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  • Formal and Informal Security Governance in the Americas
  • Sonja Wolf (bio)
Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World. Edited by Jennifer M. Hazen and Dennis Rodgers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Pp. vii + 300. $82.50 cloth. $27.50 paper. ISBN: 9780816691470.
La situación de la seguridad y la justicia, 2009–2014: Entre expectativas de cambio, mano dura militar y treguas pandilleras. Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública (IUDOP). San Salvador: IUDOP, 2014. Pp. vii + 201.
Drug War Capitalism. By Dawn Paley. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2014. Pp. 225. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 9781849351935.
Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang. By Julia Reynolds. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014. Pp. xxvii + 338. $26.95 cloth. ISBN: 9781613749692.
The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System. By David Skarbek. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 224. $99.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780199328499.

In September 2014, forty-three students of the Ayotzinapa rural teacher training college were forcibly disappeared in the Mexican town of Iguala. The crime, perpetrated by municipal police in apparent collusion with the local mayor and a drug trafficking group, has yet to be clarified. Although conspicuous for its magnitude, the event is just one of thousands of forced disappearances that have accompanied the drug war launched initially by the Felipe Calderón administration (2006–2012) and continued by the current government of Enrique Peña Nieto. The unrelenting violence and lawlessness throughout much of the country suggest that this militarized strategy, and the US security assistance supporting it, have had no discernible impact on the criminal networks and enabling factors such as corruption and institutional weaknesses. In the Northern Triangle of Central America, where mano dura(iron fist) policies have helped make street gangs more sophisticated and brutal, crime and violence—gang related or otherwise— continue unabated. El Salvador’s homicide rate plummeted with a government-sponsored gang truce. The collapse of the cease-fire, however, not only brought murders back to their previous levels but also witnessed an unprecedented spike in suspected gang attacks on police and extrajudicial executions of gang members. Developments in Mexico and Central America point to the urgent need to build greater knowledge of street gang and organized crime dynamics that in turn can provide the basis for more appropriate public policies. [End Page 275]

The existing literature on the aforesaid groups, as well as the security strategies aimed at dismantling them, emerges from scholarly disciplines such as sociology, criminology, anthropology, and political science and entails six distinct research strands. The drug wars, notably in Mexico and Colombia, have yielded scores of analyses of their impact on drug flows, levels of violence, human rights abuses, the fragmentation and geographic expansion of organized crime, and the diversification of criminal portfolios. 1Studies of US security assistance packages examine their contradictory goals, their conflation of threats, the nature of the aid, the uncertain sustainability of financed programs, and the lack of adequate evaluations. 2Much of the research on street gangs explores the circumstances of gang formation and gang joining, the nature and impact of gang activities, the possibilities of gang exit, and gang ties to organized crime. 3Few works, however, are concerned with incarcerated street gang members, let alone prison gangs. 4Assessments of gang truces, still few in number, document their characteristics and factors for success or failure. 5Writings on the policing of crime and street gangs scrutinize the effects of repressive strategies as well as the political- electoral thinking that may induce their adoption. 6Scholars have paid particular attention to military participation in public security tasks and drug wars, tracing its impact on human rights violations and its implications for police reforms and democracy more generally. 7The academic and journalistic books reviewed in this [End Page 276]essay appraise how state and nonstate actors provide security in different kinds of social and political settings in the Americas. In doing so, they compel readers to think more deeply about the socioeconomic context of drug wars, the workings of prison gangs, the impact of militarized policing, and the need for a comparative perspective on street gangs...


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