Living and Dying in Central America
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Hard-hitting exploration of the violence visited by globalization and the narco-economy upon Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Human Rights Prize–winning journalist Martínez (The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, 2013) follows up his grisly, underdiscussed debut investigation of human trafficking with a similarly unflinching account of the circumstances and communities involved in the ongoing migrant crisis. “I want you to understand what thousands of Central Americans are going through,” he writes. The author argues that the American expulsion of first-generation Mara Salvatrucha and other Central American refugee gangs led to the violent groups’ expansion back home: “What the United States has tried to flush away has rather multiplied.” Simultaneously, Mexican cartels (notably the brutal Los Zetas) firmed up their transshipment routes through these countries’ rural, impoverished regions; this conjunction has resulted in the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, in areas where law enforcement is undersupported and easily corrupted. Martínez draws readers into this complex narrative by alternating between a panoramic social sweep and the beleaguered lives of civilians, victims, gang members, and cops, capturing the multilayered nature of a place whose indigenous traditions are being brutalized by modern criminals who commit murder casually. The punchy short chapters capture shocking tableaux of violence in distanced, nearly wry prose, with some characters and crimes recurring. The author follows one hardened gangster who’s obsessed with his own inevitable murder: “It’s clear that El Nino was recognized in the town as someone destined to die.” Absurdity is captured in the account of investigators facing the Sisyphean task of excavating a rural well known to be packed with corpses. Martínez returns to his earlier topic, portraying the cruelty of the migrant experience: “What you think is stupid sitting at home can be the most logical thing in the world on the trails.”

Smart, angry immersive journalism from an author who warrants wider readership on this side of the border.

Pub Date: March 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-78478-168-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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