The product of five years’ investigative reporting, the subject of intense national controversy, and the source of death threats that forced the National Human Rights Commission to assign two full-time bodyguards to its author, Anabel Hernández, Narcoland has been a publishing and political sensation in Mexico.

The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the “war on drugs,” which has so far cost ...
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Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers

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The product of five years’ investigative reporting, the subject of intense national controversy, and the source of death threats that forced the National Human Rights Commission to assign two full-time bodyguards to its author, Anabel Hernández, Narcoland has been a publishing and political sensation in Mexico.

The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the “war on drugs,” which has so far cost more than 60,000 lives in just six years. Hernández explains in riveting detail how Mexico became a base for the mega-cartels of Latin America and one of the most violent places on the planet. At every turn, Hernández names names – not just the narcos, but also the politicians, functionaries, judges and entrepreneurs who have collaborated with them. In doing so, she reveals the mind-boggling depth of corruption in Mexico’s government and business elite.

Hernández became a journalist after her father was kidnapped and killed and the police refused to investigate without a bribe. She gained national prominence in 2001 with her exposure of excess and misconduct at the presidential palace, and previous books have focused on criminality at the summit of power, under presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón.

In awarding Hernández the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers noted, “Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with violence and impunity remaining major challenges in terms of press freedom. In making this award, we recognize the strong stance Ms. Hernández has taken, at great personal risk, against drug cartels.”

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First published in Mexico as Los señores del narco in 2010, this dry translation brings Mexican investigative journalist Hernández’s exposé about drug trafficking in Mexico to an English-speaking audience. Five years in the making, it’s an in-depth, unforgiving look at the deep-rooted corruption that has allowed the cartels to flourish; they now influence and control vast swaths of the country. Numerous anecdotes and interviews flesh out a decades-long narrative, touching on everything from CIA and DEA involvement, to how the drug lords run their empires from prison, to the way these powerful men live and die. It’s a scathing, sobering report, as Hernández lays the blame not just on the drug cartels, but on “all those who exercise everyday power from behind a false halo of legality” to make their “law of ‘silver or lead’” a reality. While appendices containing glossaries of acronyms and short bios do much to reduce reader confusion, there’s still an immense and exhausting amount of information to absorb. Those willing to slog through the dense bits will find a thought-provoking portrait of the crime and corruption that dominates our southerly neighbor. (Sept.)
La Jornada
“In this brave work, the author argues that since the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964–1970), all of Mexico’s rulers have maintained close relations with groups that import, export, and sell illegal drugs.”
Letras Libres
“Indispensable reading for anyone who wants to understand the origins of the violence ... An extraordinary book for making the necessary journey to our heart of darkness.”
From the Publisher
“An investigative magnum opus.” —Los Angeles Times

“A riveting story ... an incredibly brave journalist.” —NPR Morning Edition

This is a book that you read twenty-five pages at a time and then take a break from, shaking your head in disbelief that everything it contains could really have occurred. That it did only makes Hernández’s undertaking all the more necessary.” —Barnes & Noble Review

Rigorous, disturbing narrative of how drug cartels infiltrated Mexican society’s highest levels ... Essential reading for a serious understanding of how the war on drugs is destroying the social fabric of South American nations.” —Kirkus Reviews

The most remarkable feature of Anabel Hernández’s brave and invaluable account of Mexico’s blood-drenched drug wars is that she survived long enough to write it.” —Sunday Times

“Braving the wrath of drug traffickers and government officials alike … Hernández has exposed the corruption at the heart of the drug war that has killed over 80,000 of her compatriots since 2006.” —Nation

Anabel Hernández accuses the Mexican state of complicity with the cartels, and says the ‘war on drugs’ is a sham. She’s had headless animals left at her door and her family have been threatened by gunmen ... Narcoland became, and remains, a bestseller: more than 100,000 copies sold in Mexico. The success is impossible to overstate, a staggering figure for a nonfiction book in a country with indices of income and literacy incomparable to the American–European book-buying market.” —Ed Vulliamy, Observer

Anabel Hernández exposes the most murderous drug organization in Mexico, the Mexican government. Of course, this level of corruption is only possible thanks to the moral and financial support of the leaders in Washington. Here’s the story the media never has the time to tell you.” —Charles Bowden author of Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields

Jaw-dropping reading.” —Independent

While many Mexican politicians and officials merely pretend to fight the drugs producers, Anabel Hernández has taken a genuine stand in favour of the rule of law and decency in her society. [Narcoland] is in itself an important statement. She deserves our respect and admiration for making it.” —Spectator

A searing indictment of a war on drugs Hernández believes was a sham from the start.” —Financial Times

