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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: 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: At The Devil’s Table – Inside the Fall of the Cali Cartel – the World’s Biggest Crime Syndicate – by William C. Rempel

at the devils table

Jorge Salcedo signed up to the Cali cartel in order to lead a mission to assassinate Pablo Escobar, head of the rival Medellín cartel and, in Jorge’s eyes, a clear and present danger to the people of Colombia. This ex Colombian army professional was a security expert and although the initial mission, with the aid of British mercenaries, was to fail, Jorge embarked on a flourishing career with his Cali cartel bosses, one that would end in betrayal and the fall of the biggest crime syndicate on the planet. Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela were the brothers at the head of the Cali cartel and Jorge would become part of their inner circle, as a trusted almost family member, in charge of Miguel’s day-to-day security and all the cartel business that that entailed. He would witness the trafficking operation that flooded the US market with Cocaine and would bear party to the intense violence that accompanied his boss’ position, gradually becoming an integral part of all operations. From learning how the sicarios operated, to engaging overseas in Nicaragua and the USA, to witnessing assassinations, Jorge would build up an essential insider’s knowledge of the cartel’s overall business. However, as time wore on, and it became clear that there would be no easy exit for him from the cartel, Jorge became disillusioned and ultimately sought to betray his boss. Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela became the most wanted criminal on the planet and when Jorge fell into the arms of the DEA, his knowledge of daily operations assisted the US and Colombian authorities in tracking down and successfully capturing the head of the syndicate. Jorge and his family fled into protective custody and the Cali cartel was permanently weakened by the ‘chopping off of the head’. This book, well researched clandestinely for over a decade, tells a bloodthirsty true tale of top level narco-trafficking, political corruption, and gang warfare. It is a true page-turner that will engage and grip you from start to finish.

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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 – The Legend of El Chapo Guzman – by J.D.Rockefeller

the legend of el chapo Guzman

The subject of the book makes it appealing and gives you the desire to part with the £6 or so it costs on Amazon. El Chapo is a buzz subject a folk-hero, a modern legend. He is head of the Sinaloa Cartel and in charge of one of the most lucrative drug-trading networks on the planet. However, I would seriously avoid buying this book as it is very poorly written and researched. There is nothing here that you would not get from surfing to Joaquin Loera Guzman’s wikipedia. The book is very short and can be read (with difficulty) in half an hour – only 25 pages of large type. It appears, due to the very poor standard of English that it is translated from another language (most probably Spanish). However, a professional translator was not consulted and it is most probably a simple transposition of Spanish newspaper articles, using Google Translate. It really is so poorly written that I can see no other explanation. I think that the author is simply coining in on El Chapo’s name and portraying him also in rather a negative light. I, for one, would not like to cross paths and offend such a potentially explosively dangerous man by character assassination which is basically what this book amounts to. A cheap poke at a cult figure and an attempt to coin in on someone else’s fame. For such a worthy and interesting subject it would pay heed, as an author, to do some proper research, to get on the actual ground in Sinaloa, and gain some true revelations which would be far more interesting than just casually reproducing evidence that is already in the public domain and doing a bad job of that also. A discredit to El Chapo and unworthy of any attention. AVOID!

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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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