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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Gangster Warlords" an interview with Ioan Grillo

Chivis Martinez with Adan V interviewing Ioan Grillo
By Chivis Martinez, (review and excerpt follows)
"Every ghetto youth is a soldier" A shower Posse gunman poses in
Tivoli Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica (Ioan Grillo)
When asked which of the journalists covering Mexico’s narco war do I most respect, it is a lonely list.  I allow myself to be so critical of big named “experts” paraded on CNN who haven’t a clue, or of mainstream media devoting a section for daily narco reporting, ” provided to them by “secret sources”, which in reality is  news gleaned from narco blogs and social media, worse yet they focus on sensationalism not being concerned with validity. A journalist on my list whose work I respect is Ioan Grillo. I trust his work. I am impressed by his method of gathering information, not from afar, but up close and personal.  A rarity in this day of journalism in the computer age, electronic communication will never replace being on location when researching a story, or being eye to eye gaining the trust of one with information.

Mix his authenticity with his brilliant storytelling ability and you know why he earned the elite status of "most trusted work".

Grillo is from Brighton England, he is now based in Mexico City (DF) and has been covering Latin America since 2001.  His book “El Narco” was published in 2011.  Although I had seen his work in mainstream media, it was that book that motivated me to follow him more closely.

I can’t recall when we began communicating, 2 or 3 years ago. But I have always been impressed how respectful and complementary to our blog he has been.  And he is a gentleman.  Always.

FYI; He has mentioned that he reads the comments from you BB readers, and finds them informative.
Last fall he offered me an advance copy of his new book, “Gangster Warlords”, I eagerly accepted.

This book is an even greater offering than El Narco.  Grillo invited me to meet him on his book tour, but as chance would have it I experienced a series of personal issues that resulted in my having to take a pass. But after looking at his schedule and seeing it was taking him to Berkeley, I knew who I would ask to meet Grillo for an interview.   Adan is a huge fan of Grillo’s work and lives in NorCal, he quickly accepted.

Grillo had his book presentation, was tired, had not eaten all day, but kept his word to sit down with Borderland Beat for a chat. Otis also attended the London presentation of his book, where Grillo was kind enough to recognize his presence and his representing Borderland Beat.

In Gangsters and Warlords, Grillo branches beyond Mexico in presenting a broad perspective of narco war sites/regions.  The book is comprised of 6 parts with the bulk of it being within 4 case studies presented in parts 2 through 5.

The four studies:

Brazil: “Comando Vermelho” (Red Command) Rio’s oldest and largest drug gang.
Kingston Jamaica: “Shower Posse”, the Carribean’s largest drug trafficking organzization
Central American Northern Triangle: (Guatemala, Hondorous, El Salvador)Mara Salvatrucha
Michoacán Mexico: Caballeros Templarios (Grillo uses “Knights Templar”) featuring Nazario Moreno, aka El Chayo aka El Más Loco (The Craziest” Grillo uses “Maddest”)

The chapters are much more broad than a concentrated effort of these four subjects, I promise you, no matter how astute one may think themselves in, about  all things narco, the scope is so large that it will keep the interest of anyone interested in organized crime and drug trafficking.
A Mara in Honduras shows his tats (Ioan  Grillo)
I recognize a heart of a humanitarian in Grillo, I sense that as all of us thrown into ground zero of the narco world, we “get used to atrocity”, in a way that allows us to continue with our job, but we never get used to the human tragedy and suffering.I heard Grillo speak of this in an interview.  He highlighted his first conversation with Ann Devert, mother of Harry, kidnapped and killed in Michoacán.  He said her heartache was palpable; her voice racked with pain, her only child having disappeared.  I too spoke to Ann at that time, and never stop speaking to her, today we are friends, brought together through the worse time of her life.  On a real level I could relate to her loss, and that of the mother of James Stacy.  My mother was a mother of a murdered young adult. But also their pain exemplified what over 100k mothers experienced in this so called drug war of Mexico.

I applaud Grillo for his sensitive account of his interaction of Ann, beginning in Chapter 48.  He speaks of her grasping on to rumor of Harry being seen, and the need to travel to Mexico to find him.
I encouraged her to go to Mexico. I said doing interviews in the U.S. was a wasted effort. Go to Mexico, be public, ring bells, be loud, make flyers do interviews.  I arranged a meeting with Doc Mireles, he  agreed to take Ann  along the highway Harry disappeared to meet with autodefensa groups, searching for answers.  Ann made the decision to forego Michoacan on the first trip and concentrate on Guerrero, where there was a reported sighting of Harry.  Of course there would be no second chance meeting with Doc Mireles, as he was arrested a couple months later.

