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616 pages, Hardcover
First published May 22, 2015
“El mal existe y el término entraña horrores que no podían ni imaginar.”Esta novela, como su antecesora El poder del perro, es un espectáculo del horror, tan sangrienta y despiadada como lo pueda ser la fantasía de Juego de Tronos, pero con el añadido de terror que le otorga el atributo de la realidad, la constancia de que todo esto ha sucedido y sigue sucediendo al ladito nuestro, de que todo se hace por dinero, por poder y hasta por mera diversión o placer.
“La tan cacareada guerra contra la droga es una puerta giratoria: eliminas a uno y otro pasa a ocupar la cabecera de la mesa. Eso no cambiará mientras el apetito insaciable por la droga siga ahí. Y sigue ahí, en el gigante que habita este lado de la frontera.”El estilo de la novela no puede ser más acertado, muy ágil, con numerosos y potentes diálogos, frases simples, secas, casi telegráficas, insertadas en cortos párrafos que se van sucediendo y son culminados en puntos y aparte con otras frases más cortas aún, más tajantes, más sentenciosas; así, una y otra vez, como una letanía, como una oración fúnebre sin fin. Un lenguaje muy periodístico en el que abundan los grandes titulares, no en vano la obra está dedicada al más del centenar de periodistas asesinados durante este período.
“If I were south of the border, looking north, I would have questions about corruption.” [Winslow @ Politics & Prose]Winslow’s fictional account of the drug wars in Mexico and the United States is the longest and most important of his work to date, and it is sensational in every way. Winslow has long been recognized for his ability to catch a fascinating slice of the California community, a subset of surfers relaxing into their ‘fun in the sun’ lifestyle. In this huge, sprawling duo of novels, first The Power of the Dog followed by The Cartel, we have a much more sustained effort of imagination, research, and writerly skill that aligns so closely with headlines, a reader might be forgiven for mistaking Winslow as an intimate of the Mexican drug wars. It is also a song of praise for the journalists who risked everything to cover the story. Winslow used news reports to fictionalize events in a way that gets at the motivations and the darkness and corruption on both sides of the border. This is fiction, but what fiction!
“You do not revenge a murder by killing. You revenge it by living.”The story itself revolves around the fictional DEA cut-out Art Keller, and the head of the Sonoran [Sinaloan] cartel, Adán Barrera [Joaquin Guzman]. They had been pursuing one another for years and when Barrera escaped jail in the United States to return to his drug kingdom in Mexico, Keller came out of hiding to find him and bring him to justice. Winslow ties in years of documented drug trafficking over the U.S. southern border with a very intimate portrait of both men and their organizations. A reader will be familiar with many of the gruesome violence recounted here—so violent it doesn’t seem believable—and will be grateful to Winslow for making it personal.
“Americans take their strength from victory. Mexican strength derives from their ability to suffer loss.”
“There is such a thing as evil…[and] the world holds horrors…”Winslow’s deep immersion in research for America’s border war on drugs has led him to hold an opinion and to become a public spokesperson for a point of view on how we are managing: “things are worse than ever before.” The cartels are now advertising their violence, like ISIS, in order to spur recruitment and in order to intimidate. In the last section of this book, the cartels move from narcotrafficking to narcoterrorism, the two phenomena borrowing from one another.
