Skip to content

Mexico’s Open Secret: From the Dirty War to the Drug War - SOC

341 Eggers Hall

Add to: Outlook, ICal, Google Calendar

Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs present:

Gladys McCormick, Associate Professor of History, Jay and Debe Moskowitz Endowed Chair in Mexico-U.S. Relations, Syracuse University

Mexico’s Open Secret: From the Dirty War to the Drug War
In this paper, I explore the concept of dirty war, as it was pioneered by the French in Algeria and later perfected in assorted Cold War theaters throughout the world, and apply it to the case of Mexico. I argue that Mexico’s version of a dirty war started with the brutal crackdown of popular mobilizations on October 2, 1968 and concluded in 1982 when the government declared an amnesty of guerrilla members with the certainty that it had already destroyed them. During this period, military and police, at times collaborating as special forces, detained, tortured, imprisoned, and disappeared suspected insurgents using a range of counterinsurgency techniques drawn from the Cold War. I study these techniques and compare them to other cases of dirty wars in the region at the time, including those in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, and use them to illustrate how the government gradually “taught” citizens to accept the ever-present culture of fear in their midst. These didactic elements of Mexico’s dirty war normalized and rendered permanent the weakening of the rule of law, which explains why impunity in today’s security crisis appears so profoundly intractable. Hence, why I conclude this paper by laying down the particularities of a definition of a drug war that considers its antecedents, including patterns of collusion between the government and drug trafficking organizations. In doing so, I propose that the roots of today’s drug war are to be found in how the government used the state of exception to legitimate its counter-insurgency actions during the 1970’s dirty war. 

Sponsored by Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs and Sovereignty, Order and Conflict

For more information, contact Ryan Griffiths:

Open to




Contact to request accommodations

Exterior of Maxwell in black and white when there was no Eggers building

We’re Turning 100!

To mark our centennial in the fall of 2024, the Maxwell School will hold special events and engagement opportunities to celebrate the many ways—across disciplines and borders—our community ever strives to, as the Oath says, “transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

Throughout the year leading up to the centennial, engagement opportunities will be held for our diverse, highly accomplished community that now boasts more than 38,500 alumni across the globe.