To Die in Mexico
To Die in Mexico
Dispatches from Inside the Drug War
By John Gibler
City Lights Books, Paperback, 9780872865174, 218pp.
Publication Date: June 28, 2011
Mexico is in a state of siege. Since President Felipe Calderon declared a war on drugs in December 2006, more than 38,000 Mexican have been murdered. During the same period, drug money has infused over $130 billion into Mexico's economy, now the country's single largest source of income. Corruption and graft infiltrate all levels of government. Entire towns have become ungovernable, and of every 100 people killed, Mexican police now only investigate approximately 5 eases.
But the market is booming: In 2009, more people in the United States bought recreational drugs than ever before. In 2009, the United Nations reported that some $350 billion in drug money had been successfully laundered into the global banking system the prior year, saving it from collapse.
How does an "extra" $350 billion in the global economy affect the murder rate in Mexico? To get the story and connect the dogs, acclaimed journalist John Gibler travels across Mexico and slips behind the frontlines to talk with people who live in towns under assault: newspaper reporters and crime-beat photographers, funeral parlor workers, convicted drug traffickers, government officials, cab drivers and others who find themselves living on the lawless frontiers of the drug war. Gibler tells hair-raising stories of wild street battles, kidnappings, narrow escapes, politicians on the take, and the ordinary people who fight for justice as they seek solutions to the crisis that is tearing Mexico apart. Fast-paced and urgent, To Die in Mexico is an extraordinary look inside the raging drug war, and its global implications.
John Gibler is a writer based in Mexico and California, the author of Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt (City Lights Books, 2009), and a contributor to Pais de muertos: Cronicas contra la impunidad (Random House Mondadori, 2011). He is a correspondent for KPFA in San Francisco and has published in magazines in the United States and Mexico, including Left Turn, Z Magazine, Earth Island Journal, ColorLines, Race, Poverty, and the Environment Fifth Estate, New Politics, In These Times, Yes Magazine, Contralinea, and Milenio Semanal.
"Gibler's front-line reportage coupled with first-rate analysis gives an uncommonly vivid and nuanced picture of a society riddled and enervated by corruption, shootouts, and raids, where murder is the 'most popular method of conflict resolution.' . . . At great personal risk, the author unearths stories the mainstream media doesn't-or is it too afraid-to cover, and gives voice to those who have been silenced or whose stories have been forgotten." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Gibler argues passionately to undercut this 'case study in failure.' The drug barons are only getting richer, the murders mount and the police and military repression expand as 'illegality increases the value of the commodity.' With legality, both U.S. and Mexican society could address real issues of substance abuse through education and public-health initiatives. A visceral, immediate and reasonable argument." --Kirkus Reviews
"Gibler provides a fascinating and detailed insight into the history of both drug use in the US and the 'war on drugs' unleashed by Ronald Reagan through the very plausible - but radical - lens of social control. . . . Throughout this short but powerful book, Gibler accompanies journalists riding the grim carousel of death on Mexico's streets, exploring the realities of a profession under siege in states such as Sinaloa and just how they cover the drugs war." --Gavin O'Toole, The Latin American Review of Books
"Gibler (Mexico Unconquered) documents Mexico's drug war, its enormous profits and grievous human costs, in taut prose and harrowing detail. As the demand for recreational drugs spikes in the U.S., money from the drug trade has become Mexico's largest source of income. Gibler's front-line reportage coupled with first-rate analysis gives an uncommonly vivid and nuanced picture of a society riddled and enervated by corruption, shootouts, and raids, where murder is the 'most popular method of conflict resolution.' Since 2006, 34,000 Mexicans have been killed; 'death is a part of the overhead, a business expense,' observes Gibler. Even the hired killers, often impoverished teenagers who are paid about $300 a week, are executed by the very people who hire them, after their "job" is done. At great personal risk, the author unearths stories the mainstream media doesn't--or is too afraid--to cover, and gives voice to those who have been silenced or whose stories have been forgotten--murdered journalists in Reynosa, students slain in the streets, and even a man who was killed because, tired of finding dead bodies outside his house, he had hung a sign reading 'Prohibited: Littering and Dumping Corpses.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
"From its first shocking paragraph, this book takes the reader inside Mexico's drug war, a very real shooting battle involving rival gangs fighting to control hundreds of billions of dollars in product. And not only is the government unable to stop the war, in many cases, the government is part of it. To get the real story, journalist Gibler (also the author of Mexico Unconquered) hit the streets in some of the most dangerous Mexican cities and neighborhoods, speaking to reporters, photographers, kidnap victims, and the families of the murdered. The code of silence is difficult to break, since reporting on the drug cartels means almost certain death, often with impunity: only five percent of murders are investigated by the Mexican police. The problem is only growing, and the single thing likely to stop this juggernaut is drug legalization, which would make the trade less lucrative. But such a remedy isn't politic, and so the wars and the killings continue.
