Over four years, Luca Rastello, an Italian journalist for La Repubblica, interviewed many of the players involved in the global cocaine trade. His new book, I Am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons, is a jolting behind-the scenes look at the how cocaine is cultivated and dispersed throughout the world—and the people who make it happen.
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Rastello, also the director of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, a think tank focusing on criminal economies and international relations, speaks through an anonymous sistemista, the ultimate drug-smuggling mastermind, whose blunt take on his everyday, but very criminal world, can be shocking throughout the book. Here, the author talks with Kirkus about his years delving into the cocaine trade.
How did you get the idea for the book?
I was looking for a sistemista for many years since the time when I directed the magazine Narcomafie in the early ’90s. The magazine specialized on the criminal economy. We managed to have good analysis about international relationships and organized crime, but not so much about concrete logistics.
Is the narrator modeled after a particular person?
There is a principal voice, of course—a sistemista, convicted to 22 years for drug smuggling, but he gave me also many contacts to complete my work, so not all of the stories in the book are about him.
Why did you choose to tell of the drug trade through this anonymous narrator?
Because he is a rare case of sistemista—people who revolutionized the logistics of drug snuggling in the 1990s after the fall of the great cartellos. I think logistics is essential to understanding the real dynamics of the criminal market, and I was sure this is one of the least investigated fields in the research about illegal drugs.
What do you think about critics who question your statistics and facts? Some
examples that have been questioned are that Castro did not graduate from the University of Miami, or the figure of $10 million invested annually by the Colombian cartel into the Florida economy.
The sum of $10 million actually is very old, coming from a report of the Mexican government referenced in an USIA [United States Information Agency] paper related to the 1990s. The statement about Castro is part of a speech directly given from one of my sources—this is his tale. I tried to report their voices and their opinion, as any reader can see himself.
You are able to engage the reader in a very entertaining way while laying out how the War on Drugs is doing more to devastate the poor and empower the criminal, however you offer no solutions on how to stop or even slow the trade. Why?
I think it is not my role. Why does a journalist have to give solution about an international politics problem?
I Am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons
Faber & Faber / March 8, 2011 / 9780865479494 / $22.00