartel La Familia proclaimed in October of 2006, when it
entered the national political arena by throwing five human heads onto
a dancing floor in Uruapan, Michoacn: The Family does not kill for
money. It does not kill women, it does not kill innocents. Those who
must die, will die. Everybody should know that. Which is: Divine

Needless to say, the notion of perfect criminal justice is preposterous. As
it cannot be otherwise, the narcos often abduct, torture, and kill the
wrong people.
Besides, the very nature of criminal civil war, its self-
reinforcing combination of structural opacity and structural impunity,
opens the floodgates for violence to become expansive. The circles of
both perpetrators and victims tend to expand beyond the criminal world
into wider spheres of state and civil society (see Schedler 2014b: Ch. 1).
Even though unrealistic, the notion of selective criminal violence is
tempting nevertheless. It is, we may say, a comforting ideological by-
product of the discomforting concept of criminal civil war. It is a frame
effect. By framing the war as a kind of external war among the voluntary
members of the fraternal community of criminal assassins, citizens are
able to retreat to a position of detached observers. Criminal civil wars, I
hypothesize, encourage both things: the frame and the framing effect.
They invite citizens to believe in the selectivity of violence and thus to

maintain a detached attitude of indifference towards its victims. From
this twin theoretical expectation I derive two empirical implications.
Descriptively, I expect high degrees of attitudinal distance between
ordinary citizens and the victims of criminal civil war. I expect
citizens to know little and care little about the victims of organized
Causally, I expect citizens distance to victims to vary as a function
of their framing of war. To the extent that they perceive the war as
a self-contained enterprise in which criminals kill criminals
(selectivity of violence), civilians are less likely to reduce their
subjective distance to victims.
I test both empirical expectations on the basis of the Mexican 2013
National Survey on Organized Violence (ENVO) that strives to reconstruct
citizen attitudes towards the main actors of organized violence under
conditions of criminal civil war: perpetrators and victims, state and civil
society. ENVO is a nationally representative face-to-face survey that was
carried out in Mexico from 26 October through 30 November 2013
among adult citizens ( age 18). Its 2,400 interviewees were chosen
through multi-stage sampling based on election precincts as defined by
IFE. The national sample was stratified by five levels of municipal violence
(average municipal homicide rates from 2009 to 2011). Designed by the
author and jointly sponsored by the National Council of Science and
Technology (CONACYT) and the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE),
it was
implemented by the survey firm Data OPM. The surveys overall margin of
error is +/- 2 percent.

Selective Violence, Distant Victims
In the face of organized criminal violence, citizens are caught between
cross-cutting moral pressures. One the one hand, the moral grammar of
democratic citizenship obliges them to recognize the need to protect the
basic rights of their co-citizens. On the other hand, the moral grammar
of criminal civil war induces them to conceive its victims as deserving
criminals who have placed themselves outside the community of decent
citizens and who have put themselves voluntarily at risks the political
community cannot insure them against.
How do Mexican citizens balance these conflicting normative logics?
How much do they know and care about the victims of organized
criminal violence? Which logic prevails in their attitudes towards the
victims of war? The logic of solidarity or the logic of detachment and
indifference? To capture the cognitive, emotional, and political closeness

citizens perceive in relation to the victims of organized violence, I use
four survey items. One pair of questions refers to individual victims and
another one on victims movements the civic associations and protest
movements by victim families who seek justice for their dead and
knowledge about their disappeared:
Remembrance: the ability to remember the name of a victim of
organized violence (Do you remember the name of some person
who was murdered or disappeared by organized crime?).
Empathy: the ability to name some case of criminal violence the
respondent found moving (Outside the circles of people you know
personally, do you remember some person whose [murder or
disappearance] has moved you in particular?).
Knowledge: information about victims movements (Over the past
years, there have been victims of violence, people with family that
has been murdered or disappeared, who have been organizing
themselves to demand justice. Have you heard about these
Identification: political sympathy for civic mobilization by victim
families (How much do you identify with the victims who organize
Figure 3 displays the corresponding frequency distributions (for
descriptive statistics, see Table B in the appendix). Only one in ten
respondents remember some victim by name (10.1 percent) and only
one in six recall some case they found particularly moving (17.1 percent).
Less than two fifths of citizens have ever heard of civic mobilization by
victim families (37.8 percent). Only one in fifteen citizens identifies very
much with these collective efforts (6.4 percent) and more than a third
not at all (35.9 percent).
[Figure 3 and Tables 1 and 2 about here]
Bivariate correlation coefficients displayed in Table 1 suggest a
reasonable degree of the internal consistency among these items.
Principal component analysis (without rotation) of these four variables
yields one factor with an Eigenvalue greater than 1. It explains 36.9
percent of the variance (Eigenvalue 1.47). I interpret subjective proximity
to victims as its underlying substantive dimension and thus use it as my
index of closeness to victims. Table 2 contains the corresponding
factor loadings. The graph at the bottom of Figure 3 shows the frequency
distribution of the corresponding factor scores (regression points).
Just like the individual components, factor scores are heavily skewed
against victims. Even in the absence of comparative data, they lend

