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I AM THE MARKET by Luca Rastello


How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons

by Luca Rastello translated by Jonathan Hunt

Pub Date: March 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-86547-949-4
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Provocative, troubling treatise on how large-scale cocaine smuggling has tainted all aspects of the global economy.

The incendiary title is somewhat hyperbolic. While the book contains many tips regarding the mechanics of trafficking, the first-person narrative conceals a more scholarly framework. La Repubblica journalist Rastello directs the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, a think tank devoted to the economics of criminality. The author explains that his book represents “an attempt (a hazardous one, in all honesty) to allow [traffickers] to hold the floor, without censoring them.” Thus, Rastello writes from behind a composite persona of an (understandably) anonymous veteran smuggler, an Italian who’s reaped both great wealth and a 22-year-prison sentence from his misdeeds. The narrator organizes the book’s five chapters into “lessons” based on hard-won understandings gained as a sistemista, a logistics and transport specialist relied on by South-American cartels. The first chapter, “The Problem,” provides historical context. During the 1980s, the cartels simply bribed everyone in sight, but the loyalty of corrupt officials was inevitably suspect, especially as competitive bloodshed increased. Simultaneously, an enormous new market for cocaine was developing in Europe, fueled by ruthless nationalists in league with criminals. Although cocaine producers continued using mules and other small-scale smuggling methods, they also began developing what the narrator refers to as “delivery in the dark,” compartmentalizing operations so that the smuggling task became the sole responsibility of the sistemistas, “the managers of big shipments, the guys who shift immense riches, flood continents, change the planet’s destiny, and then go and drink a glass of pisco or rum.” The narrator asserts that his smuggling innovations “guarantee the safety of the merchandise and of the employees.” Essentially, he conceals substantial loads within bulky products like tiles or granite, disguising the process by mimicking legitimate shipments to well-regarded corporations, and receiving eight-figure profits following a six-figure investment.

An entertaining narrative, roguishly told, and also a pungent explanation of prohibition’s inevitable failure.