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

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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

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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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