credence to the notion that a vast majority of ordinary citizens keep the
victims of organized criminal violence at safe distance. Citizen proximity
to victims is the exception, indifference the rule. In the fog of Mexicos
criminal war, the victims of murder and disappearance seem to remain
anonymous and invisible, leaving no more than faint traces in individual
citizens minds and hearts.

When survey results show so little variance, when public opinion leans
towards consensus, with majoritarian opinions crowding out dissenting
views by large margins, then the main explanation needs to be either
structural (respondents are subject to a powerful external context that
makes them respond in certain ways) or cultural (respondents share
cognitive schemas or normative commitments that make them respond
in certain ways). Nevertheless, differences between individual
respondents may still provide residual explanations for their limited
attitudinal variance.
In my theory of frame effects, the crucial intermediary variable or
causal mechanism that accounts for variations in citizen attitudes
towards victims is cognitive. I expect subjective perceptions of selective
violence to induce subjective distance towards the victims of criminal
violence. My initial question thus is descriptive: to what extent has the
hypothesis of selectivity found acceptance among Mexican citizens?
When violence is indiscriminate, when it threatens to touch everybody
regardless of what they do or who they are, civilians cannot protect
themselves. When perpetrators do not discriminate between the good
and the bad, between allies or enemies, the rational course of action is
resistance. Only when violence is selective, when it targets those who
say or do certain things, or omit saying or doing certain thing, citizens
can protect themselves by collaborating with the dominant force or by
presenting themselves as neutral in the battle between contending
parties (see Kalyvas 2006). In political civil war, neutrality is often not a
viable option. In particular in contested war zones, warring parties
demand active collaboration, not passive observation (see Kalyvas 2006:
226232). In criminal civil war, by contrast, neutrality appears as a
reasonable self-protective strategy under conditions of selective
violence. Thus, to operationalize the perceived subjectivity of criminal
violence, we asked survey respondents to evaluate the protective force
of neutrality:
Talking about murders attributed to organized crime, how much do you agree
with the following statement: As long as you do not get involved with them,
nothing happens to you.


To the extent that criminal violence is selectively and exclusively
committed by criminals against criminals, innocence should save citizens
from its wrath. Living an ordinary life, keeping their distance, staying
clean and staying out, should protect them from attracting the lethal
attention of criminal organizations. As Figure 4 shows, more than sixty
percent of respondents either show full confidence (29.5 percent) or
some confidence (33.9 percent) in their capacity of protecting
themselves by not meddling with the criminal world. About a fifth show
some degree of disagreement (21.1 percent). Only one eighth (12.9
percent) plainly reject the idea that nothing happens as long as one
keeps pretending that nothing happens.
[Figure 4 about here]
The overall picture is quite clear: Among the citizens of Mexicos
troubled civil war democracy the idea of selective criminal violence is
majoritarian, but not consensual. Even though a large majority of citizens
tend to support the notion that the criminal war is essentially a war
among criminals, a substantive minority does harbor their doubts.
Meaning: there is variance. Which allows us to proceed to the causal
question: which are its consequences for citizen attitudes towards
Table 3 confirms the theoretical intuition that the perceived subjectivity
of violence correlates negatively with the subjective proximity to the
victims of violence (r = -.153, p = .000, N = 2179). The bivariate lineal
regression results shown in Table 4 provide further confirm the
relevance of framing effects. Although the overall explanatory capacity
of perceptions of selective violence is rather low (R
= .023), its lineal
impact on the index of closeness to victims is both statistically and
substantively significant (see Table 4). The more firmly respondents
believe in the selectivity of violence, the more likely there are to show
themselves ignorant and indifferent towards the victims of violence.
Complementary Explanations
How do people form their attitudes towards victims of criminal civil war?
Certainly, these attitudes derive from a complex process in which the
frames of war (Butler 2010) constitute only one causal factor among
many others. The Mexican National Survey on Organized Violence allows
us to test for a broad range of complementary hypotheses.

