Thursday, November 27, 2014

Narco Land, by Anabel Hernández

This is an outstanding, albeit rather depressing look at the state of criminal narcotic trafficking in Mexico and the extraordinary degree of government complicity and corruption that allows it to flourish.

To give a sense of the book, let me just quote from Publishers' Weekly:
"First published in Mexico as Los señores del narco in 2010, this dry translation brings Mexican investigative journalist Hernández's exposé about drug trafficking in Mexico to an English-speaking audience. Five years in the making, it's an in-depth, unforgiving look at the deep-rooted corruption that has allowed the cartels to flourish; they now influence and control vast swaths of the country. Numerous anecdotes and interviews flesh out a decades-long narrative, touching on everything from CIA and DEA involvement, to how the drug lords run their empires from prison, to the way these powerful men live and die. 
It's a scathing, sobering report, as Hernández lays the blame not just on the drug cartels, but on all those who exercise everyday power from behind a false halo of legality to make their law of 'silver or lead'  a reality. While appendices containing glossaries of acronyms and short bios do much to reduce reader confusion, there's still an immense and exhausting amount of information to absorb. Those willing to slog through the dense bits will find a thought-provoking portrait of the crime and corruption that dominates our southerly neighbor." [1]
This is not an easy book to follow. At times I felt as though I should draw a mind map to show the relationships between both the criminals profiled and their government cronies. So it does take some dedication to work through.
A few key takeaways:

  1. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (who left office in December 2012) was clearly on the take and helped the drug gangs.  
  2. The heads of the major Mexican federal police agencies were also benefitting from their corrupt alliances with the drug gangs even as they went through the motions of taking action against them.  
  3. There is no question that the US government and particularly the DEA were aware of this; there is some potential that political concerns via the CIA and State Department hampered DEA activity against some of the more powerful political figures in Mexico's government.  
  4. Even today, Calderón lectures at Harvard, presumably not about how to be a corrupt leader.  

Does any of this change under Mexico's current president, Enrique Peña Nieto?  That remains to be seen.

In any case, a must-read. And one which leads to a number of questions, such as:
  1. Why would anyone (unless they really needed to, e.g., to visit a terribly ill relative) travel to Mexico given not only the state of lawlessness but also the complicity of authorities, from local mayors and policemen all the way up to the highest levels of government?  
  2. Why has the US domestic effort to reduce drug use failed so badly, in spite of imprisoning over 500,000 [2] Americans (as of 2011)? 
  3. And, what should we do about this?


Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers

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