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Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,063 ratings  ·  99 reviews
In a ranch south of Texas, the man known as The Executioner dumps five hundred body parts in metal barrels. In Brazil's biggest city, a mysterious prisoner orders hit-men to gun down forty-one police officers and prison guards in two days. In southern Mexico, a meth maker is venerated as a saint while enforcing Old Testament justice on his enemies.

A new kind of criminal ki
Paperback, 378 pages
Published February 11th 2016 by Bloomsbury Circus (first published January 19th 2016)
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Mikey B.
This is a piercing study of the fiefdoms run by drug warlords in different countries. The author has made a study of warlords in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo); Kingston, Jamaica; Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and Michoacan, Mexico.

In each a parallel government has been formed – or more specifically their own justice system in the land they control. They have their own enforcers – and woe to anyone who transgresses. They also have checkpoints on their territory monitoring who leav
Ioan Grillo is a brave dude.

I know this because, in his new book, Gangster Warlord: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, he spends about 350 pages telling me that he's a brave dude. He doesn't overtly say "hey, Dimas, I'm a brave dude," of course. Rather, he makes it a habit of telling me, the reader, his process of gathering information. Which means, there's many tales of Ioan traveling to dangerous locations, risking his life to interview some drug lord. So, in
This is an important, ground-breaking book, and I doubt there's another one like it in existence. I was already very interested in the Mexican drug wars, but it's captivating even if you don't have a special interest in the subject.

Ioan Grillo covers four different major Latin American crime hubs--the Red Commando in Brazil, the Shower Posse in Jamaica, Mara Salvatrucha in El Salvador (and others), and el Templarios in Mexico--from their origins up to 2014 (see what I mean about there not being

I think part of the problem with the world today is that we all know a lot of stuff but we don’t really understand the things we know. What I mean by this is, I know there is an issue with immigration and people flocking to the Southern border of the United States. I know that countries below the US have problems I can’t even wrap my head around, and I know it takes a certain kind of desperation I’ve never felt, to uproot an entire family and move them som
Mal Warwick
May 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Americans who take their first trip from country to country in Latin America and the Caribbean are often astounded by the region’s diversity. From Argentina, which is more heavily influenced by Italy and Spain than by any country to its north; to the polyglot island-states of the Caribbean; to Mexico and Central America, with their rich native traditions, Latin America is a study in contrasts. After all, the Western Hemisphere south of the United States encompasses 32 nation-states speaking six ...more
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, true-crime
Mr. Ioan Grillo has broke new ground in regards to investigative reporting in his latest book “Gangster Warlords”. This book is full of information regarding these kingpins and how they affect us all economically. We are spending millions of dollars to fight these cartels to stop the flow of drugs into the United States, not the mention the millions of dollars spent on the Humanitarian effort which is a direct result of the what these warlords are doing to their own countries.

Mr. Grillo makes a
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At a couple of points in this story, Grillo analogizes the devastating violence of the drug wars in South America with middle eastern terrorism and it seemed to me like there is a lot more there. There is a whole literature on how corruption and the absence of state power breeds violent gang warfare. You can analogize a bunch of different cultures from Naples, to the Middle East, to certain US frontier lands, etc. Vigilantes fill the void and that seems to be what is happening in South and Centr ...more
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Although the author never says this directly in the book, I’ll do that here: the USA needs to view this book as a cautionary tale. As America’s income inequality reaches alarming levels; as we see countless examples of how our elite are turning their back on the poor; as prospects for the future seem dimmer by the moment for the lower classes; and while we continue to include firearms as the prizes in Cracker Jack (or almost that ridiculous), we seem headed for anarchy on a scale with the Brazil ...more
Pallavi Bichu
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic and painstakingly well researched treatise on the rise of favela violence in Brazil, Dudu and his gang in Jamaica, MS13 in Central America and USA, and the Knights Templar in Mexico. Ioan Grillo is an expert and a brave brave journalist who has risked his life trying to understand the nature of organized crime in Latin America. The book was insightful, moving, and hopeful in some parts, and is essential reading for anyone interested in organized crime in this part of the world. The j ...more
Anyone who watches TV news bulletins, or even TV drama series, will have some idea of the power and influence of the drug cartels, but I was startled by some of the statistics quoted in this book. In Mexico, official figures suggest that 83,000 people were killed between 2007 and 2014, either by the cartels or by the security forces battling them. In Jamaica, in 1962 (the year of the country’s independence), there were 63 recorded murders. In 2009 the figure was 1,682. Taking Latin America and t ...more
Feb 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this carefully compiled and thoughtfully researched book, Grillo casts a critical lens over the narco violence devastating the Americas.

