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Reading List - Mexico's Drug War

James R Douglas March 08

If it is your love of literature that lead you to the Meanjin website, then you, like many others, have perhaps been paying attention to the burgeoning ouvre of Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean writer who passed away in 2003, and whose works in English translation have garnered much attention over the past decade. If you have read his opus 2666 then you cannot help but recall that book’s devastating ‘The Part About the Crimes’; a relentless, dispassionate accounting of a seemingly endless succession of serial murders of women in the fictional Mexican border city of Santa Teresa. I was sufficiently affected by Bolaño’s writing that when I learned that the book was based on a real series of murders (still ongoing) in Ciudad Juárez , I began to take notice when journalism about Mexico’s drug wars crossed my radar.

The violence that Bolaño depicts is endemic and horrific enough, but he didn’t even live to see the start of Mexico’s drug war proper in 2006, when President Felipe Calderon ordered 50,000 soldiers to join police in a war on drugs, and effectively militarised the drug cartels’ opposition. Over 28,000 deaths later the ‘war’ continues, and what began as a simple police problem has spiralled down into something approaching what Hillary Clinton called an ‘insurgency’, with some cartels effectively controlling parts of the country. In 2010 a front-page editorial in El Diario, a Juárez newspaper, addressed the local cartel directly: “We want you to explain to us what you want from us…What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling” (Mexico Paper, a Drug War Victim, Calls for a Voice)

It’s a mind-bogglingly complex issue, so far beyond anything Australia has had to deal with, and it’s all the more astounding when one considers that it is happening right next door to the United States.

But it’s not just a Mexican problem. Canny writers have noted that the cartels’ violent competitiveness is fueled in part by the massive demand for recreational drugs in the US, as well as that country’s excessively punitive treatment of drug users. And it’s turning into an Australian problem as well. In July 2010 police seized an $83 Million shipment of Mexican cocaine bound for Sydney via the Port of Melbourne, and in September of that year The Age reported that the Sinaloa Cartel (one of Mexico’s most powerful and well-established cartels, which you will read about below) has infiltrated Australia’s drug trade, supposedly accounting for half of the cocaine used on the east coast in the previous two years (Mexican cocaine baron muscles in)

So here, for your edification, are three fine pieces of writing about Mexico’s drug war.

Silver or Lead by William Finnegan

A fine overview of the war itself, as well as a more specific look at the La Familia cartel in Michoacán. Finnegan outlines both the spread and viciousness of the violence, as well as the way these cartels can effectively become the ruling body in the districts they operate within.

In the Name of the Law by William Finnegan

Finnegan again, with a look at the attendant problems of corruption in the police force that the drug war has brought.

The Murderers of Mexico by Alma Guillermoprieto

Guillermoprieto often writes for The New York Review of Books on drug related violence in Mexica and elsewhere in Latin America. This is a review of four books, including a biography of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the ‘most powerful trafficker on earth’, whose Sinaloa cartel now operates in Australia.



by Barbara Temperton
08 Mar 12 at 13:45

I was bowled over by Roberto Bolano’s “The Savage Detectives” when I read it last year, and I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about his work. Shall add “2666” to my must read list.



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