Anabel Hernández, “Narcoland” (2010) (translated from the Spanish by Iain Bruce) – The Mexican cartel wars have been treated by most mainstream anglophone media as a baffling lapse into mass criminality, with substantial racist overtones- its “those people,” what can you expect? Veteran reporter Anabel Hernández refutes this story, and insists on some key aspects of the situation you don’t often hear. The most important is the collusion of the cartels with the highest level of the Mexican government, including friends of the US and supposed anti-drug crusaders like Vicente Fox and Felipé Calderon. She also discusses the role US intelligences agencies played in promoting the cartels as they first started getting big during the late Cold War, primarily as conduits for channeling money to groups like the Contras.
The war on drugs is a farce, and not the type of farce we’re used to thinking of it as- not just a miscarriage of justice, but basically fake, as far as the Mexican government is concerned and, Hernández alleges, the American government to a large extent too. At least since Vicente Fox, the first non-PRI (inheritor party of the Mexican Revolution) president in almost a century, took office in 2000, they stopped just taking in bribes from the traffickers but essentially acted as their security arm. What was depicted in our media as a battle between the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels, Hernández argues, was actually a battle between the Gulf cartel and the Mexican government, fighting on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel. It makes sense- in many respects, the cartels are the most powerful part of Mexican capitalism, and we know who governments tend to work for.
Hernández spends most of the book laying out the case against the pervasive corruption of the Mexican government, carefully detailing the relationship between a dizzying array of various traffickers and cops, lawyers, and politicians at a high level across Mexico. The results are damning in terms of the indictment of major figures, but a little weak in terms of historical or structural examination. In some respects, that’s good- a lot of the times the historical scene-setting in books about “exotic” material can be an essentializing gloss, not that helpful. But some pretty basic things go unexplained- like why the Mexican government chose, out of all the traffickers, Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. In many respects, the cartels (and the politicians that are symbiotic with them) are the face of neoliberal capitalism in Mexico: emerging from the ruins of the PRI’s nationalistic development strategy, utterly disconnected from and destructive to the society it’s parasitic to. More analysis of that would’ve been cool, but as it stands it’s a fairly complete (for 2010, before Guzman’s capture) and shockingly damning depiction of how Mexico has been betrayed. ****