”Look, here's my stance, if that's what you're asking for. I think all drugs should be legal and I wish nobody used any of them. I have no problem with people smoking a little dope. But it always amazes me where people who are so persnickety about buying fair trade coffee, and farm-to-table beef, and about where their chicken was raised, think nothing of buying marijuana, which in all likelihood was raised by murderers, sadists, sociopaths, and in a lot of cases harvested by slave labor. So I don't want to harsh anyone's buzz, but I think that's something that we need to look at because we really are in so many ways responsible for the violence in Mexico through our schizophrenic attitude toward drugs, including marijuana. We spent billions of dollars trying to keep it out and we spend billions of dollars buying it—and it's that conflict that allows the cartels to survive. So as marijuana is legalized, the cartels are getting ready for that in terms of trying to go legit. But on the other hand, you have to understand that the cartel's product is not the drug. The cartel's product is control of the trafficking routes. It doesn't matter what the item is, whether it's marijuana or coke or meth or heroin or blue jeans or bottled water, their product is the plazas, it's the neighborhoods, it's the ability to control those trade routes, okay? So, once marijuana becomes actually legal and starts to grow more in the United States and there's no problem getting it across the border up from Mexico, there will be other products. Because the product doesn't matter.”Winslow points out that the “product” now is, in fact, stronger opiates like cheap heroin. Regarding ‘corruption’ on this side of the border, Winslow cites our incarceration problem and how that relates to racism. Drugs weren’t regulated until black people got in on the action. Then we went after them with a vengeance. Winslow sounds Pynchon-esque in his insistence that we think.
“The Mexicans have finally found a drug that white trash likes and can afford. And one thing you ain’t never gonna run out of is white trash.”The Cartel, Don Winslow
“Just across the bridge is the gigantic marketplace, the insatiable consumer machine that drives the violence here. North Americans smoke the dope, snort the coke, shoot the heroin, do the meth, and then have the nerve to point south (down, of course, on the map), and wag their fingers at the 'Mexican drug problem' and Mexican corruption.”
When the devil comes, he comes on angel's wings.This sequel is basically the Godfather Part II or Empire Strikes Back of Winslow's Cartel trilogy. It's bigger, badder, darker, and more violent. I loved picking up again with these two main characters and found it fascinating to see them struggle with this ferociously brutal evolution of the drug war and the fact that they both had a hand in creating it. But the stand-out in this book is the vast supporting cast of scene-stealing characters, such as my favorite, the rational and pragmatic rising drug lord "Crazy" Eddie Ruiz, the tragic child killer Chuy (who's introductory chapter is one of the book's best), or the Juárez reporter Pablo Mora. Each of the rich supporting characters gives us a lens from which to view a particular aspect of this complicated war that affects so many parts of Mexican life and really provides the heart of the story. But the story's backbone is the Keller/Barrera feud, and here, as they each separately try to get a handle on the worsening violence, they still circle one another as their mutual hatred grows, and you get the sense that it can only possibly end with one of them dead.
At the end of the day or the end of the world, there are no separate souls. We will go to heaven or we will go to hell, but we will go together.The graphic violence is ratcheted up here, especially with Winslow's inclusion of the rise of the real-life Los Zetas organization, responsible for much of the brutal terror in the past decade in Mexico. It's a bit hard to read at times, and unbelievable, but some quick internet research or at least a passing interest in Mexican news will let you know the harsh truth that Winslow's depictions are not only plausible but actually based on real events. Just google Los Zetas, El Chapo, and recently, Javier Valdez. The timeliness and the authenticity makes the whole thing pretty gripping, and the action culminates in a masterful, climactic, jungle set-piece that kept my eyes glued to the page for the last 50 pages of the book.
They say that love conquers all. They're wrong, Keller thinks. Hate conquers all. It even conquers hate.
"Steeped in reportage, the novel. . . possesses a virtue I associate with traditional documentaries: it explains things. I finished the book understanding why Juárez is so violent; why cartels murder so many innocent people; why both the American and Mexican governments favor some cartels over others; and why the war on drugs is not just futile, but morally compromised. It’s here that fiction and documentary come together in a shared sense of, well, bleakness.”At one point Adán Barrera looks over the landscape and wistfully recalls a different Mexico, one of pastoral beauty, and music, poets, and artists. Then he packs his wife off across the border to give birth to his child while he loads his guns to do business. According to a PBS article, "between 2007 and 2014 — a period that accounts for some of the bloodiest years of the nation’s war against the drug cartels — more than 164,000 people were victims of homicide." 90% of the cause of those deaths comes to America. There is some ugly math in those stats.