This book could function as an owner’s manual for the Mexican drug cartels. Here we find the first good description of the plaza — that arrangement where the Mexican government seeks a partner to supervise all criminal activity in a city. And how to maintain discipline by killing everyone connected to a lost load lest a traitor survive. And also the history of the shift of power from Colombia to Mexico, when American efforts hampered the pathways in Florida and made Mexico the trampoline for cocaine shipments into the U.S. markets.
I remember in the mid-nineties paying fifty dollars for a copy of Drug Lord in a used bookstore in El Paso and being damned happy to get my hands on it.
Terrence Poppa was a reporter for the El Paso Herald-Post. In the eighties, he captured the rise and fall of Pablo Acosta in Ojinaga, the border town across from Presidio, Texas. By that act, he wrote the history of the key moment when flights of cocaine from Columbia entered the Mexican economy. He interviewed the players, got down their life histories and made the indelible point that the people written off by their own country as ill-educated bumkins were creative and were turning power on its head in the nation. Acosta’s slaughter by Mexican comandante Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, with the help of the FBI, ended this kind of access. Since then, becoming famous and talking to the press — which Acosta did — has been seen as a fatal decision. And since then, the Mexican drug industry has become a source of thirty to fifty billion dollars of foreign currency a year for the Mexican economy — second only to oil, and now the oil fields of Mexico are collapsing.
His book has to be ignored by those who run countries and work for agencies. While they sketch monoliths they call cartels, Poppa actually describes in detail a world of shifting alliances, small pods of operators knit together, and billions of dollars sloshing around in dusty towns and cities. He is the historian of the actual fabric of life as opposed to being the mouthpiece for government rhetoric.
If you wish to be as ignorant and dishonest as your public officials when they mouth the pieties of the War on Drugs, then avoid this book at all costs.But if you want to know how it works and why it works and why it will keep on working, read this book.
Besides, it is an adventure story as the working poor of Mexico claw their way to a new golden hell.
Since it was first published, only the names have changed. This is the story behind the lies in the headlines. The business goes on, the slaughtered dead pile up, the U.S. agencies continue to ratchet up their budgets, the prisons grow larger and all the rules of the game are in this book–some kind of masterpiece.
And it’s a damn good read too.
— Chuck Bowden, author of Down by the River