El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency
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The world has watched, stunned, the bloodshed in Mexico. Forty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it part of a worldwide shadow economy that threatens Mexico's democracy? The United States throws Black Hawk helicopters, DEA assistance, and lots of money at the problem. But in secret, Washington is at a loss. Who are these mysterious figures who threaten Mexico's democracy? What is El Narco?
El Narco is not a gang; it is a movement and an industry drawing in hundreds of thousands, from bullet-riddled barrios to marijuana-covered mountains. The conflict spawned by El Narco has given rise to paramilitary death squads battling from Guatemala to the Texas border (and sometimes beyond). In this "propulsive ... high-octane" book (Publishers Weekly), Ioan Grillo draws the first definitive portrait of Mexico's cartels and how they have radically transformed in the past decade.
mine shafts. As was their custom, Chinese immigrants brought opium poppies, gum, and seeds on their long journey over the Pacific. The arid Sierra Madre provided an ideal climate for the Asian poppies to flourish. In 1886, the opium poppy was first noted as growing in Sinaloan flora by a Mexican government study. The flower had taken root.8 Sinaloan newspapers soon remarked on opium dens springing up in Culiacán and Mazatlán. Known as fumaderos, the haunts were described as dingy rooms above
all time. The number two is estimated to be his colleague Carlos Lehder, at $2.7 billion. Who knows how the hell Forbes found data for those numbers. But they were certainly on the right track: the cocaine cowboys were stinking rich. By the early eighties, Medellín mobsters had become visible and powerful figures. Escobar built an entire housing project for the homeless and was elected to Colombia’s parliament in 1982, serving a short stint before being pushed out because of his trafficking.
They all say the same thing. One thousand pesos to carry out a killing. The price of a human life in Juárez is just $85. To traffic drugs is no huge step to the dark side. All kinds of people over the world move narcotics and don’t feel they’ve crossed a red line. But to take a human life. That is a hard crime. I can at least comprehend assassins killing to jump from poverty to riches. But for someone to take a life for just $85—enough to eat some tacos and buy a few beers over the week—shows a
recruited for the Sinaloans. It didn’t matter that only two or three kids from the barrio had joined the mob. A death sentence was passed on the whole barrio. The Sinaloan mafia returned the favor on barrios that had joined the Juárez Cartel. I went to a neighborhood where twenty teenagers and young men had hung out on a street corner a year ago. Fifteen of them had been gunned down in a spree of shootings, a bar they hung out in torched. A few of the survivors are incarcerated, the rest have
Times reporter Sam Quinones, who traipsed from village squares to prison records to pen Chalino’s biography in the 2001 work True Tales from Another Mexico.5 His story begins with an episode remarkably similar to that of Pancho Villa himself. When Chalino was an eleven-year-old growing up on a Sinaloan ranch, a local tough raped his sister. Four years later, Chalino stormed into a party, shot the rapist dead, exchanged fire with the rapists’ two brothers, then fled to Los Angeles. For the rest of