Should the spiralling murder rates and civil unrest be re-classified as war, opening up legal avenues for asylum, protection and prosecution? And where does hope lie – in drug decriminalisation, poverty reduction or justice?

It's this analysis, woven in amongst the stories of despots and gangsters, that elevates this book from crime beat to think piece. Brav
Received from GoodReads giveaway...
This was not a bad book, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It felt like a very long magazine article, so I think that kind of made it drag a bit for me. It is interesting, and the author has a great deal of knowledge on the subject, but this wasn't a book I found hard to put down. The last 50 pages were the best, it was the only time I felt drawn in. I think my main complaint is that I didn't find any of the people in this book memorable, and with a subject t
Ronit Konch
Takes up four different types of criminal organizations from Latin America, each a unique example of the wider criminal networks impacting the region. Comando Vermelho (Red Commando) from Brazil, The Shower Posse from Jamaica, the Maras from Honduras but also Guatemala and El Salvador, and the Knights Templar from Mexico.

Each one of these gangs is highly violent in orientation but there were some common themes the author explores, while giving a chronological history of their rise. One, the inab
Michael David Cobb
Informative in the best kind of 'journalism for the good folks at home' way. The book is full of fascinating dramatic stories and eyewitness accounts of a horror in progress. The details are at a personal level which makes for a good story but a poor history. The perspective is about what one would expect from a battlefield journalist - an accounting that is light on the strategic perspectives of government leaders but heavy in the tales of the streets. Because of this one gains no insight from ...more
Alan D'Souza
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting history of several organized crime syndicates in the Americas, Grillo documents the modern transformation of what were initially street gangs, drug cartels or guerilla resistance.movements into modern day international crime organizations that have essentially turned into parallel governments in their own territories.
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perfect reading for the global traveler stuck at home due to COVID. A strong mix of travelogue, true crime and world history.

Author Ioan Grillo recounts the impact of the global drug trade across four distinct areas: Brazil, Jamaica, Central America and Mexico. He connects major events in these countries with the key players involved in the drug trade.

Underlying his narrative is a message of hope. One we need in this world more than ever.
Temoc Sol
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Checkout my full YouTube book review ...more
Larry Hostetler
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, 2015
Very interesting book. The author looks at the various types of drug-related criminal organizations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, delving deep into history and structure. Focusing on four places (Brazil, Jamaica, the triangle of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and Mexico) he presents a reportorial perspective on criminal organizations. And while Colombia and northern Mexico are more familiar zones of drug violence to me, I found the four areas to be more informative; Colo ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"One alarming development is the extent to which gangsters control their won justice systems. From Mexican mountains to Jamaican ghettos, crime bosses try those accused of robbing or raping and sentence them to beatings, exile, or death. It's jungle law. But many residents find it more effective than any justice the police and courts offer." (20)

