Accomplished, chilling account of the murderous growth of Mexican drug cartels.
Mexico City–based journalist Grillo has reported from the region since 2001; his experience is evident in his easy, wry familiarity with the political and social currents of Latin America. He argues that “the Mexican Drug War is inextricably linked to the democratic transition” of 2000, in that the country’s recently elected governments were unprepared to contend with ruthless criminal gangs that had complex regional feuds and allegiances. Grillo examines how the violence of the last several years has exploded in a comprehensible and even predictable way: “Residents of northern Mexico have not turned into psychotic killers overnight after drinking bad water. This violence exploded and escalated over a clear time frame.” Beginning with the Zetas’ recruitment of soldiers in the late 1990s, the author argues that gangsters concluded they could outgun the forces of order. The war that followed, over territory and smuggling routes, pitted Sinaloan gangsters, who’d traditionally managed cannabis and opiate production, against the upstart northeast gangs, and cycles of horrifying bloodshed have followed ever since, with an estimated 35,000 dead. Unfortunately for everyone, the nascent democratic government was persuaded to adopt the American “drug war” model, resulting in a startling deterioration of the social fabric—retaliatory actions by gangsters have resulted in numerous massacres, including attacks on civilians and police officers. Yet seizure rates prove that the cartels “can still operate at full capacity while they fight bloody battles,” suggesting a shocking futility at the heart of the violence. Grillo even documents how Mexican culture has been transformed, discussing dark “narco religions” and the violent yet jaunty narcocorrido music.
A valuable contribution to the literature of the Drug War.