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Review: El Sicario – Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man – by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden

el sicario

This is an explosive book, real revelations from a sicario or hitman for the Juarez cartel in Mexico. In the murky world of narcotics enforcers are employed by the cartels to assassinate and extort owed money from victims. This sicario was trained as a policeman with this training funded by the narcos. In the law enforcement school he learnt all the surveillance tricks and how to use the necessary weapons that he could employ in the narco world in a Mexico that was careering out of control. Often holed up for weeks or months on end with kidnapped victims, the sicario often had to execute people in an instant at a moment’s notice. Very often he was high on drugs (cocaine) and drink and his world of ultraviolence is revealed in a brutal and honest narrative. As the sicario rose up the ranks and became ever more embroiled in the dirty work, he ultimately found a way out through zealous missionaries who protected him and allowed him to seek repentance for the insidious murders he had committed. This is a journey in a world that is stranger than fiction and the tale is well worth the read.  

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Review: Drug Lords – The Rise and Fall of the Cali Cartel – by Ron Chepesiuk

drug lords

If the Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel can be regarded as the Henry Fords of the Drugs business then the Cali cartel with its corporate business acumen can certainly be regarded as the McDonalds. This well-written, detailed biography tracks the rise and fall of the most successful drug cartel in history. Closely focusing on the cartel leaders: Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, Chepe Santacruz and Pacho Herrera – we see how a criminal enterprise can spread its tentacles across the globe. Gilberto the Chessplayer manipulates the board, Miguel’s micromanagement combined with Chepe’s ultraviolence and Pacho’s style, turn this bunch of bandits from the southern Colombian city of Cali into a most feared and efficient drug exporting organisation. There are links to the Italian Mafia and other international gangs such as the Yakuza. Cali were always one step ahead of the law and the DEA had to face unremitting work in order to bring this cartel down over several decades of watching them dominate the markets. They had control of the lucrative New York City cocaine trade from way back in the 1970s and went on to control 70-80% of Colombian cocaine exports. There was war with the Medellin cartel but an uneasy truce with the Colombian government with a web of corruption extending right to the top with Ernesto Samper’s Presidential campaign allegedly being infiltrated by large inputs of Cal narco-dollars. The story could be that of any large multinational corporation – the Cali Godfathers were experts at laundering their money in conventional businesses. The tale is ultimately a massive success for law enforcement but the amazing true narrative will shock readers and leave you in awe of what can be deemed as the ultimate organisation in the world of narco-trafficking. A five star read.

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Review: The Cartel – The Inside Story of Britain’s Biggest Drugs Gang – by Graham Johnson

the cartel

When you see the title ‘The Cartel’ you might immediately imagine a book about Colombian or Mexican drug lords. Yet, this book covers a 30 year history of a homegrown cartel, based in Liverpool. Back in the 1970s a pioneering Fred the Rat grouped together his criminal comrades and they moved from bank robberies and burglaries into drug importation and reselling. At its height the Liverpool cartel was importing 60% of the UK’s narcotics. International expansion took cartel employees into Spain, Turkey, North Africa, The Netherlands and South America. Police were oblivious to much of what was going on and characters such as ‘The Analyst’ had their work cut out, only many years later getting serious results through the hard work of the MCU (Major Crime Unit). The story of notorious Scouse trafficker, Curtis Warren is a highlight of the book, most probably his ostentatiousness proving hiss downfall, after appearing in the Sunday Times Rich List, getting busted by Dutch police and serving a long prison sentence in Holland. The global matrix structure of the cartel meant it operated like a large multinational business. The book’s violence is astounding. From street gangs, doormen companies, professional hits, murders (including links to the Crimewatch presenter Jill Dando’s killing), internecine wars and revenge attacks plus the rip off and advantage-taking of gullible workers further down the chain of command, blood is almost always flowing. The murder of the Cream head doorman by a 20 strong gang in a pub with machetes and baseball bats was particularly gruesome. For me, the highlight of the well woven tale was the ongoing saga of the never caught division featuring Poncho, Kaiser, Scarface and Hector. Based mainly in Amsterdam, these renegades dealt directly with the Cali Cartel and were the first to import a metric ton of cocaine to the UK. I found the tandem ascent of the UK Rave scene and dance music culture to be particularly relevant. The author has done good research and knows how to captivate the reader’s attention. I shall certainly be checking out more of Graham Johnson’s books. This book is only short and is divided into 45 chapters of only a few pages long. Yet after each chapter it takes a polite pause of breath to work out what is going on and to let the information seep in. The tale is traumatic. Definitely a five star, truly entertaining and…

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Review: Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas – by Elijah Wald