"This is a paradox of Latin America's crime wars. Having a single strong mafia means less violence than if there were several weaker groups. This lack o
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, breezily written quasi-ethnographic account of the rise of professionalized, politicized gangsters across the New World, with lots of hairy reporting from the favelas of Rio, the slums of Kingston, the prisons of Honduras, and the villages of Michoacán, Mexico. The sum is a compelling portrait of how the efforts to fight the left during the Cold War in Latin America spawned cultures of brutality, which then scaled up into transnational trafficking networks capable of challenging local ...more
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent account of four Latin American cases that present different mixes of "gangs, mafias, death squads, religious cults, and urban guerrillas" -- Red Commando in Brazil, Shower Posse in Jamaica, Mara Salvatrucha in El Salvador and Honduras, and Knights Templar in central Mexico. Grillo is a top-notch investigative reporter who has been working this beat now for a decade and a half. He is a master at gaining interviews with central figures in each case (indeed in the Brazilian case THE top f ...more
Shane Kiely
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting & well researched into the various organised crime organisations & mega gangs that have taken hold throughout Latin America & the Caribbean. Provides a good balance of background on the history of these groups & how the sociopolitical situation often informed their creation while also providing a personal insight into what life is like in the areas they dominate. The writing occasionally opts for an informal slang style which comes off a bit clunky but by & large it's highly rea ...more
Jul 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenal piece of journalism, and a sweeping look at the crime wars and cartel insurgencies that are engulfing Brazil, Jamaica, Central American, and Mexico. The author is very good at blending historical narrative with intimate interviews and personalized accounts of how Cold War politics slowly mutated into nihilistic crime wars.
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read EL Narco prior to reading gangster warlords. Ioan Grillo does a marvelous job of getting his point across. And the hug variety of drug lords is covered also. I highly recommend this book and thank you to Bloomsbury who supplied me with this book in exchange for an honest review.
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I admittedly know next to nothing about the War on Drugs. Ioan Grillo's book is approachable and informative, and he humanizes the lower echelons of drug cartels in Mexico, Central America and Brazil without condoning their behavior. ...more
Wilmar Luna
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gangster Warlords by Ioan Grillo is not a book for the faint of heart. It is violent, brutal, horrifying, gruesome, and terrifyingly real. Ioan Grillo embarked on a journey from the slums of the favelas in Brazil to the ostentatious tombs of Mexican kingpins.

Each gang had its own unique reason for existing, but they all shared one common trait . . . brutality.

I stumbled upon Ioan Grillo’s work after an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. He told stories of interviewing murderers, dealers, psych
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I settled on this book because I'd read Grillo's first book, "El Narco." I was impressed by Grillo's writing. He's a British journalist who lives in Mexico City. Due to his journalist background, his books use a lot of primary sources, such as interviews he's conducted with everyone from gang members to high-level politicians. This gives his writing a more direct feel than the scholarly accounts written by academics who rely on their own analysis rather than the opinions of those directly involv ...more
Wesley  Gerrard
This is the second of Ioan Grillo's books that I have read and I found this volume equally as good as my first encounter with this talented British journalist. Gangster Warlords focuses on 4 separate crime gangs across the Americas. For each group we identify leaders, politics, often brutal and horrendous crimes and a link to the out of control trade in Narcotics across Latin America and the Caribbean that gives rise to the conditions necessary for Gangster Warlords to thrive. The first part loo ...more
Soukyan Blackwood
All reviews in one place: Night Mode Reading; LT

About: The book is about the rise of the CEO kingpins, gangster warlords. In the age of politicians being worse than organized crime warlords, it only makes sense majority of the world gets both touched and screwed over by both. It makes even more sense that often we find ourselves hating the politician more. Someone who was meant to serve us and help us is doing the opposite. At least the gangster didn't lie. Hell, in some cases gangsters are noto
Evan Kail
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOVED IT. So engaging, well-written, informative, and thought-provoking about the crime wars of Latin America, their staggering socio-political after-effects, and the horrors caused by various criminal enterprises. It also addresses a great problem with its thesis, that these regions should be declared war zones, but don't fit the outdated definition which would allow much needed humanitarian aid.
The book deals with four regions (Brazil, Jamaica, The Golden Triangle, and Mexico), and four gangs
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I’m a journalist, writer and TV producer based in Mexico City. I’ve been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media including Time Magazine, CNN, The Associated Press, Global Post, The Houston Chronicle, PBS NewsHour, Al Jazeera English, France 24, CBC, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, Gatopardo, The San Francisco Chronicle and many others. El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgenc ...more

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“Iguala put violence back on the front page. It highlighted the problems that had been building up for years—of cartels that have become an alternate power controlling mayors and governors, of their tenuous links to federal security forces, of the international community failing to change a disastrous drug policy. It made many realize that the problems will not go away if we ignore them but only if we confront them and change things. In” 0 likes
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