El Narco: The Bloody Rise of Mexican Drug Cartels by Ioan Grillo


Rating: 3.5 Stars ★★★☆☆

It all seemed like a bad dream.


El Narco is the story of the ultraviolent criminal organizations that have turned huge areas of Mexico into a combat zone. It is a piercing portrait of a drug trade that turns ordinary men into mass murderers, as well as a diagnosis of what drives the cartels and what gives them such power. Veteran Mexico correspondent Ioan Grillo traces the gangs from their origins as smugglers to their present status as criminal empires. The narco cartels are a threat to the Mexican government, and their violence has now reached as far as North Carolina.


This book is about the criminal networks that paid Gonzalo to hack off human heads. It tells the story of these groups’ radical transformation from drug smugglers into paramilitary death squads who have killed tens of thousands and terrorized communities with car bombs, massacres, and grenade attacks. It is a look inside their hidden world and at the brutal mafia capitalism they perpetrate. It is the tale of many ordinary Mexicans sucked into their war or victimized by it.

In El Narco, the author traces the history of the Mexican drug cartels from their beginnings as smugglers and helpers of the Colombian cartels to their height.

It is a fascinating, gruesome look into the world of drug trafficking and crime in Mexico. The book is very well written and comprehensive with many, often very drastic stories illustrating the individual points.

The sheer scale of the violence, the lows to which they stoop is incredible. The fact that these things really happened, that people would do such things to each other almost beggars belief.

The author clearly shows how far the power of these cartels reaches in Mexico, a country he calls a captured state. He puts forward some ideas of how their power could even creep north into America. It already has crept south into other Latin American countries.

We hear little about communist guerillas in the Americas these days, but criminal uprisings are spreading like bushfire. In El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha forced bus drivers into a national strike over antigang laws; in Brazil, the First Command torched eighty-two buses, seventeen banks, and killed forty-two policemen in one coordinated offensive; in Jamaica, police clashed with supporters of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, leaving seventy dead.

One central question recurs throughout the book: How can the power of these cartels be clipped? The sad thing is that there seem to be no answers for this. After all, shutting down the border has been tried before and it was ineffective:

Historians are mixedf on the merits and failures of Nixon’s aggressive experiment. On one side, it showed the United States could not afford the economic consequences of shutting down its southern border. Four decades later, with far greater trade between the two nations and the volatility of global markets, such a move is unthinkable.



A fascinating look at the gruesome world of Mexican drug cartels and how they became what they are today.


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