Victimization. It seems reasonable to expect that personal experiences of
victimization by criminal organizations change personal stances towards
victims. Citizens who have experienced cases of assassination or
disappearance inside their families or within their circles of friends and
acquaintances are likely to be more sympathetic to victims than those
who have been spared the chilling touch of organized violence. To
measure degrees of victimization by organized crime, I constructed an
aggregate index of victimization that adds experiences of victimization
inside the family (extortion, murder, and disappearance) as well as
within the wider circle of friends and acquaintances (murder,
disappearance, orphanage and emigration).

Distance to violence. Organized violence in Mexico is not generalized, but
territorially concentrated at entry and exit points and along the
transport routes by which drugs move transnationally. Between 2009
and 2011, less than 10 percent of Mexicos 2,453 municipalities
experienced extreme levels of deadly violence (with average homicide
levels above 50 per 100,000 inhabitants). In more than a fifth of
municipalities, not a single person was murdered in these three years
(22.4 percent), and more than one eighth (13.9 percent) still enjoyed
almost European levels of homicide ( 5 per 100,000).

The objective proximity to criminal violence may have complex and
contradictory effects on public perceptions of violence. Yet, overall, I
expect the same logic and the same lineal relationship to hold as for
victimization: objective proximity to violence is likely to generate
subjective proximity to the victims of violence. Its just harder to be
indifferent to the fate of victims if they get killed and kidnapped on your
To measure respondents geographic distance from the war, I
constructed an aggregate index of distance to violence that adds three
pieces of information: (a) objective data on average annual levels of
violence in their place of residence, (b) subjective sensations of local
security (How secure do you consider living in your locality?), and (c)
subjective distance from violence (things have been calm around here;
the violence occurs in other regions of the country).
Social distance. A substantial body of criminological literature argues
that the perceived social distance between citizens and criminals molds
the punitive sentiments the former harbor against the latter (see e.g.
Ramrez 2013). Social proximity seems to be regulating, too, not just our
antipathies towards perpetrators, but also our sympathies with victims.

A more disperse body of literature in history, psychology, and politics
suggests that citizens are able to watch the suffering of others with
perfect indifference, or even approval, if they are able to classify them as
distant others. [H]uman sympathy can be turned on or off depending
on how another person is categorized (Pinker 2012: L 7193).

The two most evident candidates for defining the social status of
Mexicos victims of war are poverty and skin color. In the ethnically
stratified societies of Latin America, crime is often suspected to be
ethnically stratified, too. In the region, the most common image of
criminals is of poor, nonwhite men (Arias 2006: L 342) and the same
applies to the victims of violent crime. According to one recurrent
diagnosis, in Latin Americas violent democracies (Arias and Goldstein
2010a), the homicides tend to be impoverished, poorly educated,
nonwhite adolescents and young men (Arias 2006: L 173) and they tend
to recruit their victims from the same social stratum. Trigger-happy
killers on the public payroll tend to share their criteria of victim selection
(see e.g. Brinks 2008, Gay 2010, Stanley 2010).
Some critical observers have described the Mexican drug war in similar
terms, as a war of the poor against the poor (Rea 2012: 230). Poverty
is the leading explanation of violence among the Mexican public: 37.3
percent of our respondents identify it as the primary cause of organized
violence in the country. If it criminal violence indeed is, and is perceived
to be, a domain of the poor, with poor men abducting, torturing, and
killing other poor men, we should expect public opinion to reflect its
social stratification. I take the reported number of light bulbs in
respondents dwellings as indicator of economic status and
classifications of facial skin color by interviewers (on the LAPOP 11-point
color palette that goes from pink to dark brown) as measure of
Of course, objective respondent attributes need not translate into
subjective attitudes. High social status does not necessarily produce
negative prejudice against subordinate classes and light skin color does
not necessarily produce racism. However, to the extent that (a) these
objective attributes do correlate with social and ethnic prejudice and (b)
respondents conceive the victims of organized violence as dark-skinned
members from lower classes, their social status and phenotype should
be predictive of their sympathies towards victims. Under this twin
assumption, I expect respondents social status to correlate positively
and their skin color to correlate positively with their distance to victims
and victims movements.

Political sophistication. Three standard variables in political survey
research formal education, interest in politics and media consumption
are likely to mold citizen views on the war. They are all indicative of
political sophistication. The more educated citizens are, the more
interested in political affairs and the more they keep themselves
informed by watching, reading, and listening to the news, the more
knowledgeable they should be about victims. If information inhibits
indifference, the should be more sympathetic as well.
To measure political interest, I use the respective standard item in ENVO:
Generally speaking, how much are you interested in politics? The
survey also contains a battery of questions on news consumption: How
frequently do you follow the news in different media (almost never, a
couple of times a month, a couple of times per week, almost daily)? I
average the values for television, radio, and newspapers.
Ideology. By definition, criminal wars are wars without ideology.
Meaning, they are not driven by political ideologies, like distributive
justice or religious salvation or ethnic self-determination, but by the
private ideology of ruthless individual self-enrichment. The fact that
neither perpetrators nor victims are ostensibly motivated by political
ideologies does not imply that governmental policies towards organized
violence are free from ideological guidance. Nor does it imply that citizen
attitudes towards the war, its actors, and its management by the
government are unaffected by ideological worldviews.
Although I do not have elaborate hypotheses on the impact of political
ideology on citizen attitudes towards victims, I wish to explore the
effects of two variables: (a) the ideological position of respondents:
their self-positioning on the ideological left-right scale from 0 to 10 and
(b) their ideology possession: their ability or willingness of positioning
themselves on the political left-right scale. Those who say they do not
know how to position themselves or do not respond at all (DK/NR) are
coded as ideological orphans (score 0), all others as ideologically self-
conscious (score 1). The former constitute a third of all respondents
(33.3 percent). It is possible that these post-modern citizens without
ideological anchor belong to a different universe of public opinion than
those more sophisticated citizens who view the political world (as well
as, possibly, the criminal world) through the lenses of left or right or
centrist identities.
Religiosity. Religion can justify anything. The big managers and killers of
the drug war are said to be deeply religious. Still, given the emphasis the
contemporary Catholic church places on peace and solidarity, religious
belief should lead Mexican citizens to sympathize with the plight of

victims. As measure of religiosity, I take respondents indications about
the importance of religion in their lives.
Sex. Generally speaking, killing and being killed is a mens business. At
the global level, eight of ten homicides as well as eight of ten victims of
homicide are men (UNDOC 2011: 11). In Mexico and Latin America, the
average participation of men in the use of lethal force is even higher.

We have little systematic knowledge on perpetrators and victims in
Mexicos criminal war. Yet, the familiar pattern of men killing men seems
to hold. According to the Memoria dataset on organized violence in
Mexico, assembled by the Justice in Mexico project of the University of
California, San Diego, for the years 2006 through 2013, the vast
majority of victims were men, with just 9% of the victims identified as
female (Heinle, Rodrguez, and Shirk 2014: 31).
Age. Mexico is no country for young men. Between 1998 and 2012,
about two thirds of victims of homicide with firearms have been younger
than 40 years. The highest number of victims comes from the age group
between 20 and 29 years.
According to the Memoria dataset, which
records more specifically victims from organized violence, between 2006
and 2013, the average age of the victims was 32 years, which appears
to contradict widespread assumptions that organized crime violence is
perpetrated by uneducated, unemployed, and disaffected youths
(Heinle, Rodrguez, and Shirk 2014: 31). Even though the immediate
equation the authors draw between victims and perpetrators is puzzling,
their data do put into question certain clichs that depict the drug war
as a war between private armies of teenagers attracted by exciting
prospects of upward mobility (the fastest way to heaven).
If the so-called drug war carries a clear sex bias and an unclear age bias,
what follows for public attitudes towards the war? How should we
expect respondents sex and age influence their perceptions of victims?
If the simple mechanisms of social distancing work here, too, we should
expect women and people of advanced age to be less concerned about
To what extent does our hypothetical battery of complementary
independent variables correlate with citizens closeness to victims? As
bivariate correlation coefficients in Table 3 indicate, skin color, left-right
self-placement, religiosity, and sex are unrelated. All other variables
confirm our theoretical expectations. Victims feel closer to victims and
people closer to violence feel closer to victims, too. The same holds for
persons with higher levels of sophistication, that is, for the higher

educated, the politically interested, the politically informed, and those
capable of positioning themselves along the left-right scale. It also
applies for the young.
In the previous section, we found a significant bivariate effect of
subjectivity of violence on distance to victims. To what extent is this
effect robust to the inclusion of controls? Table 4 shows the results of
multivariate OLS regression analysis fed with those variables that
displayed significant lineal associations (correlation coefficients) with the
index of closeness to victims (that is, excluding skin color, ideological
position, religiosity, and sex). In this multivariate analysis, age pales into
insignificance and education falls just below the conventional threshold
of statistical significance (p .05). Yet the subjective subjectivity of
violence as well as all other complementary variables remain significant.
None of the individual coefficients is impressively high, yet the joint
explanatory power of the nine variables included is quite decent (R
[Tables 3 and 4 about here]
In conclusion, I wish to highlight three findings:
1. In descriptive terms, aggregate patterns of Mexican public opinion
reflect the structural devaluation of victims in criminal civil wars. A solid
majority of citizens have faith in the selective nature of criminal violence.
Individual victims of violence appear as nameless numbers whose fate
scarcely touches their co-citizens. Average citizens barely take notice of
victims movements and hardly identify with them.
2. Criminal civil wars tend to encourage civic detachment because they
tend to blur the dividing lines between perpetrators and victims, and to
reinforce those between victims and citizens. Nevertheless, neither the
blaming of victims nor the cognitive, emotional, and moral withdrawal of
citizens are carved in stone. Both are variables, not parameters. As my
explanatory explorations have shown, the extent to which citizens
distance themselves from the victims of war is sensitive to the frames
of war (Judith Butler). On average, citizens who hold the selection of
victims to be restricted to criminals know and care less about victims.
The conceptualization of war and its victims matters at least for citizen
attitudes towards its victims.
3. This paper has produced some joyful negative findings. We know little
about the socio-economic profiles of the victims of violence. It is well

possible that they belong to the typical category of victims of lethal
violence in Latin America: poor, non-white, young men. However, even if
this is objectively the case, it does not bias citizens subjective attitudes
towards victims. Although Mexicans maintain the victims of war at
considerable symbolic distance, their distant attitudes do not vary with
their own skin color, while they vary inversely to their class status: the
more affluent are more emphatic. Perhaps, in Mexico, racism and class
prejudice are unrelated with objective markers of ethnic membership
and social status. In any case, though, the negative finding is still positive
news: even if violence is biased by ethnicity and class, public opinion on
violence is not.
1 See El Gobierno mexicano reconoce hasta 26.000 denuncias de desparecidos,
El Pas (Mexico City), 27 February 2013, 9. On disappearances and mass graves
(narcofosas) related to organized crime, see also Molzahn, Rodrguez, and
Shirk (2013: 1819).
2 See e.g. Aguilar et al. (2012: 9395), Bergman (2012: 7072), Bravo, Grau, and
Maldonado (2014: 11), Buscaglia (2010), Echarri (2012), and OAS (2012: 7075).
3 Casualty figures from Molzahn, Rodrguez, and Shirk (2013: 30). On state abuse
and collusion, see.g. Amnesty International (2009, 2012, and 2013), Article 19
(2012 and 2013), and Human Rights Watch (2009, 2011, and 2013). On
information problems in irregular wars, see Kalyvas (2006).
4 I am alluding to the movie El infierno by Luis Estrada (Mexico, 2010).
5 See e.g. Aguilar Camn et al. (2012), Escalante (2012: Ch. 1 and 2),
EmergenciaMx, Llamado global a frenar la guerra en Mxico,
(accessed 17 May 2013).
6 According to the HIIK definition, A war is a violent conflict in which violent force
is used with a certain continuity in an organized and systematic way. The conflict
parties exercise extensive measures, depending on the situation. The extent of
destruction is massive and of long duration (2010: 88).
7 On the distinction between regular and irregular civil war, and between
symmetric and asymmetric warfare, see Kalyvas (2009).
8 Seminal texts on new civil wars have been, among others, Enzensberger
(1993) and Kaldor (2006). For a critical discussion of the distinction between
ideological old civil wars based on grievances and non-ideological new wars
based on greed, see Kalyvas (2001).
9 See Brinks (2008), Rivera (2010), Stanley (2010: L 1942 and 2157).

