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El Narco
Cover of El Narco
El Narco
Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency
"Essential reading."-Steve Coll, NewYorker.com

A gripping, sobering account of how Mexican drug gangs have transformed into a criminal insurgency that threatens the nation's democracy and reaches across to the United States.
The world has watched, stunned, the bloodshed in Mexico. Forty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it part of a worldwide shadow economy that threatens Mexico's democracy? The United States throws Black Hawk helicopters, DEA assistance, and lots of money at the problem. But in secret, Washington is at a loss. Who are these mysterious figures who threaten Mexico's democracy? What is El Narco?
El Narco is not a gang; it is a movement and an industry drawing in hundreds of thousands, from bullet-riddled barrios to marijuana-covered mountains. The conflict spawned by El Narco has given rise to paramilitary death squads battling from Guatemala to the Texas border (and sometimes beyond).
In this "propulsive ... high-octane" book (Publishers Weekly), Ioan Grillo draws the first definitive portrait of Mexico's cartels and how they have radically transformed.
"Essential reading."-Steve Coll, NewYorker.com

A gripping, sobering account of how Mexican drug gangs have transformed into a criminal insurgency that threatens the nation's democracy and reaches across to the United States.
The world has watched, stunned, the bloodshed in Mexico. Forty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it part of a worldwide shadow economy that threatens Mexico's democracy? The United States throws Black Hawk helicopters, DEA assistance, and lots of money at the problem. But in secret, Washington is at a loss. Who are these mysterious figures who threaten Mexico's democracy? What is El Narco?
El Narco is not a gang; it is a movement and an industry drawing in hundreds of thousands, from bullet-riddled barrios to marijuana-covered mountains. The conflict spawned by El Narco has given rise to paramilitary death squads battling from Guatemala to the Texas border (and sometimes beyond).
In this "propulsive ... high-octane" book (Publishers Weekly), Ioan Grillo draws the first definitive portrait of Mexico's cartels and how they have radically transformed.
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About the Author-
  • A native of England, Ioan Grillo has covered Mexico since 2001 for top newspapers, magazines and TV stations in the US and UK. He reports for Time Magazine as well as producing presentations for stations including PBS, ABC and Channel 4 of the UK. He regularly appears on radio and TV, commenting on Mexican crime and other issues. He has witnessed police and military operations, mafia killings and major seizures; he's also discussed the drug war with two Mexican presidents, three attorney generals and the U.S. ambassador, among others.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 13, 2011
    Grillo, a seasoned reporter on the Mexican narcotics industry, offers a propulsive account of the blood-soaked machinery of "El Narco," the shadowy complex of drug cartels, street gangs, and paramilitary death squads that have littered Mexican streets with bodies and AK-47 shells. He tracks the violence that has surged in the vacuum left by the demise of the one-party government's byzantine but delicately balanced system of corruption, painting a grim portrait of the corrupt police, soldiers, and officials who, figuring they can't beat the crime, make a tidy fortune by joining it. Rife with tales of torture, decapitation, and mass kidnappings, the book levels an unflinching eye on the smugglers lauded as folk heroes in popular narcocorridas, or drug ballads, as the author talks to street thugs and assassins in their prison cells and luxury condos. Examining the trade's gunslinging culture, the motivations behind the continual ramping-up of violence, and some potential solutions to the problem, Grillo argues that America's hard-line rhetoric has failed—and that if a game-changing alternative is not implemented, the Mexican state could also fail. Given the savage chaos Grillo shows us in the country's streets and barrios, his arguments are as perceptive as his high-octane reportage.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2011

    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.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2011

    British journalist Grillo has spent a decade covering the chilling world of Mexico's rival drug cartels, which have steadily gained strength until reaching their current paramilitary status and have led to a staggering 30,000 murders in the past five years. Grillo aims to answer the questions, What is El Narco? Who are these drug smugglers? The book is divided into three parts: a section on the history of Mexico's drug war, covering the past 100 years; an explanation of El Narco's anatomy and the widespread corruption that keeps its death machine running; and a discussion of Mexico's future, revealing how inextricably involved with this war the United States has become. Grillo suggests a future course of action that could help turn the tide. VERDICT A graphic excursion into El Narco and the economic and political realities of Mexico, where a poor country boy's only chance of financial success may be to join a cartel. Fast paced, thorough, and shocking, this will engage readers interested in true crime, mob stories, current events, and the reality behind TV shows that dramatize the fast, short lives of those who run against the law.--Krista Bush, Shelton Pub. Schs., CT

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The Boston Globe Puts a human face on the bloodshed.
  • The Washington Post It is hard enough to report the facts of Mexico's crazy death spiral of drug violence. Ioan Grillo goes much, much deeper. He explains why El Narco threatens the soul of this beautiful country. He tells us how we got here.
  • New Yorker.com Essential reading.
  • Houston Chronicle Remarkable.
  • Independent A superb report from the front lines of narco-violence.
  • Daily Express [A] shining example of dogged, impassioned and courageous reporting ... compelling ... his pace is furious, like driving at top speed along a wild mountain track in a pickup and there is no doubting his expertise, his compassion or his grit.
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Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency
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