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

gangster warlords

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

silver bullets

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: 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: 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: Fiesta en la Madriguera – by Juan Pablo Villalobos

fiesta en la madriguera

This is a narconovela, a Spanish language work of fiction set in the narco world of drug trafficking. The young Mexican author, Juan Pablo Villalobos presents ‘ Party in the Rabbit Burrow’, a short, fast-moving look at life behind the palace facade of a Mexican drug kingpin, Yolcaut, through the eyes of his young son. Tochtli is shut up in this rabbit warren, living a deluded life of extreme wealth. He only knows fifteen people through his contact with the outside world. He has private tuition at home, where he learns a few relevant facts about the real world. Tochtli is fascinated by sombreros and is proud of his worldwide hat collection. He is fond of the French people due to their penchant for the guillotine. The Liberian dwarf hippos they have obtained from Africa for the palace’s private zoo demonstrate the levels of extreme wealth that Yolcaut has. The violence of his father’s lifestyle and the Mexican drug war reflects upon Tochtli in his craving for Japanese Samurais and obsession with death. He has witnessed some killings at his home and when he guns down some exotic lovebirds it is no surprise. Tochtli exhibits his anger and loneliness through electing muteness, his way of rebelling against the system that he knows. The book is narrated by Tochtli in a childlike flow with plenty of rhythm and decent use of Spanish language meter. There is a lot of repetition of ideas and key phrases and words that enhance the literary beauty of this narconovela. Chapter 1 focuses on an introduction to Tochtli’s world. Chapter 2 is about their trip to Monrovia., the capital of Liberia, in order to hunt down some dwarf hippopotamuses. Chapter 3 returns to the palace. They are betrayed by Tochtli’s tutor, inside details of the King’s life revealed to the media, irritating the kingpin and provoking his mortal anger. There is a clever use of character’s names – the Liberian guides being former US presidents (JFK) and social heroes (Martin Luther King). The hippos are Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. We see the nastiness of Mexican’s über violent social conflict, in a bizarre and extreme mirror, that is never far from violence but has the safety and protection of a secluded fairytale princess life of the ‘Rey’s child. A very good start to me for authentic narconovela subgenre fiction.

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Review: Memoirs of a Revolutionary – by Victor Serge

memoirs of a revolutionary

This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read, a first witness account of some of the most important world events of the first half of the twentieth century, a rich period for revolutionary events and the author, Victor Serge, a Belgian born Russian, is perfectly poised to give detailed personal encounters with many of the key protagonists. Serge is a revolutionary, who participates in the Russian Revolution from 1919 as a core Bolshevik. He meets and works with Lenin and Trotsky and his European roots make him critical to the emerging infrastructure of Soviet Russia. Serge writes often with a critical frankness of the core movements of which he is part, a fact that later endangers him as (correctly identified by the author) the Revolution seeps into Totalitarianism, culminating in the great Stalinist Purges of the 1930s. Initially the book flirts with the rising tide of working class socialism in Western Europe. Paris is a hotbed for leading international figures of the Left. Later, in Barcelona, Serge makes key contacts that will come into fruition for his analyses of the Spanish Civil War. From there he embarks for his never seen before motherland (his family were anti-Tsarist exiles). The post 1917 revolution is enduring its honeymoon, yet the whole survival of the Bolsheviks comes within a blink of an eye as the Civil War almost leads to their destruction in Petrograd as the Whites make gains. Serge, as he moves up the ranks, rapidly becomes disillusioned with the turn that the Revolution is taking. He warns against the Cheka and GPU. He is a peaceful man and holds onto the non-violent tenets of socialism. Later, when the party splits – Serge is a key figure in the alliance against the Party Centre and Politburo, which culminates in his expulsion from the Party and exile in Orenburg. His suffering in prison shows how lucky he was to retain his life, in a period where the executioner’s bullet was only ever a step away and was freely used. Serge’s fame as an author, especially in France, managed, through international outcry, to keep him and his young family away from the true harshness of life as an exile and ultimately secured his freedom back to Western Europe. The outbreak of world war was predicted by this great political visionary. His tracts against Stalinism often made him an enemy of…

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Review: Cocaine Nation – How The White Trade Took Over The World – by Tom Feiling

cocaine nation

This is an enthralling, well-researched book, that reveals many unknown new facts about the global cocaine industry. The book opens with a chapter focussing on the USA, the biggest market for the Cocaine industry, where 66% of Cocaine users exist. We then enter into the producing and transit phase of the drug and examine Colombia, Mexico and the Caribbean in detail. Colombia has the infamous Medellín and Cali cartels, much responsible for the initial production of Cocaine. The role of the FARC, AUC and the Colombian Civil War is documented and the political difficulties with America’s Plan Colombia and the extreme bribery involved in Colombian political life. In Mexico, we see how the various cartels such as Sinaloa, Juárez, Gulf and Tijuana have gone to war, recruiting the services of such paramilitaries as Los Zetas. The Caribbean covers Jamaica in detail and also Cuba, Haiti and the various tax haven islands. In Jamaica we see how politics have heavily influenced the gang culture and the rise of the Shower Posse is documented. In all of the Western producer country sphere, the USA and its policies is never far from the forefront. The ‘War on Drugs’ in force from many successive administrations at the White House, often focuses on producer and transit countries and is totally supported by draconian United Nations international legislation. The European market, in particular the United Kingdom is the second largest market for Cocaine and some countries here have introduced decriminalisation. In places such as Holland and Portugal, drug use is not penalised. The author explores how users are affected by the drug and explores addiction, in particular the problems of crack cocaine. In the final part of the book we look at possible legalisation solutions although, despite Feiling’s enthusiasm for this to happen, I fear it will be many generations before this becomes politically possible. Perhaps with potential cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation on the agenda, it will open up the doors for other narcotics to follow suit? I enjoyed the book and it really does go into detail on what is an interesting subject and a truly global industry.

