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Review: Escobar: The Inside Story of Pablo Escobar, the World’s Most Powerful Criminal. as Told by His Brother Roberto Escobar

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Much has been said about Pablo Escobar, who was the richest criminal in history and the head of the Medellin cartel in Colombia. This book is written from the heart and is an intimate portrait of the great man as remembered by one of his closest associates and a member of his family – his brother Roberto Escobar. Often Roberto will refute some of the more macabre details of Pablo legend as he aims to place the truth into history. We hear the inside story of Pablo’s early years, his breaking into the cocaine trade through contraband trafficking. It is clear how ruthless Pablo could be and even in the early years his business acumen can be unquestioned. There are enlightening tales from Hacienda Napoles. Always there is an emphasis on Pablo Escobar’s Robin Hood qualities with his care of the poor and needy in the slums of Medellin. We see how war was brought to the Colombian government through the Extraditables and also against the Cali cartel. The struggle against the Pepes in latter years is brutal and Roberto has to face a crippling injury after a letter bomb explodes in prison. The whole saga of La Catedral – the prison where they negotiated surrender is revealing. The tale of Pablo Escobar is one of extremes. The amounts of profit and money changing hands are astronomical. Roberto, as a chief accountant of the organisation, is in a position to give some clarity on the range of investments and the inside details of the massive narcotics shipments that were taking place. At the end of the day, this was a business like any other and the violence associated with the hunting down of Pablo and in maintaining his massive empire is out of this world. I think that through this biography we see more of Pablo the Saint and family man than the terrorist and criminal. A great five star read.

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

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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: Gangster Warlords – Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America – by Ioan Grillo

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This is the second of Ioan Grillo’s books that I have read and I found this volume equally as good as my first encounter with this talented British journalist. Gangster Warlords focuses on 4 separate crime gangs across the Americas. For each group we identify leaders, politics, often brutal and horrendous crimes and a link to the out of control trade in Narcotics across Latin America and the Caribbean that gives rise to the conditions necessary for Gangster Warlords to thrive. The first part looks at the Comando Vermelho or Red Commando of Brazil, focussing on a biography of the ‘brain’ of the guerrilla / criminal gang, William da Silva Lima. From open bocas selling drugs on the streets of the Rio favelas, to political indoctrination in the fusion of leftwing political prisoners and armed robbers in Brasilian jails, this story is eyeopening and violently disturbing. The second part covers Jamaica’s Shower Posse with the rise and fall of its President, Christopher Michael Coke or ‘Dudus’. The impact one man’s crimes can have upon an entire political system that reaches deep into the depths of global cities with their yardie drug gangs highlights how uneasy a relationship is struck between warlords and governments. Third up we have coverage of the gangs of the Northern Triangle – Honduras and El Salvador with its imported from Los Angeles headlining crime group the Mara Salvatrucha. The brutal murder rate of these guys strikes fear into even the hardiest of Latin American gangs with the MS-13 being recruited by powerful Mexican cartels such as Sinaloa to do their dirty work. The global reaches of violent criminal empires is apparent. Lastly there is a focus on Nazario Moreno, El Chayo – El Más Looa – The Maddest One. and his Knights Templar. This NarcoSaint formed from the nucleus of the La Familia Michoacana a devoted following based around the medieval style religious teachings and devotion of the holy warrior monks of the Middle Ages. He faked his death at one stage until he was finally put into his grave by the fierce war with autodefensas who in vigilante justice were the only solution to his expansive Crystal Meth and Marijuana empire. The whole book encompasses many of the same themes. Recurrent violence, cocaine smuggling and distribution internationally, political unrest and inadequate government coping strategies. In his conclusions Grillo identifies possible solutions to the War on…

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Review: Silver Bullets – by Élmer Mendoza

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This Mexican author, Elmer Mendoza, is about as vibrant a writer of fiction that I have encountered since Hemingway. A truly unique flowing style that is amazing to digest. The hero of the book is policeman Edgar ‘Lefty’ Mendieta. He is a drunken womaniser and the tale weaves in his affairs with the grisly murder-suicide of a lawyer. Sinaloan drug lords and their families are hunting down Lefty as they do not like his intrusion into their lives as he tries to solve the crime that was of course committed with Silver Bullets. The murder leads to further deaths: a suicide, another assassination. Mendieta eats well in restaurants mainly and has a penchant for Rock and Roll and Western music. The prose is in a verbal style of continuous sentences. The mood is captured brilliantly by the author and he paints a rich tapestry of the dark life of crime in this Sinaloa area of Mexico with all the gangster-wraps (drug hits) appearing daily. Crime, politics, love and betrayal, this novel has all the elements of a modern day classic and I look forward to reading future volumes of this Mendoza series.

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Review: I Have America Surrounded – The Life of Timothy Leary – by John Higgs

i have america surrounded

Timothy Leary is an acid guru. It was him who truly brought LSD to the masses in the psychedelic 1960s as he turned from Harvard professor and dropped out of society to promote the new wave of LSD hippy counterculture. He became public enemy number 1 and was jailed but launched a daring escape and went into exile. He flirted with the Black Panther movement and in exile counted on the support of the masses to lead a crazed party existence, fuelled by drugs. He had a string of lovers and several children. He was an extreme character and a very influential man. His personality was highly intellectual yet fun. He brought out the best in people. This biography delves into Leary’s life and examines his close relationships that form the blazing trail of real life fiction as he leads one of the most bizarre lives possible. The book flows and it inspires the imagination as to what it must have been like to form part of this amazing guru’s life.

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Review: El Infierno – Drugs, Gangs, Riots and Murder – My Time Inside Ecuador’s Toughest Prisons – by Pieter Tritton

This autobiographical account of Brit drug smuggler, Pieter Tritton, is a flowing, page-turning journey that documents his twelve years locked up in Ecuador’s notorious, corrupt and highly dangerous prison system. Tritton is already in trouble back in the UK where he is being sought by police for large scale international drug trafficking. He heads out to Ecuador for a fairly straightforward 2kg cocaine purchase, cleverly melted down and concealed in a tent’s groundsheet, that he aims to transport back to the lucrative European markets. He has been stitched up though and his hotel room is busted and his girlfriend and him start an arduous adventure in the justice system of this exotic Andean nation. From the outset it is clear that the prison system is quite a bit different to that Pieter has previous experienced in the UK. Here. the guards are usually in the command of the brutal gangs that run the prisons. It is a dog eat dog world and murder is rife. At first the lifestyle seems quite liberal within the prison as the cells aren’t usually locked up for much of the time and there is relative freedom of movement and lots of amenities such as shops and prisoners are allowed luxury items and to decorate their own cells. However, the underlying gangs that run the system are in total control. Drugs are very freely available and Pieter gets heavily involved in the business he knows best, dealing both inside the prison walls and also continuing international trafficking through the new contacts he picks up. He earns the respect of most inmates although he occasionally takes high risks that could result in serious calamity. There is a steady stream of high machismo violence and murder. The justice system is obviously corrupt and there are difficulties negotiating this. Later, during his stay in the notorious Guayaquil La Peni prison, he contracts TB and almost dies. The book is a heartfelt journey and the frank nature of the author as he expresses his true feelings and fears and narrates his liaisons with the depraved criminal characters often right at the top of the gang hierarchy, gives us a true life insight into a dark and oppressed system where Pieter survives probably only though his optimistic spirit and entrepreneurial attitude. I really enjoyed this book and it tells of a journey through life that must have been very difficult….

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