Kirkus Reviews
Rigorous, disturbing narrative of how drug cartels infiltrated Mexican society's highest levels. Investigative journalist Hernández has clearly put herself at risk to assemble this specific social narrative that begins in the 1980s, when Mexican drug trafficking was regionalized and controlled and thus tolerated by the government (and covertly by the United States, as evidenced by traffickers' involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal). Hernández sees the 2001 prison escape of the aggressive trafficker "El Chapo" Guzman as a crucial watershed for the sharp increase in violence. Guzman then formed a "Federation" among various midlevel cartels, forcing open warfare between that group and the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels and making overt the federal government's protection of him (beginning with his "escape"). This, in turn, enraged hyperviolent assassin cells in the employ of other drug barons, such as the notorious Zetas, initially composed of compromised Special Forces veterans. The result has been approximately 10,000 murders per year and the thorough discrediting of Mexico's labyrinthine bureaucracy and political system. Hernández notes that "Felipe Calderon stepped down as president of Mexico in December 2012 [with his term] engraved in collective memory as an era of death and corruption." The author pulls no punches in backing up such assertions; rather, she reviews evidence showing that the cartels' real power lies in relationships with untouchable elites in fields like banking and air transport. She similarly demonstrates that key police agencies, such as the Federal Investigations Agency, have been compromised, one of many examples of how "the Mexican government treats the narco-tycoons as untouchable." Hernández writes clearly, savoring the details and ironies of her investigation, with a tone of righteous polemical outrage, but her tale's grim implications and intricate narrative connections may prove hard going for casual readers. Essential reading for a serious understanding of how the war on drugs is destroying the social fabric of South American nations.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Reading like a cross between a splatter film, a forensics report, and a tutorial in investigative reporting, Anabel Hernández's Narcoland isn't exactly the sort of fare that's ideal for passing a pleasant evening. What it is though, for starters, is brave, given that Hernández 's own life is in jeopardy as a result of writing this exposé on Mexican drug cartels. For this is a book that doubles as civic gesture, documenting as it does a world of corruption that has produced 80,000 deaths since what was optimistically (and laughably) called a "war on drugs" kicked off in 2006.

Though there's no shortage of intrigue — and you'll be challenged to keep track of the murders, escapes, betrayals, beatings, double- dealings, frauds, and kidnappings that go down on every page — Hernández writes with a reporter's detachment, providing an occasional line of almost maternal shaming, a conscience that can't help but assert itself in this tour of a hell south of the border. It's hard to imagine finding another book with nearly this much blood in it, nor so much corruption. Everyone, it seems — from the drug traffickers to the government officials to the prison wardens to the judges — appears to be in somebody else's pocket.

The centerpiece of it all is Joaquin Loaera Guzmán, who goes by the sobriquet of El Chapo. Narcoland is his story more than anyone else's, a sort of bildungsroman gone horribly wrong. A billionaire with a third-grade education who features on Forbes's list of the world's richest men, El Chapo has lived such an outsized life that his saga needs little embellishment, and Hernández simply states one fact after another, unfurling a story that reads like some horrible mash-up of a flimflam artist's rap sheet, a saga of bloodletting straight out of the Hostel series, and a Marx Brothers chronicle of absurdity.

Before he rose to the pinnacle of his trade, El Chapo had to be busted out of prison, though one wonders how much better his life on the outside could be from his perspective. His time behind bars seems to have been worthy of a Mexican Caligula, with extravagant meals, an endless parade of women, and even sex- related contests with his fellow drug barons to see who could hold out the longest before reaching climax with the latest round of conquests. El Chapo's liberation took on the status of urban legend, with many people believing he had been smuggled out in a laundry cart, but instead Hernández provides us with a more deflating version of the events. Curtains hung over the trafficker's cell masked a simple costume change: El Chapo walked out of jail disguised as a prison guard.

It is with El Chapo's post-prison ascendancy that Narcoland is chiefly concerned, in large part because everything the drug lord is involved with begets some new kind of evil in the narrative. One wonders, exactly, if El Chapo is any more corrupt than a host of players that devolve and play their roles in the festering mess. With government corruption deeply embedded in its business model, there's a feeling that the drug trade is practically civic-sponsored, but there may be no more horrific element to Narcoland than its reporting on the bustling kidnapping trade. This is where the real nightmares kick in — fingers and ears being sent through the post with a kind of sadistic nonchalance that nearly defies belief. El Chapo, the man who has done so much to establish this culture of terror, is perpetually unfazed by any of this throughout his reign — perhaps the most unsettling detail of all.

Hernández 's prose is clipped, but a grim brand of poetry creeps into it not infrequently. "The language of blood is more direct and effective than any other," she writes, "all of its grammar contained in a single drop." And while a writer might disagree with such a conclusion, it's an arresting one regardless, all the more so here given that it doubles as an encapsulation of Narcoland itself. This is a book that you read twenty-five pages at a time and then take a break from, shaking your head in disbelief that everything it contains could really have occurred. That it did only makes Hernández 's undertaking all the more necessary.

Colin Fleming writes for The Atlantic, Slate, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review and publishes fiction with The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Boulevard, and Black Clock. His first book, Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep, is forthcoming from Outpost19, with his second, Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories, to follow from Texas Review Press. He is at work on two novels: one about a piano prodigy who would rather be anything but, called The Freeze Tag Sessions, and another, told entirely in conversations, called Musings with Franklin, which is set in a bar in what may or may not be hell, where the regulars - - Writer, Bartender, and the guy from the suburbs who dresses up as Ben Franklin — gather.

Reviewer: Colin Fleming

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781781682487
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 286,112
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Anabel Hernández is one of Mexico’s leading investigative journalists, writing about slave labor, sexual exploitation, political corruption, organized crime and drug cartels. In 2012, she was presented with the Golden Pen of Freedom in Ukraine by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and in 2014 she received the Hans Verploeg Memorial Fund Award in Amsterdam for journalistic heroism.

From the Hardcover edition.
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