While Grillo has a good grasp of what probably happened, I slightly disagree in one respect, when he said Huetamo, where Harry disappeared, was the frontline for narco groups of Guerrero and Michoacán,  I knew Harry was most assuredly taken by a new kidnapping group of brothers calling themselves, “Los Viagras”.  They live in Huetamo and control the area, and they had an alliance with Mencho, leader of CJNG.  It was under his direction that Harry was killed.

El Mencho has the best network of feds on the payroll than any other cartel.  Those soldiers who escorted Harry towards Huetamo were undoubtedly on Mencho payroll delivering Harry to Viagras. .Later, in August of 2015, there was an arrest in Guerrero, of Adrian Reyes, aka El Tigre CJNG plaza boss, who had a premier leader of Viagras, Mariano Sierra Santana at his home at the time of arrest. Known as El Negro, Sierra Santana was also arrested, both for the murder of Harry. I think it was a stop gap for the government, because there are far more people involved in the murder, but it did prove that the information I was given was most likely correct.

Grillo writes how as a journalist one must “keep our cool” covering a story.   But he goes on to say, how Ann’s pain got to him, and how tears welled up and poured down his cheeks.  I am so grateful that Grillo wrote about Ann in such a respectful,  honest way.

With Part VI: Peace? Grillo applies his ardent, astute perception in offering solutions. True to form as of any great storyteller, Grillo offers hope, on point suggesting that sweeping policy change, is the winning weapon in this so called endless drug war....

Photo credit Renato Miller

By Adan V. 

Ioan Grillo discusses his new book Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America, as well as the current state of events in Mexico and Latin America

In January,Ioan Grillo, who has been reporting on narco news from Latin America since 2001, appeared in Berkeley, California at an event sponsored by KPFA, the flagship station of the Pacifica Radio Network, to talk about his new book, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America. Following his discussion, I joined Mr. Grillo and some friends for dinners and drinks, where I had an opportunity to ask him some in-depth questions about his excellent new book and the crime situation in Mexico and Latin America in general. I have read his book page by page, and I highly recommend it, both for those interested in solutions to crime in the Americas, and those who enjoy good stories about criminals. 

Mr. Grillo, who's first book is El Narco, Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, gives some excellent insights into the causes of Latin America's incredible increase in criminal violence, while at the same time offering some possible solutions. He discusses the rise to power of four groups in four countries in the Americas, and the fall of one of them. The story begins with the Red Command prison gang in Brazil, who use their prison connection to control narcotics sales and transportation in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as smaller cities, before the story moves on to the Shower Posse in the garrisons, or ghettos, of Kingston Jamaica, which has grown to terrorize some US cities, including New York. Next we learn about the birth and hegemony of the Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs in Honduras and El Salvador, followed by the rise and fall of the Caballeros Templarios in Michoacan, who were led by a man who was literally considered a saint by his followers, while he committed untold murders and sold methamphetamine by the ton.

Grillo at Berkeley courtesy of Adan V 
A number of subjects were addressed by Mr. Grillo as he fielded questions from the audience with host Vylma V. A popular topic was the recent Sean Penn interview with Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, a case which left a bad taste for both the host of this event and much of the audience. Ioan noted that this was something any journalist would covet as the opportunity of a lifetime, and that Sean Penn is "a terrible journalist". 

He also observed that Kate de Castillo is an accomplished actress, but appeared out of her depth in her dealings with El Chapo. Mr. Grillo addressed issues related to the rise of violent gangsters to warlord status and noted the success of marijuana legalization in the United States, and asked the audience what they think of legalizing cocaine, which was met with broad support among the liberal audience, to some surprise.

Grillo believes that much of the profits from cocaine come from recreational users and not hardcore addicts, who make up the majority of heroin and methamphetamine users,and that this less harmful drug contributes tens of billions of dollars of capital to gangs and criminal groups throughout the world, providing them with the means to corrupt many levels of government. He believes the legalization of cocaine in some form should be a topic of discussion among drug policy reform advocates. The incredible profits from the sales of all of these potent and addictive narcotics has allowed peasant criminals in poor countries to achieve the status of warlord, as they build militia armies and take control of entire regions. They become the de facto government, and in many cases governments basically cede control, rather that risk the outcome of taking on these criminal leaders.

He answered a question from the audience about the tendency of media to publicize violence and the possibility that this fuels violent actions by criminal groups. Mr. Grillo mentioned a term from his book, coined by Chicago academic Ben Lessing: Violent lobbying, in which criminal groups mount large operations, or commit extreme acts of violence, to put pressure on the government to meet certain demands or change policies. 

