Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"El Sicario"

by Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera \ El Paso Times

Drug traffic is quite possibly the most important subject in understanding modern Mexico, as it comes up in virtually every big-picture discussion of politics, law enforcement, economics and social trends in the country.

However, despite numerous explorations into its causes and consequences, little is known about the personal stories of the men and women who populate the armies of Mexican criminal organizations.

We know, for instance, that the lack of educational and work opportunities make young people vulnerable targets for drug traffickers looking for new recruits. But when exactly does a young man become a killer? Where does he learn to kill? And who is such a man? In El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin (Nation Books), an insider gives us a look behind the curtain.

The book, edited by New Mexico State University librarian Molly Molloy and journalist and author Charles Bowden, is an extension of the documentary Sicario: Room 164, in which the editors interviewed a former sicario, or hit man, for the Juárez cartel, now a born-again Christian seeking redemption.

The story - with the exception of Bowden's preface, Molloy's introduction into the sicario's world and a handful of notes within the text - is a transcribed and translated first-person account of a man trained to be an obedient and ruthless killer who turned his back on the cartel and now lives on the run. Apparently driven by a need to exorcise his demons and empty the poison, the sicario shares his experiences with a personal sense of mission to warn young people about life within drug organizations.

He retells his life as a classic story of passage through innocence, sin and redemption. It begins with a child growing in poverty who prizes above all the memory of a visit to the circus, the only time his parents had enough money to take him and his siblings out.

However, instead of presenting himself as a victim of circumstances, the sicario describes his frustrations with powerlessness and his ambitions for a different path from the work-saturated lives of his parents. Despite being a bright student who earns scholarships and starts college, he begins to do drug runs at an early age. At 15, he meets the current head of the Juárez cartel, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, and as a young man he decides to drop out of college and enter the police academy - under the sponsorship of the cartel.

The sicario describes police academies as training grounds for cartel operatives, where cadets on the cartel's payroll would even go to special FBI-hosted training in the United States.

The penetration of drug organizations into government institutions goes even further, as the sicario describes his duties delivering money to state officials, using patrol cars to move drugs, the old pacts with local governments to not sell drugs within their cities, and the presence of top military officials at narco-parties.

The following years are a blur of drugs and alcohol, which numb the sicario's senses so he can diligently obey his bosses' every instruction and not feel anything every time he kills or tortures a man.

The sicario talks about hundreds of undiscovered mass graves across Mexico that he doubts will ever be unearthed, describes kidnapping operations and gruesome torture techniques, retells the time his "unit" helped broker a peace deal between rival gangs and the municipal prison, and shares insights into the deaths of a well- respected Juárez journalist and an efficient prosecutor with the federal attorney general's office.

Eventually, realizing he had surrendered two decades of his life and personal ambitions to serve el patrón, the sicario decides to escape - a decision that leads to his current life on the run and back into poverty.

Most of his story is difficult to verify, although Molloy tried to cross-reference some of the events he narrates with existing media accounts. Furthermore, his language is sometimes vague and, as a transcription of a virtually uninterrupted monologue, sometimes lacks clarity and continuity, providing few concrete details about specific incidents and individuals involved in the drug trade.

Nevertheless, it is a man's clearheaded and articulated reflection on his life, one that exemplifies similar realities for thousands of Mexican men and women. Overall, it is a rare treat to hear such a story straight from the lion's mouth, one that offers a valuable glimpse into the mechanisms of recruitment within drug organizations and their precise divisions of labor.

El Sicario raises mixed feelings - the sicario himself wonders whether someone like him deserves forgiveness and redemption. But however the reader judges the storyteller, the book offers a look into the back halls behind the official story of Mexico and adds complexity to our understanding of the tight grip that drug organizations hold over Mexican society as a whole.


  1. What is the purpose of publishing such a book? You are just glorifying a narco.

  2. Just got done with The Last Narco, I'm ordering the book right now

  3. here you go

  4. if you cant read in german its time to learn.

  5. I'm sure Bowden has a justification for writing this book (other than trying to cash in on the popularity of narco stories) but I can't think of one good reason for it. I wouldn't buy it.

    So the guy went from doing the most terrible of tortures to being born-again. So what. If he wants to redeem himself he should put a bullet in his head. Shame on you Charlie Bowden.