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Review: Gangland – The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver – by Jerry Langton

gangland

This fascinating subject is explored by the author, Jerry Langton, in a fresh and vibrant manner. He makes the often bloody stories flow nicely into each other. What is for sure is that the Mexican drug war is a nasty business and page after page of horrifying bloodthirstiness attends to this. We read of the different cartels from Sinaloa across Mexico. Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of the world is a common area for discussion. The author always has his mind on the export role of the cartels and how their actions are affecting populations further North in the USA and Canada. If anything, it is difficult to weave together a fabric of the tale due to the sheer mass of brutalities that have occurred. More people are killed each year in Mexico due to the cartel warfare than in foreign war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is not the first I have studied on this topic in Mexico and I found it very well-researched and full of details, some of which were unknown to me previously. It is certainly worth a read if the topic of Mexican cartels interests you.

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Review: Cartels At War – by Paul Rexton Can

cartels at war

  The author is a military expert and the phrase he coins to determine Mexico’s narcotics problem is a ‘mosaic cartel war’. This book analyses in detail the various cartels that are present in Mexico that operate in a highly competitive, highly profitable, highly illegal, immensely violent global industry. The Mexican cartels mainly provide a distribution service for the drug-producing areas of South America, and provide the market pathway into the riches of the United States. Thus, the problem in Mexico is very much in tandem a US problem and therefore a valid area of study for the US Military. The cartels are vast and all very different: Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Beltrán-Leyva,Juarez, La Familia Michoacana & Los Zetas – these are the main cartels although subdivisions exist and other splinter groups may assist various different bodies in the distribution and enforcement of the criminal activity. There are alliances among the cartels in addition to disputes and the intra-cartel warfare can be particularly brutal. The Mexican State utilise many strategies from military to political to law enforcement policing, and they are often backed up from the USA with it Merida initiative. Solutions to the conflicts and problem are provided in detail and range from legalisation of drugs, in particular in the USA and also improved military and law enforcement tactics. This study is comprehensive and provides much detail on a very complex subject. I don’t think that any immediate solution is on the horizon for Mexico and for if it is not to exist as a failed state the cartels and their power are an issue which must not be allowed to further escalate out of control.

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Review: Hidden Dangers – Mexico on the Brink of Disaster – by Robert Joe Stout

Hidden Dangers

Stout’s book is a detailed study of the status quo in Mexico and its relationship with its uber-powerful Northern neighbour. Based in Oaxaca, Robert Joe Stout’s writing often reflects detailed local knowledge and overall, his grip on Mexican and Mexican-USA affairs is profound. The book falls into 5 main chapters where various ‘landmines’ awaiting explosion are discussed. From migration to the cutthroat ‘War on Drugs’, from the environment to political activism and corruption. The poise of Stout is always of an educated man yet he has a Derridean presence, enough to see the wider picture and to target a worldwide readership. I love the way he interlinks words and phrases from Mexico such a ‘Cuatear’ and ‘debajo el agua’. I found the War on Drugs to be a noteworthy chapter – it is very difficult to see a solution to this militarized situation and with 50000 deaths already and 70% of Mexico’s cash being generated by the illegal drug industry, there are no easy solutions to this landmine. The author’s work here builds on other detailed studies I have read on this situation such as Joan Grillo’s ‘El Narco’. I found the chapter on corruption to be where the author was most freeflowing and insightful. The detail in this chapter, combined with direct local knowledge and research gives this book an edge on other contemporary studies on Mexico. Overall, I loved Stout’s revelations in ‘Hidden Dangers’ and as a Translation / Hispanic Studies student at Cardiff University I hope that this book and its contents can be featured on future courses at the institution. Five Star Rating.

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Review: Santa Muerte – Mexico’s Mysterious Saint Of Death – by Tony Kail

santa muerte

This book documents the rapidly growing Mexican folk faith that is ‘Santa Muerte’ or ‘Saint Death’. The iconic image of the skulled woman with a scythe gives hope to many discomforted souls on the fringes of Mexican and indeed global society. From the origins of death cults across the world, to the exploration of the faith’s pre-Colombian roots, the author (not a follower of Santa Muerte) assesses what draws followers to the dark mistress. From its fame spread through the Mexican underworld to its iconic presence in Western pop culture, Santa Muerte attracts new followers in their millions and attempts by the Mexican government and Catholic church to stamp out this ‘abomination’ are so far failing. The book is a nice introduction to the subject and although brief, the author does get to grips with enough material and introduces ideas that can be followed up with further study. A concise and interesting read on a new cultural hispanic phenomenon.