Among the events discussed included the 49 decapitated bodies dumped by the Zetas drug cartel in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon in 2012, on the highway from Monterrey to Reynosa. He also discussed the attacks on police stations and police in São Paulo, Brazil, which essentially shut down the second largest city in the Americas for five days in 2006, leaving at least 150 dead, including over 30 police. 

These attacks were perpetrated by a prison gang, The First Capital Command, known by the acronym PCC,  from the Portuguese Primeiro Comando da Capital, who are allied with the Red Command. Ioan discusses several theories for the motive in his book, but whatever the motive it appears their demands were met. An interesting footnotes concerns the reprisals against civilians in the following weeks which gained little media attention. Some figures put the number of dead civilians as high as 500, which is a higher than the number of dissidents killed or disappeared during Brazil's 20 year military dictatorship. As far as criminals using to media to further their agenda, it's unfortunate that stories about mass murder are far more popular with readers than stories about crime prevention and policy reform. At the same time, it's lamentable that journalists face incredible danger when they report on crime in the Americas.

The ability of the DEA to infiltrate Mexican cartels was also discussed, as well as the cases of guns allowed to enter Mexico by the United States ATF. These same guns have turned up at cartel murder sites, and some were seized during the notorious recapture of "El Chapo" Guzmán last month. Grillo talked about the ability of the DEA to operate throughout the Americas and to develop informants or even place agents close to high-level cartel operators, mentioning one agent he talked with who was able to infiltrate several organizations due to his Mexican heritage, including high-level Colombian traffickers. He mentioned the 2009 death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva at the hands of the Mexican marines, who were following information provided by the Americans. Ioan says the head of the DEA in Mexico told him privately that an informant was paid $5 million for the information that led them to the "boss of bosses", or "El Botas Blancas".

Later I talked to Mr. Grillo one-on-one and I'm very impressed with his firm grasp of the situation in the Caribbean and Latin America, where the homicide rate has soared in recent years, while dropping precipitously in most of the world. I asked him about US policies in the region, which the progressive Berkeley audience was quick to blame for any and all ills troubling these countries, and which policies could be changed or augmented to reduce violence, aside from the elephant in the room, drug policy reform and/or the legalization of some drugs.
Rurales Michoacan (Ioan Grillo)
in the Americas are internal. While the United States propped up military juntas in a bid to promote free markets and democratic elections, they did little to build security apparatuses that are fair, and justice systems which are impartial. Ironically, one of the few countries in Central America to escape the plague of the Maras, or gangs, is the former Sandanista stronghold of Nicaragua, which built a strong internal security force to battle the US-backed Contras, a security force that is equally adept at rooting out criminal elements.

On the subject of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs in Central America, I asked Mr. Grillo what these countries can do to stop the spread of these deadly and powerful crime groups, and what he thinks of the gang truce conducted behind closed doors by the government of El Salvador, a truce which initially dramatically lowered homicide rates, but left residents angry when it was revealed, eventually leading to it's collapse. Ioan says first and foremost, you need a powerful and uncorruptible police force, similar to what is seen in Nicaragua. 

The Maras make most of the their money through extortion. There are people facing extortion who have no choice other than to pay up, or move, because they can't trust the police. There are professions, doctors, and a journalist friend of Grillo, who are paying, because they have other option, aside from certain death, or fleeing their homes. You have to provide these people with police who they can trust, and who will arrest and imprison the people extorting them, or it will never stop. At the same time it is important to win the "hearts and minds" of the children, who look up to the gangs and who work for the gangs starting as young as 13 years of age, starting as lookouts or couriers, and quickly moving on the violent murder. It can be as simple as giving them some place to hang out while their parents are at work, like we see with youth clubs, like the Boys and Girls Club in the United States. Left wandering the streets, these impressionable children are easy prey for gangs.

Honduras, murder capital of the world (Ioan Grillo)
Moving on, I asked Mr. Grillo, who has 15 years experience reporting in the field on violent criminal groups from his base in Mexico City, what was the most precarious situation he has found himself facing. He says that is a difficult question and that he has faced many scary situations. In his new book, he mentions how once while meeting with violent gangsters in Michoacán, one of them accused him of being a DEA agent, and pointed a gun at him, threatening to shoot him in the head. Another scary situation occurred in the Zetas stronghold of Coahuila, where he was driving on a highway with Proceso reporter Juan Alberto Cedillo and they noticed they were being followed. He told Cedillo to pull over and the pursuing vehicle screeched to a halt behind them, and they were forced to call in the Coahuila state police for help. Those are the kind of situations that I would imagine would cause the heart of any reporter to skip a beat.