Verdict This grim but important chronicle is an essential read for anyone interested in the real consequences of the war-on-drugs rhetoric." Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH, Library Journal
"Gibler provides a fascinating and detailed insight into the history of both drug use in the US and the 'war on drugs' unleashed by Ronald Reagan through the very plausible but radical lens of social control. . . . Throughout this short but powerful book, Gibler accompanies journalists riding the grim carousel of death on Mexico's streets, exploring the realities of a profession under siege in states such as Sinaloa and just how they cover the drugs war."
Gavin O’Toole, The Latin American Review of Books
"Gibler argues passionately to undercut this 'case study in failure.' The drug barons are only getting richer, the murders mount and the police and military repression expand as 'illegality increases the value of the commodity.' With legality, both U.S. and Mexican society could address real issues of substance abuse through education and public-health initiatives. A visceral, immediate and reasonable argument." Kirkus Reviews
"The historical context provided in 'To Die in Mexico' is essential for understanding the current drug war in Mexico. Gibler covers the political, social, and economic factors that have contributed to the violence, convincingly making the case that 'absolute prohibition is legislated death.' Yet the true lifeblood of the book is the personal stories that Gibler tells through his interviews. Despite its title and thorough grounding in the disturbing reality of Mexico's narco-violence, 'To Die in Mexico' is focused on lifethe lives of Mexicans who have lost loved ones, the journalists who cover the drug war in spite of its dangers, and even the lives of the dead, who would otherwise remain anonymous." Anila Churi, Nacla Report on the Americas
"The days of 'cool and groovy' drug use are over, and Gibler explains in detail how a binational legalization of these drugs might be the only way out." Bloomsbury Review
"Not surprisingly given his own position as a reporter covering the drug war, Gibler pays particular attention to the critical role that journalists are playing in the conflict. Many have died for their courage: since 2000, more than 70 journalists have been murdered, while 15 others have disappeared in the past six years. . . Gibler's book is valuable for its ability to capture this unfolding nightmare in words." --Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
"This short but unforgettable book shocks, disgusts, saddens, and eventually enrages the reader. Gibler’s narrative provides us with in-your-face proof of that which many already know deep inside but some don’t want us to remember . . . One cannot read this account and think that the war on drugs is much more than a sick criminal scam set up by entrenched interests motivated by power and greed. And power and greed are winning. . . . Yet the book ends on a note of hope." -- Erowid Review
"Many writers have pondered the evil and madness of the Mexican/American 'drug war.' Few have analyzed it with such vividness and clarity as John Gibler." Howard Campbell, Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas, El Paso
"If you want to cut through the lies, obfuscation and sheer lunacy that surrounds Mexico's so-called drug war, read To Die in Mexico. John Gibler reports from Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, Culiacan&ndashthe bloodiest battlegrounds in a fever of violence that has left more than 38,000 dead. But he accepts none of the prevailing myths&ndashthat this is a war between rival criminal enterprises, or between a crusading government and assorted barbarous bad guys, that it is a war at all. An antidote to the sensationalism and mythologizing that dominate the discourse, To Die in Mexico is at once a gripping read and the smartest, sanest book yet written on the subject in English." Ben Ehrenreich, author of The Suitors and Ether
"To Die in Mexico shows all the horror of Mexico's current turmoil over drugsbut goes beyond the usual pornography of violence to its critically-informed broader context. Gibler also reveals the brave civic resistance to death cults and official silencing by, among others, some of the remarkable Mexican journalists trying to tell the drug war's hidden story." Paul Gootenberg, author of Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug