Q&A with Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera: Will COVID-19 Increase Violent Organized Crime?

Notorious Mexican cartels and organized crime units are adapting to COVID-19. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera discusses the violence and instability caused by illegal transnational enterprises as the pandemic rages on. She is an expert and teaches classes at the Schar School of Policy and Government on Mexico-U.S. relations, organized crime, immigration, border security, and human trafficking. Her newest book, Los Zetas Inc.: Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico, dives deep into the world of organized crime.

What are the main implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on Mexico’s drug trade and particularly on Mexican cartels?

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera: Some security experts and other analysts foresee a rapid adjustment of Mexican drug cartels to the new market conditions, alleging that these groups are willing to take enormous risks and normally adapt successfully to adverse circumstances by taking advantage of existing opportunities. Without considering other factors, some pose positive scenarios for drug trafficking organizations, alleging that these enterprises will transform and diversify their activities, while generating higher levels of violence, crime, and instability.

How will the forecasted economic downturn impact the “informal” economy?

Correa-Cabrera: In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipate a very severe decline of the economies of all countries in the world. This economic catastrophe will not discriminate between formal and informal businesses. The big economic losses that drug trafficking organizations will suffer in this context might lead them to look for alternative markets. This will further a brutal confrontation among them for access to fewer and smaller markets in an era of crisis. We could then expect higher levels of violence due to much greater competition among the cartels.

Overall, how do you perceive the immediate future of Mexican drug cartels?

Correa-Cabrera: The future is uncertain, but the partial closure of borders during the duration of the crisis will affect them enormously. In the worst-case scenario, and notwithstanding the fact that drug cartels are willing to take more risks in general, it is also possible that the virus will deeply affect their labor force. In other words, it is plausible that the virus will significantly attack those who work for these organizations or participate in related activities. As mentioned above, this type of phenomena does not discriminate on the basis of social status, nationality, or economic activity. Anything can happen.

Is there something related to organized crime in Mexico that we can predict with more certainty or accuracy during the coronavirus era?

Correa-Cabrera: Absolutely. What does seem to be much more plausible is a momentous increase in the levels of criminality and violence in Mexico, due to an anticipated huge economic crisis, very high levels of unemployment, and growing levels of poverty. The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are already starting to become visible, but I fear that in the near future, other phenomena, such as looting and armed robberies, will multiply due to economic need.