Whilst planning to do a university translation dissertation on some aspect of narcoculture I was drawn to this work (in English – also simultaneously released bilingually with a Spanish version) by American author and folk musician, Elijah Wald. Having been introduced and hooked on the sounds of Los Tigres Del Norte for years, the Narcocorrido is a music form that particularly interests me. The Spanish word ‘Correr’ = to run, gives way to the Corrido form of music, a Mexican musical ballad, originally historically done as the spoken word, but more recently with Mexican folk music of accordions, guitars and harps added. It is a form of Norteño / Ranchera / Mariachi music, very spicy in rhythm, with neatly rhyming lyrics, telling a popular story. A lively, popular music artform, where masculinity and hyper-masculinity can flourish. The traditional Corrido has been superseded by the Narcocorrido, which tells the stories of Mexican and Latin American drug lords and their conquests – their crossborder trafficking, their grisly assassinations, their lovelife, their organisations. The Corrido is an alternative form of news and corridistas may cover any political event, with some controversial writers documenting political scandals and guerrilla uprisings. Elijah Wald takes us on an interesting personal journey as he hitchhikes and buses across every conceivable region in Mexico and also dips into the Corrido communities of North America. We meet the stars of the genre, the well known celebrity figures, from Los Tigres Del Norte themselves and their most famous writers such as Jefe del Jefes, Teodoro Bello. The issues of assassinated star Chalino Sánchez were particularly interesting and displayed the true dangerous nature of these musicians and their controversial cultural work. We head from the Sinaloan narcocorrido heartland, up to Texas and onto rural Michoacan. Not only do we learn more of the drug trafficking inspirations and the gruesome Mexican drug war, but also we learn of other areas of Mexican culture, history and politics. Wald is a man of the people and the rural campesinos are never far from his heart. He is equally at home listening to corridista buskers on the bus aswell as being able to snort cocaine whilst partying with the stars. For me, the translations done by the author about the often unknown corridos are a true revelation and, being an apprentice translator, I particularly found this aspect of the book exciting. The book is a real…

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Review: Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas – by Elijah Wald

narcocorrido

Whilst planning to do a university translation dissertation on some aspect of narcoculture I was drawn to this work (in English – also simultaneously released bilingually with a Spanish version) by American author and folk musician, Elijah Wald. Having been introduced and hooked on the sounds of Los Tigres Del Norte for years, the Narcocorrido is a music form that particularly interests me. The Spanish word ‘Correr’ = to run, gives way to the Corrido form of music, a Mexican musical ballad, originally historically done as the spoken word, but more recently with Mexican folk music of accordions, guitars and harps added. It is a form of Norteño / Ranchera / Mariachi music, very spicy in rhythm, with neatly rhyming lyrics, telling a popular story. A lively, popular music artform, where masculinity and hyper-masculinity can flourish. The traditional Corrido has been superseded by the Narcocorrido, which tells the stories of Mexican and Latin American drug lords and their conquests – their crossborder trafficking, their grisly assassinations, their lovelife, their organisations. The Corrido is an alternative form of news and corridistas may cover any political event, with some controversial writers documenting political scandals and guerrilla uprisings. Elijah Wald takes us on an interesting personal journey as he hitchhikes and buses across every conceivable region in Mexico and also dips into the Corrido communities of North America. We meet the stars of the genre, the well known celebrity figures, from Los Tigres Del Norte themselves and their most famous writers such as Jefe del Jefes, Teodoro Bello. The issues of assassinated star Chalino Sánchez were particularly interesting and displayed the true dangerous nature of these musicians and their controversial cultural work. We head from the Sinaloan narcocorrido heartland, up to Texas and onto rural Michoacan. Not only do we learn more of the drug trafficking inspirations and the gruesome Mexican drug war, but also we learn of other areas of Mexican culture, history and politics. Wald is a man of the people and the rural campesinos are never far from his heart. He is equally at home listening to corridista buskers on the bus aswell as being able to snort cocaine whilst partying with the stars. For me, the translations done by the author about the often unknown corridos are a true revelation and, being an apprentice translator, I particularly found this aspect of the book exciting. The book is a real…

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The Cultural Politics of the ‘War on Drugs’ in Latin America: Prohibition and Beyond? – By Dr Joey Whitfield, Cardiff University, 22.11.17

Dr Joey Whitfield is a Research Fellow and member of the Spanish department at Cardiff University. He has a forthcoming book (available on Amazon) titled Prison Writing of Latin America https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prison-Writing-Latin-America-Whitfield/dp/150133462X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512133181&sr=8-1&keywords=prison+writing+of+latin+america The book details his study of prison writing from the 1910s to the present day. His interest in the War on Drugs springs from this extensive research where he has explored the creative output of prisoners. His work leads him to conclude that there is not so clear a distinction in Latin American jails between political prisoners and criminal prisoners.. Similarly in Latin America, politically, there is not a great deal of difference between democracies and dictatorships. One of the groups he has investigated is the Red Command – from Rio De Janeiro – who are a trafficking gang. There has been a decline if the role of the Urban Guerrilla in Latin America. There have been repressive regimes that are dictatorial. Eg. The government of Brazil during the 1980s The same repressive apparatus that has been used against urban guerrillas is now being used on drug cartels. As the Cold War ended across Latin America the political conflicts gave way to the ‘War on Drugs’. A new class of political prisoner has emerged. US President Ronald Reagan followed on from Nixon’s 1971 declaration of the ‘War on Drugs’. Aid payments to Latin American governments required a certification procedure that these governments were fighting this war appropriately. Often this led to high-profile arrests of cartel leaders in an attempt to justify the aid payments. Also, often there would be swoops upon the easiest people to arrest in the industry. The ‘War on Drugs’ has been completely lost. It is, in essence, impossible to win. It can be dealt with through legislation. The myth that drugs only involve hippies is incorrect. There are global groups that specialize in narco-policy. Leading figures such as Carlo Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and Kofi Annan, Nick Clegg and former Latin American presidents, César Gaviria (Colombia) and Vicente Fox (underwent a terrible phase of presidency in Mexico during the War on Drugs), all of these figures are advocates of legalisation of drugs as being the key solution to the global crisis. However, all of the important political figures in this list are no longer in power. It is a matter of Realpolitik. It is impossible to countenance wide scale legalisation in order to end violence…

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