In his book, Grillo notes that many criminal leaders, including William de Silva, founder of the Red Commando gang in Brazil, Dudus Coke in Jamaica, and Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno in Mexico, are extremely well read, and better educated than your average street thug. I asked Ioan about the paradox of El Chapo Guzmán,who appears ill at ease in the Sean Penn interview and is known to be functionally illiterate, commanding one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world. I also brought up the possibility that Guzmán Loera is a figurehead for behind-the-scenes capos, who run the show while he takes the heat. This was the case with the Chicago Mob under Tony Accardo, who let a series of pasties take the fall, while he was the true leader behind the scenes, most famously in the 1950's with Sam "Momo" Giancana.

Ioan concludes that El Chapo Guzmán is undoubtedly a strategic mastermind, perfecting the art of moving massive quantities of narcotics north of the border, in order to have achieved such a prominent position in his huge organization. At the same time, he possesses incredible charisma and immense powers of leadership in order to command thousands of followers, to lead very violent people, who went so far as to conduct an unprecedented prison break which captivated the world's attention. However, at the same time the Sinaloa Cartel is a massive organization, and "El Chapo" Guzmán is a front man for a federation of criminals, which is not the same as the federation of various cartels, but a federation of other traffickers in his organization, including most famously, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, but many, many others. 

This includes high-level traffickers we have never heard of , but also mid-level operators who fly below the radar of law enforcement, all the while earning tens of millions of dollars, because drug trafficking is so profitable. It is the only business where someone can turn $2,000 into $50,000, and then turn around and make that into $1 million in a short amount of time. At the same time this federation is like a massive corporation commanding money launderers, police officers, crooked politicians, and military officers, in a federation of people dedicated to drug trafficking who network their relationships together. "El Chapo" Guzmán is essentially a figurehead for this network, which soldiers on without him, and with or without any other leader apprehended.

In his first book, El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo spent some time in Culiacán, gaining a lot of insight into the narco culture in this storied city. I asked him what he believes the prospects are for Serafín and Vicente Zambada, as well as El Chino Ántrax, returning to Culiacán, following their well-publicized cooperation with US law enforcement. I also mentioned the recent incident in Culiacán, where Vicente Zambada Reyes, the son of Jesús Reynaldo "El Rey" Zambada García, a key witness for US prosecutors against Alfredo "El Mochomo "Beltrán Leyva, who's trial is scheduled to begin in less than 2 weeks in Washington DC, was gunned down by an armed commando group, along with three other men, including his cousin. Ioan believes that these men cannot return to Culiacán, without facing the threat of execution, although in 5 years the situation could change dramatically, so it's hard to predict the dynamics of such a complicated situation.

In Gangster Warlords, Grillo begins with the story of the student teachers from Ayotzinapa who were kidnapped and murdered in Iguala, Guerrero. I asked him about the widely-circulated theory, with a lot of circumstantial evidence, that the dead students were taken to a nearby Mexican Army Base and incinerated in an Army crematoriums. Ioan states that the investigation was so messed up by the Mexican government from the very beginning that it's probably impossible to ever know exactly what transpired.

However, considering the Mexican Army's past of colluding with criminal groups, it is not hard to
believe that the Army conspired with the Guerrreros Unidos crime group to dispose of the bodies. He specifically cites the notorious case of the Mexican Marines in Apatzingan, Michoacan, who were arrested and charged with collaborating with Servando "La Tuta" Gómez Martínez, and the Caballeros Templarios. There have also been notable cases of the Mexican military aiding narcos going back to at least to the 1970's, including the Army in Guamuchil, Sinaloa aiding the local cartel, the Army selling weapons to the Beltrán Leyva Organization, and the protection of Los Zetas in the state of Tamaulipas. There have been numerous cases of military personal admitting or observed transporting narcotics to the border using official vehicles.

I discussed many issues with Ioan Grillo, and one of the more ironic conversations involved the Al Pacino film Scarface, which I recently watched again on a 12 foot screen with a projector, and I was appalled at how cheesy the film seemed, compared to my memory of Brian De Palma's masterpiece. Ioan was appalled at my dismissal of an iconic film, and he forced me to reevaluate my jaded perceptions. One point that impressed me was a story about a prison in Northern Mexico where a poster from the film is prominently displayed on a wall, one example of the important role this film contributed to the Latino gangster persona. Some Mexican-American friends wondered how this kind of gangster adulation could be tolerated by prison officials.

Courtesy of Ioan Grillo
Below is an excerpt from “Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America,” published by Bloomsbury.

