El Narco Book Book

Author Q and A

El Narco contains many firsthand interviews with traffickers and killers. Are there ethical issues there?

I believe that if we want to understand the conflict in Mexico, we have to talk to the people directly involved. Sources such as the DEA and Mexican officials only give you part of the complicated big picture. We need to make sense of why young people will commit murders for as little as a $100 and why cartels have taken to such destructive tactics as massacres and car bombs. Interviewing someone in no way justifies their actions – but they do help explain them.

Is there really an insurgency in Mexico?

The conflict in Mexico has clearly gone way beyond cops and robbers. We are seeing commandos of 50 heavily armed men launching attacks on police bases and mass graves with more than 200 corpses. Yet people struggle to make sense of what type of war it is or even find the words to describe it. The idea of criminal insurgency is the concept that makes best sense of what is happening – criminal militias that overwhelm police in parts of the country and fight each other to capture chunks of the state. It is a new type of conflict for the 21st century – and will likely be seen in many countries beyond Mexico.

Why did the drug violence multiply during Mexico’s democratic transition?

Under seven decades of authoritarian one party rule, the Mexican government had a surefire way of controlling the drug trade – taking down a few token gangsters and taxing the rest. In the democracy developed since 2000, this system of corruption has broken down. But it hasn’t all been for good. Corrupt cops can now work for rival gangsters and actively fire at each other. Former special force soldiers hire on as mercenaries for the highest bidder. Just like the collapse of the Soviet Union, ushered in mafia capitalism so Mexico’s cartels grew in power from the nation’s hopes of freedom. It is a real tragedy.

Why should Americans care about this?

The United States is up to its neck in Mexico’s conflict and will be forced to keep reacting to it. American drug users have given hundreds of billions of dollars to the Mexican cartels while American gun shops have sold them tens of thousands of Kalashnikovs and AR15s. But more pertinently, the appearance of criminal warlords and paramilitary death squads on the U.S. doorstep really shakes its security. The U.S. military establishment will inevitably step in if the insecurity over the river plunges beyond a certain point.

Is drug legalization a real solution?

We are reaching a new flux in the drug policy reform debate, with referendums to legalize marijuana in California and now Colorado. However much you argue about the stats, everyone agrees that legalization of marijuana in the U.S. will take away some dollars from Mexican cartels. Even if doesn’t kill the beast it will hurt it. The Mexican drug war should therefore certainly feature in the discussions about these referendums. However, the drug debate goes way beyond state referendums on marijuana. The United Nations treaties dictate all members to pursue prohibitionist policies on drugs. A major debate about these is needed at a global level to have long-term impact on Mexico.

Ioan Grillo

“El Narco is riveting, authoritative reporting from the front lines of the Mexican drug wars. What's happening there has explosive potential consequences for every American, and Ioan Grillo's book shows you why."

- Dan Rather, Founder and Anchor,
HDNet's Dan Rather Reports.

el narco book bloomsbury indiebound powells barnes noble amazon
Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgencyel narco book bloomsburyindieboundpowellsbarnes nobleamazon