10 Under the heading of sites for peace (sitios por la paz), the webpage of the
Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity offers a collection of links to like-
minded movements (http://movimientoporlapaz.mx/). The documentary film
Javier Sicilia: En la soledad del otro by Luis Riley (Canal 22, 2013) reconstructs
the movements cathartic first months
11 See e.g. Heinle, Rodrguez, and Shirk (2014: 4647), Trejo, Guillermo (2014), La
peligrosa apuesta de las autodefensas en Mxico, El Pas, Tribuna, 20 January
607_176398.html), accessed 21 January 2014.
12 On civil societys responses to organized criminal violence in Mexico, see Dudley
and Estrada (2013), Job (2012), Ovalle (2010), Rodrguez (2013), Rojo-Mendoza
(2013), Villagran (2013).
13 I use the notion of human rights violations in a broad way that covers public as
well as private perpetrators (see. e.g. Borer 2013). Similarly, I use the notion of
citizens in a wide, minimalistic way, as members of a modern territorial state
(which may be dictatorial or failing), rather than carriers of rights in an effective
democratic polity.
14 [add references]
15 The locus classicus on obstacles to collective action is, of course, Mancur Olson
16 On the internal divisions within and the blurred boundaries between
perpetrators and victims of severe violations of human rights (in South Africa
under apartheid), see Borer (2003).
17 Jorge Ramos, Muertes de civiles son las menos: FCH, El Universal, 16 April
2010, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/673331.html (consultado el 7 de
febrero de 2014). At other occasions, the president proclaimed even more
precise figures on the victims of homicides attributed to criminal organizations:
more than 90 percent of those persons, 93 to be exact, have direct or indirect
connections with some of the groups of organized crime; they are drug dealers
(Felipe Caldern, Discurso pronunciado en el evento Mxico: Perspectivas y
Oportunidades Econmicas en el Nuevo Entorno Mundial, 12 March 2009,
18 See, for instance, Amnesty International (2012: 12) and (2013: 6), Gibler (2012:
139), Human Rights Watch (2012: 2 and 5), Turati (2012: 107108).
19 My translation (AS). See, for instance,, Siete carteles desangran a Mxico, El
Pas (Colombia), 1 November 2009,
(accessed 15 January 2014).

20 Journalist Javier Valdez offers some brushstrokes of violent mistakes by
criminal organizations (2012: 15, 56, 70, 97, 143, 165, 176177, 214, 249, 267
21 Since 4 April 2014: National Electoral Institute (INE).
22 The national population survey was complemented by an elite survey (N = 629)
among high-level representatives of six groups: government, parties, media,
academia, civil society, and business. For analytical summaries over the main
descriptive results of the two surveys, see Schedler (2014b and 2014c). As soon
as bureaucratically possible, the integrated dataset of both surveys will be
publicly accessible via the CIDE data archive BIIACS (http://biiacs.cide.edu).
23 I am alluding to Robert McNamaras phrase that inspired the title of the
documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S.
McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003).
24 In Spanish, the item phrasing contains an ambiguity that is hard to translate.
Mientras uno no se meta con ellos, no pasa nada implies two things: Nothing
happens as long as you do not join them and as long as you do not get in their
25 For more precise descriptions of this as well as all other indices and variables,
see Table A in the appendix; for descriptive statistics, see Table B.
26 Author calculations based on homicide data by the National Health Information
System (SINAIS) (www.sinais.salud.gob.mx) and population data from the 2010
national census by the National Institute for Statistics and Geography (INEGI)
(www.inegi.org.mx). Note that the World Health Organization considers violence
to be epidemic once it surpasses 10 annual homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
27 Among many others, see also Arendt (2004), Butler (2010), Grossman (2009).
28 See, for instance, Bravo, Grau y Maldonado (2014: Grfica 2.2), UNODC (2011:
Cap. 5), OAS (2012: Tabla 1.3), Jos Ignacio Torreblanca, El varn, arma de
destruccin masiva, El Pas, 26 January 2014, p. 29. According to the dataset on
missing persons, assembled by the General Prosecutors Office towards the end
of the Caldern presidency, 54 percent of persons registered as missing (for
unknown reasons, including but not limited to organized crime) were men, 40
percent women (6 percent were left unidentified). 29 percent (!) of these
persons were children aged between 10 and 17 years. See Centro de
Investigacin y Capacitacin Propuesta Cvica (CIC), Informe sobre las personas
desaparecidas en el sexenio 20062012, Mxico City: 2012, p. 7. See also Base
integrada de personas no localizadas,
http://desaparecidosenmexico.wordpress.com/descargas/ (accessed 18 May
29 Bravo, Grau, and Maldonado (2014: 89 and Figure 2.3). See also Merino, Zarkin
y Fierro (2013), OEA (2012: 21) and UNDOC (2011: 65).