On Sept. 4 of that year, I find about 50 members of the squadron milling around a parking lot at the entrance to Apatzingán. They are comparing weapons and getting ready for a mission to storm through villages on a missing to find Knights Templar leader Servando Gómez, alias “La Tuta.” They are seriously tooled up. Supposedly, the Rural Force are only allowed to carry government-issued AR-15 rifles. But who cares? The squadron here has everything up to huge G3 machine guns, which the Mexican army also uses.
They refer to their weapons by farmyard names, which is fitting because Michoacán is a fertile agricultural state. They call fifty-caliber bullets jabalitos, or “little boars.” Their beloved Kalashnikovs are “goats’ horns”— because of their curved ammunition clips. However, to turn the AK-47 into a really lethal machine, they use circular clips with a hundred bullets. When you spray a hundred caps in ten seconds you have a pretty good chance of hitting your target, and anybody close by. They call the circular clips huevos, or “eggs.” A lot of them carry grenade launchers, mostly fixed to their rifles. They call the grenades papas, or “potatoes.” They tape grenades and ammo clips round their waists and across their chests, giving them the look of authentic desperadoes.

The gangsters also show me their personalized sidearms. The pistols are decorated in diamonds and other stones with classic narco designs. One of them has El Jefe—“The Boss”—engraved into his pistol. He asks if I take “ice,” the name they use for crystal meth. (I say I don’t.) The Michoacán mob churns out meth by the ton, providing for tweakers from Kentucky to California. “El Jefe” remarks how pure the local ice is. DEA agents have told me that they agree. They say that Michoacán meth is the purest they have ever found.

I take photos of the guys with their weapons. They do battle poses. The two-meter-tall guy tells me not to take his picture. I say that is fine. Then another man in his late forties appears from nowhere and points his finger at me. He accuses me of being a DEA agent.
“He is DEA."
I assure him that I am a journalist and I try to shake his hand. He refuses. “The DEA busted my brother in Texas,” he growls. “The agent was posing as a journalist.” The atmosphere changes in a flash. I tell him that I am not even American. I’m British. I point out a website that features my work. El Jefe finds it on his smartphone. My accuser relaxes a little and turns to me.

“If I see you again, I am going to put a bullet in your head.” He taps his forehead with his finger and points at me. To make sure the message gets across, he adds, “I’ll throw a papa [grenade] at you.”
I do my best to smile.

Back in the 1970s, hit men from Mexico to Brazil used to be assassins who killed quietly in the black of night. Now they have transformed into commandos with light infantry weapons, even shoulder-held rocket launchers. A band of traffickers called the Zetas even build their own tanks, which look like something from the fantasy road wars of Mad Max. They pour into towns in convoys of 30 pickups to massacre terrified residents. They attack soldiers in ambushes, opening fire with fifty-caliber rifles. In many cases, they use the same battle tactics as Latin America’s old guerilla armies.
The leftist guerrilla was an emblematic symbol of Latin America in the twentieth century, personified in the iconic photos of Che Guevara. In the new millennium, guerrillas have disappeared from most of the continent. The growth of democracy has allowed former radicals to become politicians, even presidents. The idea of establishing Marxist dictatorships has been discredited. Some of the remaining guerrillas, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, have become major cocaine traffickers.

But where the beret-wearing freedom fighters have disappeared, cartel armies have risen. Tragically, the cartel sicario with a Kalashnikov is a more dominant symbol of the new Americas. Far more young people idolize Chapo Guzmán— the billionaire drug trafficker caught on Jan. 8 — than Che Guevara.

The new generation of kingpins from Mexico to Jamaica to Brazil to Colombia are no longer just drug traffickers, but a weird hybrid of criminal CEO, rock star and paramilitary general. They fill the popular imagination as demonic antiheroes. Not only do they feature in underground songs in the drug world—they are re-created in telenovelas, movies, and even video games simulating their new warfare.

And what they do affects us all. Over the last two decades, these crime families and their friends in politics and business have taken over much of the world’s trade in narcotics, guns, even people, as well as delved into oil, gold, cars and kidnapping. Their networks stretch throughout the United States into Europe, Asia and Australia. Their chain of goods and services arrives at all our doorsteps.
Like guerrillas, drug cartels are deeply rooted inside communities. As Mao Tse-tung famously said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” Gangster militias also draw their strength from villages and barrios. As in counter-insurgency campaigns, governments get frustrated confronting an enemy they can’t see and unleash soldiers to torture and murder civilians, trying to take away the sea from the fish.

But this comparison with insurgents does not mean that gangster gunmen will act in all ways like traditional guerillas or should be treated in the same way. Many Latin Americans see insurgents as the honorable fighters who liberated their land from the tyrants of the Spanish Empire. They view cartel hit men as demons. A traditional insurgent believes in their vision of a greater good, whether inspired by Marxism, Islam or nationalism. The gangsters are chiefly motivated by just one god— mammon, the green of dollars bills. The strategic objectives of the bloodshed also differ. Guerrillas usually try to topple governments and take power. Cartel gunmen often attack security forces to pressure governments to back off.

