The Last Narco: Hunting El Chapo, the World’s Most-wanted Drug Lord

Ben Ehrenreich writes:

The Mexican and US governments consistently represent the drug-related violence as a simple matter of cops and robbers, a fable echoed by the Mexican and US press. This is the implicit narrative underlying The Last Narco, Malcolm Beith’s book about Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, the fugitive chief of the Sinaloa cartel. Beith traces Guzmán’s rise to narco-celebrity – in 2009 and again this year, Forbes magazine included him in its list of the world’s billionaires – from the tiny Sinaloan hamlet of La Tuna de Badiraguato, where his father scratched out a living as a cattle rancher and gomero, or opium worker. He recounts Guzmán’s war with the Tijuana cartel in the early 1990s and his arrest in 1993, and devotes a chapter to his escape in 2001 from a maximum security prison in Jalisco. He describes the rise of the Zetas – a group composed of former members of the Mexican special forces, which struck out on its own in 2003, having begun its existence as the Gulf cartel’s assassination squad – and the outbreak of fighting between Guzmán’s gunmen and the Juárez cartel, a quarrel that continues to claim thousands of lives. It’s a heroic war as Beith tells it in his wide-eyed account, and the impression we get is that the narcos live in a country of their own, one which they are occasionally forced to share with soldiers, police and the DEA.

(LRB 21 October 2010)