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Table A
Description of variables

Dimension Survey questions Range / Categories Variable

Closeness to
Index of subjective closeness to victims and victims
movements. Factor loadings from PRINCIPAL COMPONENT
Effective name recognition of individual victims: Do you
remember the name of some person who was murdered
or disappeared by organized crime?
No (0), yes (1) P13_corr
Empathy (in the context of questions on murder and
disappearance): Outside the circles of people you know
personally, do you remember some person whose case has
moved you in particular?
No (0), yes (1) P31
Information on victims movements: Over the past years,
there have been victims of violence, people with family
that has been murdered or disappeared, who have been
organizing themselves to demand justice. Have you heard
about these groups?
No (0), yes (1) P56
Identification with movements: Generally speaking, which
is your impression of these movements? How mucho do
you identify with the victims who organize themselves?
Not at all (0), a little
(0.33), somewhat (0.66),
very much (1)
Selectivity of
Talking about murders attributed to organized crime, how
much do you agree with the following statement: As long
as you do not get involved with them, nothing happens to
Disagree very much (0),
disagree somewhat (1),
agree somewhat (2)
agree very much (3).
Victimization Additive index of victimization by organized violence
within and outside family. SUM OF FIVE VARIABLES:
05 Index_VCO
Extortion: Over the past years, has it happened to you or
someone in your family that you were asked extortion
money (derecho de piso) to conduct your business or
other activities?
No (0), yes (1) P26C
Assassination or disappearance within family: Over the
past years, someone member of your family has been
murdered or disappeared by organized crime?
No (0), yes (1) P26DE
Assassination or disappearance outside family: Someone
among your friends or acquaintances has been murdered
or disappeared by organized crime?
No (0), yes (1) P30
Orphanage: Do you know a child or teenager who was
orphaned because criminal groups murdered their mother
or father?
No (0), yes (1) P33
Emigration: Do you know someone who migrated to the
United States or some other country because of the
No (0), yes (1) P34
Distance to
Additive index of subjective and objective distance to
010 Index_D_VIOL
Local security: How secure do you consider living in your
Not at all (0), a little (1),
somewhat (2), very
much (3)

Subjective distance from violence: As a matter of fact,
things have been calm around here; the violence occurs in
other regions of the country.
Disagree very much (0),
disagree somewhat (1),
agree somewhat (2)
agree very much (3)
Objective distance from violence: Five strata of civility (04)
= inversion of survey sample strata of municipal violence,
by municipal homicide rates (annual number of homicides
per 100,000 inhabitants, average 20092011).
(0) = very high homicide
rate (> 30), (1) = high
(1530), (2) = medium
(1015), (3) = low (610),
(4) = very low homicide
rate (< 6)
Class Proxy for household wealth: number of light bulbs in place
of residence.
(1) = 13 bulbs, (2) = 46
bulbs, (3) = 79 bulbs, (4)
= 10 or more bulbs.
Education Level of formal education of survey respondent 08 EDU
Phenotype Facial skin color of survey respondent, as assessed by
interviewer at the end of the interview according to color
palette developed by the Latin American Public Opinion
Project (LAPOP).
1 (pink) 11 (dark
Generally speaking, how much are you interested in
Not at all (0), a little (1),
somewhat (2), very
much (3)
Mass media
Frequency of news consumption in mass media: How
frequently do you follow the news on TV / on the radio / in
the newspaper? (average of all three information
Almost never (0), a
couple of times a month
(1), a couple of times per
week (2), almost daily (3)
Self-placement of left-right scale: In politics, people talk
of left and right. In general terms, where would you
located your point of view?
010 P68
Respondents ability and willingness to place themselves
on the left-right scale.
(0) = dont know / no
response, (1) self-
placement anywhere on
Religiousness Importance of religion in private life: Please, could you
tell me, how important is religion in your life?
Not at all (0), a little (1),
somewhat (2), very
important (3).
Sex Sex of survey respondent (binary) Male (0), female (1) Sexo
Age Age of survey respondent (years) 18 Edad

Source (in all Tables and Figures, unless otherwise indicated): Mexican National Survey of Organized Violence


Table B
Descriptive statistics

N Minimum Maximum Mean Standard

Index of closeness to victims (PCA factor scores) 2228 -1.07 3.47 .00 1.00
Subjective selectivity of violence 2335 0 3 1.82 1.009
Index of closeness to victims movements 2226 0 3 .82 .750
Index of victimization 2305 0 4 .53 .857
Index of distance to violence 2332 0 10 4.87 2.197

Class (light bulbs) (aggregation) 2361 1 4 2.49 .979
Phenotype (skin color) 2370 1 10 4.63 1.406
Education 2390 0 8 4.01 2.254
Political interest 2384 0 3 1.14 .958
Frequency of mass media news consumption 2361 0 3 1.52 .740

Religiousness 2366 0 3 2.27 .895
Ideology (left-right position) 1601 0 10 5.71 2.678
Ideology (possession) 2400 0 1 .67 .471
Sex 2400 0 1 .51 .500
Age 2399 18 85 41.10 15.506

For descriptions of variables, see Table A.