A central objective of the gangster gunmen is to control their fiefs. If the government threatens them, they may launch insurgent-style attacks. To back these up, they often claim to be fighting for the poor. But in other cases they cut deals with governments, or directly control them. They can help the powerful fight their enemies and give them a share of their spoils, working like a paramilitary.

Conflict has transformed around the world since the Cold War. Warlords have left mounds of corpses in Africa from Liberia to Uganda. While they differ from the gangsters of the Americas in many ways, they also use ragtag armies with barbaric tactics alongside new technology. And they also base their power on the control of fiefdoms.

Militant Islamists are a very different—and much bigger—threat than the gangsters of the Americas. The Islamic State showed that it can control territory the size of a country. But you can’t help but find similarities with the cartels. In 2012, the same year the Taliban beheaded 17 people at a wedding in Afghanistan, shocking the world, the Zetas left the bodies of 49 headless victims in Mexico. When the Syrian regime first wanted to demonstrate the horrors that Islamic rebels were committing, it couldn’t find any footage, so it showed video that turned out to be by Mexican cartels. (It soon had plenty of its own to show.) Islamic radicals and gangster militias both recruit poor lost teenagers and train them to be murderers; they both fight with small cells and ambushes. And in both cases, Washington is flummoxed on how to deal with them.

A Mexican cartoonist summed up the common ground following the 2015 attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo. His cartoon showed a picture of a masked man with an AK-47. “Ahhhhh. It’s an Islamic terrorist,” says one voice. “Tranquila, tranquila,” says another. “It’s just a hit man from the Gulf Cartel.”

Gangster warfare has ravaged the Americas, paradoxically, even as many nations in the region appeared to be getting freer and wealthier. The Cold War, which had been a hot conflict in much of Latin America, was over, with the U.S. declaring victory. Dictatorships collapsed, giving birth to young democracies. Borders opened up to free trade, governments liberalized their economies, and Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History.”

But as we look back on the last two decades, we can identify clear causes of the new conflicts. The collapse of military dictatorships and guerrilla armies left stockpiles of weapons and soldiers searching for a new payroll. Emerging democracies are plagued by weakness and corruption. A key element is the failure to build working justice systems. International policy focused on markets and elections but missed this third crucial element in making functional democracies: the rule of law. The omission has cost many lives.

The deregulation of economies created some winners while leaving swathes of the world’s slums and countrysides in poverty. Meanwhile, a global black market in contraband, human trafficking and guns has expanded exponentially.

Narcotics are the biggest black market earner of all. Estimated to be worth more than three hundred billion dollars a year, the global industry has pumped huge resources into criminal empires decade after decade. It has had a cumulative effect, heating up the region to a boiling point. The brutal logic of the underworld is that the most terrifying gangsters get the lion’s share of the profits, leading to the ultimate predators such as the Zetas.

But this violence is raging during a historic turning point in the drug debate. Four U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana along with the entire country of Uruguay. Politicians across the continent have come out of the closet to criticize the war on drugs. Actors and musicians line up to join the cause of drug policy reform.

Yet while the debate has transformed, the old policies largely stumble on. The U.S. spends billions on DEA agents in 60 countries and bankrolls armies to burn crops from the Andes to Afghanistan. Most narcotics remain illegal and keep providing massive profits to those violent enough to claim them. The next task is to move from a change in the debate to a change in the reality on the ground.

The web of crime cartels stretches across the hemisphere, leading to all kinds of unlikely places. It affects lime prices in New York bars, British secret agents, World Cup soccer stars, bids to hold the Olympic Games, questions over the start of the London riots. In the summer of 2014, it was linked to 67,000 unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. southern border, fleeing cartel crime in Central America and triggering what President Barack Obama called a humanitarian crisis. Less publicized were the tens of thousands of adults from the region arriving on the southern border asking for political asylum.

Some people ask why it matters if neighboring countries fall to pieces.

This is one of the reasons.


  1. Cjng are snitches lmao just like cds

    1. You can't beat cds in snitching.

    2. Snitching is a dealer's choice, not based on mommy's comments, and should be nobody else's business, except it is useful for stealing other's turf, which is what mexican government is doing for a while now...

  2. this sh** will always exist

  3. I just ordered the book. thank you for the great review

  4. And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. - Ruth 1:20

    I don't think Mara is the right name 2 give your gang. - El Sol Perdido

  5. Pinche negrada puro mayate mentality de mierda. Latino/Hispanics act like pinche mayates everywhere thats why these bitch ass gringos think they are better because of shit like this. Get educated idiotas

    1. Fools reading his books.
      The shower posse have lost a lot of power but everyone knows their name so throw it out there for sales..
      Ever hear of the Klansmen Ioan ?

