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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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Review: Narrating Narcos: Culiacán and Medellín – by Gabriela Polit Dueñas

narrating narcos

The author is exploring the impact of local culture on the artistic output of Narcoculture in the form of literature and art in two specific par excellence Narco cities in Latin America. We are introduced to the Culichis of Culiacán in Mexicos Sinaloa and they can be contrasted with the paisas of Medellín in Colombia. There are unique linguistic characteristics to each area and each city produces distinct styles in terms of its experience of drug war and wide scale narco-trafficking. Culiacán is the capital of El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel territory and faced the brunt of the President Calderon Mexican Government War on Drugs. Medellín was home to Pablo Escobar’s capo rule during the 1980s when he declared war on the State and ran a brutal campaign akin to terrorism, brutalising many of the local population in the crossfire. The rough nature of macho Culichi campesinos, raised in the surrounding rural mountains is portrayed in the natural acceptance of violence and the local landscape is scarred with the memories of narco killings and warfare. Post Escobar paisas are dealing with the world where they had to face paramilitary suppression and the middle classes have been integrated with fast money immigrants from the shantytowns, the home of sicaresca (cultural works about sicario hitmen). Authors may use local dialects such as Medellin’s urban poor parlache in order to express their work. Most of the artists and authors have either suffered directly from the violence or know people killed in the wars. The underlying tone for cultural content from both areas is one of ultraviolence that is socially accepted and ingrained in the conscience and collective memory. The popularity of narconovelas is rising globally. The author of this study does some great work in exposing some perhaps lesser known creators and does a relatively in depth analysis of their works, often drawing on external cultural ideas and philosophies in order to justify her analyses. I found this text to be very enlightening and it opened many doors to this area for future critical study. The often dark subjects prove to be very adept at dealing with their work, often under extreme circumstances that fellow artists across the world do not have to endure. The culture of Medellín and Culiacán is opened to the world by Gabriela Polit Dueñas and I highly recommend her work.

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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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Review: The Spanish-Speaking World

The Spanish-Speaking World by Cl Mar-Molinero My rating: 3 of 5 stars This is an introductory text to sociolinguistic issues in the Spanish-speaking world. As part of my Spanish Studies classes I felt this would be a good text to introduce me to the importance of Castillian Spanish as a global language. The book never goes into much depth and in that sense I was a little disappointed. It does, however, introduce you to many of the key themes and provides a lot of wider reading. There is a big focus on the situation of minority languages within Spain, ie. Catalan, Basque and Galician. I found this interesting and the relationship between these tongues and Castillian Spanish is interesting, in particular within the context of the Diglossia which develops in minority language areas, particularly within the educational environment. The book details the role of Spanish in Latin America and with the growing population there, this is the largest Spanish-speaking area of the world. I found it interesting looking at the role of Spanish in Latin America in terms of post-colonial studies. It was nice to see the resurgence of such important indigenous languages such as Quechua. The book has many questions interspersing the text. The are exercises which aim to further study and provoke response in the student. Some of them were very useful and did indeed provoke thought. However, on the whole, I found these interruptions to be counter-productive and slightly annoying. I felt that when they offered useful information, this could quite have easily formed part of the main text. The book is useful as an introduction to some of the key themes and ideas relevant to the global status of the Spanish language. It could be a useful textbook for a undergraduate course although I feel that it’s lack of depth in general doesn’t assist in the development of the true knowledge of the topic at hand. View all my reviews

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Review: Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America

Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America by Robert Harvey My rating: 4 of 5 stars Simon Bolivar was one of history’s great characters. His revolutions across South America overthrew Spanish rule in six countries. His empire extended across the continent and was as large as that of Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great. Against all the odds, he was a Nietzchean superhuman, who with mainly inferior forces, defeated a strong European military power. He would race for battles across thousands of miles, often having to deal with the impossible geography of Latin America to do so. He was very sympathetic to the needs of the people, across all races and classes yet he had a vicious streak that was sometimes necessary to curb the power of his enemies and to protect his ideals. His military prowess as a general was unmatched yet he lacked the cut-throat political acuteness in order to rule his legacy in peace time. Bolivar’s romantic notions allowed the rise of caudillos who would nearly all turn against him by the end of his life. His life was semi-divine, mystical and has inspired many to this day yet his failure to govern successfully left him impoverished at the end of his life, seeking exile. perhaps he was too successful and took on too much? Perhaps he didn;t do enough and should have continued to liberate the whole continent? This book is interesting and well-written and gives a good insight into the life of a legendary character. View all my reviews

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The Return of El Pistolero: Luis Suarez

The ten match ban which has dragged on since last season is finally over. Our star striker, El Pistolero, will be back available for selection this week for our critical clash with Manchester United in the fourth round of the League Cup. After the dismal results in the league for the past two games, hopefully Suarez will be very welcome back at his club. Will the fans support him as vociferously as they have done since he signed from Ajax in January 2011? I for one found the summer particularly frustrating. I love Suarez and especially the goals he scores for us. He is the club’s star player and was unlucky not to have outshined Gareth Bale in all the major player awards last season. Big players do attract interest from other top clubs and Suarez is no different. I can remember how distraught I was when the Gerrard deal to Chelsea was almost done and dusted. This summer brought back those terrible memories. OK, Steven Gerrard finally had a flash of common sense and decided to stay at his boyhood club and the supporters rallied even further behind our iconic club captain. But, will the case be the same for Luis Suarez? At first, I dismissed the early summer transfer talk as pure speculation, but then it slowly started to emerge that the rumours were rooted in truth. Suarez used the press he claimed he hated so much to try to engineer his dream move to Real Madrid. Here we have a player claiming how he wants to leave England because of the press hounding he gets and then in almost the same breath, he uses the very same press to express his discontent at Liverpool. OK, he had a point on several issues. We didn’t qualify for the Champions League yet again, not even the mediocrity of the Europa League can indeed be promised this season. Our league finish was very poor and we finished a country mile away from our targets. A trophyless season leaves both players and fans disappointed. But, stick with the program, Luis. You are our talisman, our lead goalscorer. At Anfield you have the total support of the best fans in the world. Can the likes of Arsenal offer the vibrant crowd action that the Kop generates? Not even Madrid have the dedicated support of Liverpool. As the summer wore on, the player…

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