Table 1
Index of closeness to victims: bivariate correlations among components
of individual
Empathy with
on victims
with victims

Remembrance of victims Correlation 1.000 **.182 **.149 **.095
Sig. (bilateral) . .000 .000 .000
N 2400 2363 2383 2273
Empathy with victims Correlation **.182 1.000 **.182 **.119
Sig. (bilateral) .000 . .000 .000
N 2363 2363 2346 2241
Movement information Correlation **.149 **.182 1.000 **.149
Sig. (bilateral) .000 .000 . .000
N 2383 2346 2383 2260
Movement identification Correlation **.095 **.119 **.149 1.000
Sig. (bilateral) .000 .000 .000 .
N 2273 2241 2260 2273

For descriptions of variables and descriptive statistics, see Tables A and B. Spearman Rho correlation coefficients.


Table 2
Index of closeness to victims: PCA factor loadings

Variables Factor loadings

Memory of individual victim .588
Empathy with victims .651
Knowledge of victims movements .633
Identification with victims movements .554

Note: Principal component analysis (PCA) without rotation, 1 component extracted: Eigenwert 1.47, Variance
explained: 36.9%. For descriptions of variables and descriptive statistics, see Tables A and B.


Table 3
Index of closeness to victims: Correlates

Factor Closeness
to Victims

Selectivity of violence Correlation **-.153
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2179
Victimization Correlation **.314
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2157
Distance to violence Correlation **-.169
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2174
Class (light bulbs) Correlation **.150
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2193
Phenotype (skin color) Correlation .028
Sig. (bilateral) .197
N 2200
Education Correlation **.155
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2219
Political interest Correlation **.216
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2213
Mass media news Correlation **.191
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2196
Ideology (position) Correlation -.017
Sig. (bilateral) .514
N 1505
Ideology (possession) Correlation **.103
Sig. (bilateral) .000
N 2228
Religiousness Correlation -.014
Sig. (bilateral) .505
N 2196
Sex Correlation -.012
Sig. (bilateral) .575
N 2228
Age Correlation *-.051
Sig. (bilateral) .015
N 2227

For descriptions of variables and descriptive statistics, see Tables A and B. Pearson correlation coefficients
(Spearman Rho for ideology possession and sex).


Table 4
Index of closeness to victims: Determinants

B coefficients p B coefficients p

Selectivity of violence -.152 .000 -.084 .000

Index victimization (05) .277 .000
Index distance to violence (010) -.037 .000
Class (light bulbs) (14) .055 .013
Education (0-8) .020 .060

Political interest (03) .126 .000
Mass media news consumption (03) .106 .000
Ideology (possession) (binary) .160 .000
Age .001 .547

Constant .280 .000 -.478 .000

Standard error .985 .910
.023 .158
N 2178 1994

Note: Lineal OLS regression. B = nonstandardized regression coefficients. Shaded cells indicated statistically
significant coefficients (p .05). Dependent variable: Index of closeness to victims (PCA factor scores). For
descriptions of variables and descriptive statistics, see Tables A and B.


Figure 1
Number of homicides attributed to organized crime in Mexico, 20012013

Sources: For 20012006: General Attorneys Office, cited in Marcos Pablo Moloeznik, Militarizing Mexicos Public
Security (Washington, DC: National Defense University, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies), CHDS Regional Insights
11 (15 February 2009). For 20072010: Presidency of the Republic, Dataset of Deaths by Presumptive Criminal Rivalry.
For JanuarySeptember 2011: General Attorneys Office, Dataset of Deaths by Presumptive Criminal Rivalry
(http://www.pgr.gob.mx). For October 2011December 2013: Eduardo Guerrero, Lantia Consultores, Dataset of Violence
of Organized Crime (http://www.lantiaconsultores.com/).

1,230 1,290 1,304
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

Figure 2
Patterns of citizen identification in the triangle of violence

a) Sympathy b) Complicity

c) Polarization

d) Detachment

Note: Gray shadings denote imagined communities
(perceived alliance structures)


Figure 3
Index of closeness to victims: components and factor scores

Have you heard about victims movements? How much do you identify
with the victims movements?

Distribution of factor scores from Principal Component Analysis (1


Figure 4
Subjective selectivity of violence

Survey question: Talking about murders attributed to organized crime, how much do you agree with the following
statement: As long as you do not get involved with them, nothing happens to you.