    2. No we just have a open mentality we don't want to just keep it "Mexican" we like to expand our relationships and learn about different cultures so if we pick up on something someone else does doesn't mean we are trying to be like them idiot.

  6. That American who got the 5 million dollars was La Barbie

    1. The article didn't say it was an American but....Barbie was the 1st name to cross my mind also.

    2. yah. looks like it

    3. Canna same thing here, I said "la barbie"
      --then I wondered, Canna?

  7. Excellent piece , thanks all.
    Going to order ASAP, a great folow up to EL Narco
    Lastly great thanks to Ioan Grillo.

  8. CCC very dangerous gang in CA
    Continental Crip Crew

  9. Excellent work BB. I am now interested in the book

    1. Chivis good article.Sounds like you were grilling the grillo but I have a question.The murderers arrested for Harry D.'s murder are they still in custody.I figure you know people in the area and they would know whether anyone's returned if the Mex gov didn't publicize anything.Or did they?Maybe they would think it might hurt tourism and locals probably are likely to care much compared to their own troubles so I see no reason why the Mex gov would.

    2. As far as I know they are. I know less now about Mich because I choose not to be so obsessed with it after Doc Mireles' imprisonment seemed permanent.

      I am 100% certain that it is Ann's unrelenting advocacy that led to mencho ordering the body of Harry be given up, and EPN gob made arrests.

      Remember James Stacy was taken in Tamps within 24 hrs of Harry. I became close to both families. James mother wanted to go to Tamps, in that case I advised not to. The priest I have contact with in Tamps advised she not go. She is ESL, and in poor health she could not have done what Ann did, Ann, as her son Harry was is fluent in Spanish, energetic and fearless.

      Both Americans taken within 2 hrs, Harry's story is known around the world, and my guess is 99% of those knowing Harry's story have not heard about James Stacy. There were actually more clues with Stacy, and a phone call after he was kidnapped, from the bad guys. and a drained Bank Account which surely had video footage. Those sort of things. In his case I thought it was a hit arranged by someone close to him in Mexico. I have reasons to state that but do not want to say more.

    3. Tamps. is fine u go. leave all credits at home

    4. Whomever decides to kidnap anyone and murder them,needs to pay for their crimes. With the death penalty off the table now in the USA...the minimum punishment should be life in prison without parole. Thanks for the added insight Chivis. Peace.

  10. Supply+Demand will always=Profit!.. Rule in capitalist world!.. Duh... Thts y the War on Drugs is idiotic!.. Fact

  11. this author is very good. and i own the book el narco which is a great read. but to say Chapo is a figure head/front boss is wrong and far from the truth. it is true he has a high profile now and he is known all around the world. but it is because of his accomplishments in the drug game that have never been done before. the pure weight of drugs he has moved to the US and around the world is 2nd to none. and to add to his fame in the drug game he has also escaped prison not once but twice! so with that being said of course he is gonna have a high profile. he just does things that nobody in real life has ever done. its straight out of a Hollywood gangster movie except its real life. so to say he is a figure head/front man because of his high profile is not the truth. he was and still some what a Boss of his faction of the sinaloa cartel and he ruled with an iron fist. El Mayo is known to anyone who knows anything about the Mexican Cartel drug game and really nobody cares to talk about him because he isnt that fascinating. and im sure he wants it that way. but that doesnt mean Chapo is his Front Boss or figure head.and that goes for any other of the capos with the sinaloa cartel. you have to remember when Chapo escaped prison back in 2001 he came out with the best connection in the Drug game with having president fox in his back pocket. and that right there made him the main man and the Boss. and as the years went on his corruption only grew. so yeah no way was he a figure head/front boss for any capo. he was the Boss of Bosses. not to mention now that he has handed the reins of the cartel over to his sons, that whole faction is still going strong to this day. if he was a front man his sons wouldnt have the political pull nor the Cartel pull to be head of their fathers faction. and honestly im still very confident el chapo will escape once again. its really only a matter of time. so overall Chapo was never a figure head/front boss. he was and still is the Biggest Drug Lord there has ever been. ever. and thats only a fact.

    1. I can't be the only one who prays El Chapo ends up in a super max for all the reasons you just named. It is because he was/is the biggest drug lord ever...that he needs to pay with his own life in a super max for the thousands of deaths he caused. Instead of glorifying him,why not recognize the guy is a mass murderer?
      That's a fact. Peace.

