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Mexico's war on drugs – from the inside


Narcoland by investigative journalist Anabel Hernández is now available in Canada. (Photo credit: Verso.)

It’s been a bestseller for three years in Mexico, and now it’s available in English in Canada.

Entitled Narcoland: the Mexican drug lords and their godfathers, the 304-page volume is a searing portrait of Mexico’s deadly drug wars as seen, to a considerable degree, from within.

The book’s success to date has been a mixed blessing for its author, 42-year-old Anabel Hernández, a wife, mother, and dogged investigative journalist who, along with her family, now lives under round-the-clock protection from bodyguards that were formerly provided by the Mexico City government and are currently funded by several sympathetic foreign states, including France.

“No single recent work on the subject peers more deeply than Anabel Hernández’s Narcoland,’ an investigative magnum opus by a Mexican journalist driven by purpose verging on despair,” writes reviewer Jason McGahan who raved about the book this week in The Los Angeles Times.

Much of the book produced in English by U.K.  publisher Verso focuses on Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, who was once ranked as the 55th most powerful man on Earth in a list compiled by Forbes magazine. Hernández also follows the career of one Genaro García Luna, the recently displaced head of Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security, who was appointed in 2006 by then president Felipe Calderón to head that country’s so-called war on drugs.

According to Hernández, the anti-narcotics czar soon transformed himself into the drug lords’ chief enabler, something the president realized but made no attempt to stop.

“It was like swimming in dark waters,” Hernández said in a recent interview with the Texas Observer, recounting her own sense of danger and horror as she delved ever further into the deadly and chaotic underworld of the drug trade, where today’s heroes are tomorrow’s villains and where almost no one is left untainted by the spread of crime and sin.

Hernández, who believes that the war on drugs is already lost, sees no easy way out. Some promote the legalization of narcotics as a solution, but she is not among them. The cartels have plenty of other revenue sources to fall back on, she says, including extortion, prostitution, human trafficking, and others.

In the end, she concludes, drugs are not fundamentally the problem.

“They are just a symptom of the disease,” she told the Observer, “and this disease is corruption. What is happening in Mexico because of corruption can happen in other places, too.”

There’s some comfort to be found in the mere fact that journalists such as Hernández are willing to risk their lives in pursuit of unnerving truths, but it’s a fragile consolation.

“I can’t say that freedom of expression exists when I have to live with round-the-clock bodyguards,” she says in the same interview. “Journalists in other countries can walk freely in the streets, and I can’t.”

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.





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