Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Chelsea Estancona ─ From Cocaine to Avocados: Criminal Market Expansion and Violence

Monday, March 6, 2023

12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Birkelund Board Room, 111 Thayer Street

Most of what we know about organized criminal violence comes from research about illegal narcotics markets. Yet, these groups also fight to capture markets for legal commodities, as evidenced by Sicilian lemons and South African abalone. Under what conditions do criminal groups violently expand into markets for licit goods? We argue that rapid increases in the accessible share of a good’s export value create opportunities for immediate profit and future market manipulation. This provokes violence against producers and competitors as groups expand their territorial holdings and economic portfolio. We test our argument cross-nationally (1993-2018) with data from the Atlas of Economic Complexity, V-Dem, and UNODC. Increases in a country’s share of global export value for agricultural goods correspond with high homicide counts – but only where criminal groups are present. We then provide additional evidence of our mechanism and address concerns about reverse causality using data on Mexican avocados.

Chelsea Estancona is an assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on the political economy of conflict and criminality.

Security Studies Seminar

The format of the seminar is a brief (5-minute) introduction by the author, some initial comments by a lead discussant (5-10 minutes), and then open comments from attendees (remainder of time). All attendees are expected to read the paper ahead of time, as the author will not present their research. This is a working session. Email watsonevents@brown.edu to request a copy of the paper.