    2. 7:03 we don't recognize your proposal because it is a matttafacking lie, the setas, cdg, CDJ heated up the plazas to exact the demonizing of themselves and their rivals, because a low intensity conflict is better than no conflicts in mexico, the mexican businessmen who profit fron shit like this, will never say, but they are up to their ears in shit...

    3. Interesting comments,my 2 cents worth on Chapo's being the Boss of Bosses in drug world, uh-uh. El mero mero fue the Lord of the Skies, incalculable drug fortunes, a mega billionaire before it was fashionable. The Mayan is el mero mero, another mega billionaire, 70+ years old, never arrested, revered. Escobar's  drug fortunes didn't reach the levels of Amado Carrillo's or the Mayan's. Chapo's a brilliant escape artist and a huge deal, but not top dog.

    4. @ 7:03pm, Agree, it is time for Chapo to pay the piper.

    5. A brilliant con knocks up the wardens, the warden's wife and daughters, comes and goes around the prison as he wishes, so la chapa falls short of the end zone...

  12. La Barbie got those 5mil Mexico arrested him and held accountable for the murders he did but the US gave him to Arturo to clean house when zetas came up HES A CIA AGENT you guys think he is in US custody think again he's a freeman they couldn't afford to lose another agent in mexicos war that genarates money for the US and Mexico

  13. I think he is very liberal. Lost my confidence when he wanted to legalize coke . I think he revered to it as a less harmful drug that is mostly used recreationally . Where has he been the past 3 years ? I have seen people sell their souls for it . The inside of their noses eaten through from snorting so much of it . A little to much coke will kill your as and quick . Knew one guy came from a good family , and I really like they guy . Was bad on it just absolutely couldn't stop . Ended up in a coma from cocaine poisoning aka over dose . Ran such a high fever that they said it would have to cause irreversible brain damage . Came out of it and was normal . Went to the city to score and they shot him through the liver after he gave them his wallet .
    Anyway cocaine is a highly addictive and damaging drug . I say tighten down on the border . Bust more crocked cops and border patrol . Don't kid yourself either there are plenty border patrol involved . The war on drugs can turn it just needs the right people in charge .

    1. I am a user, it was my choice. No drug dealer said hey its free, no had to pay. Not the cartels fault I became addicted. Sorry about your friend work with another addict to night hope he makes

    2. i sorta agree with 8:54
      if coke were to get legalized people will eventually just start to cook the coke into crack to get double the portion that they just purchased. and of course everyone knows what crack does to a person. so yeah legalizing coke is a dumb idea to me.

    3. I think you are right.hes made a statement very similar to p.escobar.its an excuse to make himself feel better and pretend hes some kind of robin hood/kennedy figure.the facts in everyday life say the opposite.escobar said its an American problem Columbians don't use it.well tell that to waitress at café bar who earns next to nothing and spends her wages on cocina.her small pay per day end up her nose and don't say well its cheap there because in comparison to her wage its not.i hate the dam shit it destroys good people and for mexico my heart feels for you when corruption is endemic its so hard.the people must rise up and march in millions and the world will listen,and respect your rights to govern for mencho his time is coming to end

    4. I am 8:54 . I make lots of mistakes in my typing . Where it says where has he been the last 3 years it should have read the past 35 years .

  14. PUNKS with guns. How tough are the scumbags without guns???

  15. Hey baby great article eres unica
    Ya sabes quien soy
    From .....

  16. I have learn to accept the corruption and killing in Mexico its a way of life. The Mexican Politicos make a lot of money in bribes. The Real Problem Is the Users. No Users no Business. Get over the gangster business, its everybody its about Money.

  17. Nicely presented. Thanks to both reporters

  18. An incredible journalist.

  19. I hate canned reviews, I was pleasantly surprised with this one. I read it all the way through.

    about legalization of coke. I am on the fence and would like to hear more from readers.

  20. I'll wait for the day when ioan grillos is not so fascinated with low level narcos and their achichincles, maybe he will be the one that finds out why a bunch of mini-narcos and their mother cartels and their no name leaders are beating governments left and right, sponsored with billions of dollars and weapons and mercenaries well prepared by the US, and banana republic presidents and ministers of defense/war, whatever...
    --For the time being I will take this insult as a trial that may make it worth reading ioan grillos later on, unless he is on a fishing expedition for m16 or the likes, working for the queen, a real 007, not fit for movies...
    The brittish used to looove it when they had porfirio diaz in their pocket, and are employing the Rhodes testament and last will money to recover the former, brittish colonies including the one now called the United States of America, as John Rhodes himself states in his last will...

  21. bought it Thursday, and just finished, did not disappoint, thank you BB


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