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Review: Translation and Identity in the Americas

Translation And Identity In The Americas

Translation and Identity in the Americas by Gentzler Edwin My rating: 5 of 5 stars This was the first book I have borrowed and read from Cardiff University library’s Translation section. As a Translation student focussing on the Spanish language, I felt that this book would offer plenty of interest to me, considering that the Americas has the largest hispanic population in the world. The book is subdivided into five main chapters, each directed towards a certain geographic region in the Americas. The monolingualism of the USA, with its vast multicultural population, displays problems in the cultural struggles created by the way it forces minorities to adapt to English, the arrogance of this coming to light very much in the post September 11th world where military action has often been plagued with troubles of mistranslation and at official levels, an overwhelming dependence upon the force majeure of the official tongue. Quebec offers a unique zone in the Americas and its struggles with linguistic identity and its isolation are clearly demonstrated by Edwin. I found the history of Quebec to be enlightening and was new knowledge to me. The way that its patois language, joual, struggles to define itself in a society dominated by colonial English and French, formed a major role in the Quebecois independence movement and has manifested itself in local theatre and the adaptation of translation as a device for the feminist movement. This feminist translation in Quebec has transcended to borders and come to the forefront of translation studies worldwide. The chapter on Brazilian Cannibalism was, for me, the most interesting of the whole book. It truly indicates a unique way of looking at the post-colonial world. How cannibalism itself can be viewed from within Brazil as a positive force yet to the external viewer it is seen as a negative connotation of savagery, demonstrates the Derridaean deconstruction at play in translation to a relatively understandable level for the novice initiate into translation studies. The cannibalist school of thought shows how translation redefines boundaries and how there is a struggle between cultures in the process. The works of Latin American fiction authors and their relationships to Translation was particularly relevant to me, as a student of Spanish. I discovered some new authors here and have bookmarked their work. I also, as a result of this chapter, plan to reread Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude, to view…

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Review: Translation and Identity in the Americas

Translation and Identity in the Americas by Gentzler Edwin My rating: 5 of 5 stars This was the first book I have borrowed and read from Cardiff University library’s Translation section. As a Translation student focussing on the Spanish language, I felt that this book would offer plenty of interest to me, considering that the Americas has the largest hispanic population in the world. The book is subdivided into five main chapters, each directed towards a certain geographic region in the Americas. The monolingualism of the USA, with its vast multicultural population, displays problems in the cultural struggles created by the way it forces minorities to adapt to English, the arrogance of this coming to light very much in the post September 11th world where military action has often been plagued with troubles of mistranslation and at official levels, an overwhelming dependence upon the force majeure of the official tongue. Quebec offers a unique zone in the Americas and its struggles with linguistic identity and its isolation are clearly demonstrated by Edwin. I found the history of Quebec to be enlightening and was new knowledge to me. The way that its patois language, joual, struggles to define itself in a society dominated by colonial English and French, formed a major role in the Quebecois independence movement and has manifested itself in local theatre and the adaptation of translation as a device for the feminist movement. This feminist translation in Quebec has transcended to borders and come to the forefront of translation studies worldwide. The chapter on Brazilian Cannibalism was, for me, the most interesting of the whole book. It truly indicates a unique way of looking at the post-colonial world. How cannibalism itself can be viewed from within Brazil as a positive force yet to the external viewer it is seen as a negative connotation of savagery, demonstrates the Derridaean deconstruction at play in translation to a relatively understandable level for the novice initiate into translation studies. The cannibalist school of thought shows how translation redefines boundaries and how there is a struggle between cultures in the process. The works of Latin American fiction authors and their relationships to Translation was particularly relevant to me, as a student of Spanish. I discovered some new authors here and have bookmarked their work. I also, as a result of this chapter, plan to reread Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude, to view…

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Review: The Last Narco: Hunting El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord

The Last Narco: Hunting El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord by Malcolm Beith My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a fast-moving story of the rise of Mexico’s most feared and influential drug lord, El Chapo. The Sinaloa cartel occupies the number one position in terms of prestige of drug organisations and Guzman Loera has hit the Forbes list of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. After a daring prison break he hides out from Mexican and US authorities as well as rival gangs in the hills of his native Mexico. Beith is a journalist who attempts to piece together the myths surrounding this elusive character and he weaves a very readable and exciting story together which combines romance, bloodthirsty homicide, big business administration, corruption and the life of the modern day Mexican Robin Hood and his associates. The situation in Mexico is extreme and unbelievable in may ways. It has certainly transcended all the boundaries first witnessed during the rise of the Colombian cartels decades ago. This book is perhaps lacking in truth in some ways as the evidence is so difficult to establish, yet it is well-written and gives the reader a good insight into one of the greatest plagues of the modern world. View all my reviews

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