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Drug war fuels boom in ‘narco-lit’

April 8, 2012

Over the last couple of years, Mexico’s war on drugs has spawned a deluge of non-fiction books brimming with all the components of action-packed thrillers. With “narco-” among the most commonly used prefixes in contemporary Mexican culture, this new literary genre shall hereby be known as “narco-lit.” 

Featuring an unsavory cast of corrupt police officers, crooked politicians, young street-level criminals and fugitive billionaire drug lords, these page-turners revolve around plot devices such as kidnappings, mammoth drug hauls, gunfights and gruesome executions.

 One of the most unique works to emerge from the drug war is “El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin.” In this unprecedented and chilling monologue, a repentant and anonymous Mexican hitman tells the unvarnished truth about the war on drugs, laying bare the corruption and criminality at the heart of Mexican law enforcement.

During his post with the Chihuahua state police, the subject also worked as a contract killer.  He was trained in the United States by the FBI, but for 20 years he kidnapped, tortured and murdered people at the behest of Mexican drug cartels. Even when he headed the state police anti-abduction squad in Ciudad Juarez, he was simultaneously running a kidnapping ring in the same city.

Having left the business and found God, he now lives as a free man in the United States, although one cartel has put a 250,000-dollar price on his head, while another is trying to recruit him. No one with his background has ever come forward and talked.

American author Charles Bowden first met his subject while researching a previous book, “Murder City.” As trust between the pair developed, the assassin agreed to tell his story. The well-spoken man who emerges from the pages of “El Sicario” explains at length how terror and slaughter are simply means of implementing policy for both the police and the cartels in Mexico.

 In “The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord,” British-American journalist Malcolm Beith tells the story of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the most powerful drug lord since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar.

The book documents El Chapo’s legendary rise from a poor farming family to becoming the “capo” of the world’s largest drug empire. After eight years of imprisonment, Guzman famously escaped from Jalisco’s maximum security Puente Grande prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry basket and is now believed to be hiding with a legion of bodyguards in the remote regions of the Sierra Madre mountain range in northwest Mexico.

A folk hero to some, “Shorty,” as the diminutive narco is known, was ranked by Forbes last year as the 55th most powerful man on earth. He regularly appears on the magazine’s annual rich list and since the death of Osama Bin Laden last year, he has assumed the mantle of the world’s most wanted man.

With U.S. and Mexican authorities closing in, plus increased competition from rival cartel Los Zetas, Guzman’s days may be numbered. Beith follows the chase with access to senior officials and exclusive interviews with soldiers and drug traffickers in the region, including members of Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. Shedding light on the biggest character in Mexico’s drug war, “The Last Narco” is a true crime thriller being played out in real time.

Another work, “Gangland: The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver,” details the frightening stranglehold of criminal gangs over the economy and daily life of present-day Mexico. With firsthand insight from members of law enforcement, politicians, journalists, and people involved in the drug trade, author Jerry Langton details how Mexican cartels transformed themselves from middlemen who ferried drugs from Bolivia and Colombia to the U.S. and Canada into self-styled entrepreneurs.

“Gangland” reveals how their growth led to violent turf wars and President Felipe Calderon’s declaration of war on organized crime in 2006. Langton considers what the future might hold for Mexico and its neighbors, offering the bleak prospect that a collapsed government could lead to a failed warlord state not unlike Somalia. He also examines U.S. complicity in the lucrative drug-trafficking business, with both Wachovia and the Bank of America having been found guilty of laundering cartel profits in recent years.

Having covered Mexico since 2001, British journalist Ioan Grillo also describes the transformation of the nation’s drug gangs in “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency.” Grillo has witnessed police and military operations, mafia killings and major seizures, as well as discussing the drug war with two Mexican presidents, three attorney generals and a U.S. ambassador.

With first-hand dispatches, testimonies from inside the cartels and thorough analysis, “El Narco” shows that although the violence remains south of the Rio Grande, the United States is knee-deep in this conflict. While the U.S. government throws Black Hawk helicopters and drug agents at the problem instead of addressing consumption, Grillo says that Washington is secretly confused and divided about what to do.

 With a slightly different focus, “To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War” combines in-depth reports and discussions with people on the front lines of Mexico’s drug war. Author John Gibler has been living and writing from Mexico since 2006.

Events that year provided the inspiration for “To Die in Mexico” including the Zapatistas’ “Other Campaign” to unite Mexico’s marginalized indigenous population, the police repression of civil unrest in San Salvador Atenco, the six-month-long unarmed uprising in Oaxaca and the allegations of electoral fraud against Felipe Calderon in the presidential election.

Addressing the causes and consequences of Mexico’s multibillion-dollar drug industry, Gibler looks beyond the myths that pervade government and media portrayals of the unprecedented wave of violence that is pushing the country to the breaking point.

 Finally, in “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars,” Sylvia Longmire, a former special agent in the U.S. Air Force and border security expert, examines the criminal gangs that will do whatever it takes to deliver drugs to a willing audience of American consumers, while smuggling cash and high-powered assault rifles back into Mexico. The cartels have grown increasingly bold in recent years, building submarines to move up the coast of Central America and digging elaborate tunnels beneath the U.S.-Mexican border.

Longmire explores the threat these cartels pose, not just along the southwest border, but deep inside every corner of the United States. She also offers bold solutions to the major problems facing both nations, including programs to deter youth in Mexico from joining the cartels and changing drug laws on both sides of the border.

All these books are in English and available on order from Sandi Bookstore (Av. Tepeyac 718, Col. Chapalita, Guadalajara, tel: 3121-0863) or online.

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