  6. I think it is, just as they say, a first hand account of his job he once had. There's many books outthere on many crimes like rapists, serial killers and yet I wouldn't say its glorifying them but more of hearing everyday stuff we see on the news being put into a book.

  7. One must understand the enemy in order to fight it... Just saying.

  8. It is just me or did this article sound like publicity to buy the book?

  9. Its the same thing as amerucan glorifying their serial killers .. Like ted bundy or charles manson ... Except these sicarios are more crazier than these american killers ... These fuckers got balls down in mexico n pretty soon that shit will be happening here in america ..i wouldnt doubt that ... This war on drugs is gonna have no ending as long as there is supply n demand .. N these american junkies do crazy shit to get these drugs like rob n steal which these mexican sicarios will do the same crazy shit to get the drugs over to this side .... But they aint no cowards that throw rocks n hide hands ..these fckers will shoot you down n mutilate you ..n leave a message crediting themselves now thats showing balls in which alot of these mexican military dont want no part of ... So dont expect this to end soon .as long as american junkies demand drugs these mexican sicarios are guna keep supplying n do whatever possible to get this stuff across even if thry have to kill a couple of cops or women n children to do it ... These guys dont give a fuck you can see its anarchy south of the border..

  10. @ anon 11:31

    Should we not write books about hitler for fear of glorifying Nazi's?

  11. I would buy it, simply because I read everything I can get my hands, an old habit from my College days.

    Although there may be another motive for publishing this book, by reading it you usually can see what that motive is and that is always good to know.

  12. 2:25...You seem to be confusing stupidity with bravity. It's not that these sicarios are more manly than American thugs. it's that there's no police action involved in Mexico whereas in the U.S. there is a higher risk of getting caught and doing time or getting the syringe. Not to sound arrogant but a short-ass Mexican would not last a night in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island if he so much as tried to sell a rock. These sicarios are nothing but mules fighting each other for the right to transport in the hood up in New York, that's where shit is Real. I'm talking about thousands of people living in one single block with rival gangs living next to each other not like in L.A. Please don't compare your little anarchy boys who can run around with practically no consequences to a city of close to 10 million...for realz.

  13. Reading this book right now actually, and trust me its not glorifying him in ANY way. All the words of the book are the words that he himself said,not bowdens interpretation.
    Very good book, if you would like to actually see inside the world of narco trafficking instead of aimlessly pointing fingers than I definitely recommend this.

  14. Bowden's sicario first appeared in print in Harper's magazine in 2009 under the title "The Sicario: A Juarez hit man speaks".

  15. Well whenever I see 36 murders in a single day in bronx brooklyn ... Then ill believe your shyt ... But up north theres nothing but a bunch of vaginas .... Who wont even visit mexico.....

  16. Lalo,
    Call me a vagina or call me a pussy for not going to Mexico. No es miedo es preocaucion....
    Don't go looking for trouble when you don't want it. Doesn't take a man to do wrong, it takes a man to realize when he is wrong. Pinches narcos have lost all lively hood and admiration if there was once such a thing.

    Old school narcos wouldn't be butchering up their own kind. La mentalidad enferma runs deep in la tierra caliente right now. It will take real men to do the right thing and straighten up Mexico.


  17. I can see the views it will get from most of the liberal mindset, "oh it wasn't his fault, we should have helped out mexico by giving more of our tax payer money to them to keep it's citizens from being poor".

  18. Just finished the book. Wasn't glorifying in any way being sicario or any aspect of narco life. Very good read, I think everyone who's interested in this blog would like that book.

  19. I agree. It takes someone with BIG BALLS to run Mexico. I can not believe no one has them. I can not believe that we cant feel safe in our own country! How sad that we have to live in fear everyday of our lives because at any given moment we can be killed cause were at the wrong place at the wrong time. These people dont realize there hurting innocent people just because they want to kill someone. I dont know how these Sicarios even go to sleep at nite knowing that they hurt and kill innocent people. This book made me realize how messed up Mexico and US really is. But the US just covers it up! But I think like Lalo pretty soon the US will be like MX. Maybe it is, but we just dont know about it.?

  20. Know how I can tell a lot of people haven't actually read the book?


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