THE BEAST by Óscar Martínez


Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
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Grim, grisly account of the predations suffered by impoverished migrants on the hazardous journey to el Norte.

Previously published in Spain in 2010 and in Mexico in 2012, Martínez’s debut is the hard-won result of immersive journalism. After several large-scale kidnappings of migrants, the author spent two years following the routes used by undocumented travelers though Mexico. He found that the rise of powerful, violent drug cartels has eradicated the rules of an already challenging journey; now, the migrants are universally viewed as human chattel to be exploited. Martínez writes precisely, with bleak gallows humor, as when he notes of cops unhappy with his investigation, “a dead migrant is commonplace, but a couple of dead journalists is another matter.” Yet all his observations are numbingly bleak. He finds border cities, like the notoriously violent Ciudad Juarez, to be “racked by a madness akin to civil war,” while the feared Los Zetas “have infiltrated everywhere. Not even the Army is clean.” The narrative is a litany of horrors: casual murder, near-universal sexual assault and frequent accidental deaths via freight-hopping. Martínez portrays a Mexican society in which these pathologies are universally understood, yet cartel intimidation and bureaucratic corruption have destroyed the social order: “There is, simply put, nobody to assure the safety of migrants in Mexico.” Meanwhile, the United States’ high-tech border militarization has resulted in a “funneling” effect, forcing vulnerable migrants and drug smugglers to share increasingly constricted routes. “Where is it safe to cross? And the answer is, nowhere,” he writes. “The US government has made sure of that.” Martínez develops attentive portraits of the migrants, officials, aid workers and criminals he encounters; his first-person account is executed with passion and grit, illuminating a heartbreaking yet easily ignored reality.

A harrowing look at the real costs of globalization, immigration and drug-prohibition politics, short on solutions and absent hope.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78168-132-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2013


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