During January 2011, Anabel Hernandez’s extended family held a party at a favorite cafe in the north of Mexico City. The gathering was to celebrate the birthday of Anabel’s niece.
As one of Mexico’s leading journalists, who rarely allows herself time off, she was especially happy because “the entire family was there. There are so many of us that it’s extremely difficult to get everybody together in one place. It hardly ever happens.”
Hernandez had to leave early, as so often, “to finish an article,” and it was after she left that gunmen burst in.
“Pointing rifles at my family, walking round the room — and taking wallets from people, but this was no robbery; no one tried to use any of the credit cards — it was pure intimidation, aimed at my family, and at me,” she says.
It was more than a year before the Mexican authorities began looking for the assailants. And during that time the threats had continued: One afternoon in June last year, Hernandez opened her front door to find decapitated animals in a box on the doorstep.
Hernandez’s offense was to write a book about the drug cartels that have wrought carnage across Mexico, taking about 80,000 lives, leaving a further 20,000 unaccounted for — and forging a new form of 21st-century warfare. However, there have been other books about this bloodletting; what made Los Senores del Narco different was its relentless narrative linking the syndicate that has driven much of the violence — the Sinaloa cartel, the biggest criminal organization in the world — to the leadership of the Mexican state.
Her further sin against the establishment and cartels was that the book became, and remains, a bestseller: more than 100,000 copies sold in Mexico. The success is impossible to overstate, a staggering figure for a non-fiction book in a country with indices of income and literacy incomparable to the US-European book-buying market. The wildfire interest delivers a clear message, Hernandez says.
“So many Mexicans do not believe the official version of this war. They do not believe the government are good guys, fighting the cartels. They know the government is lying, they don’t carry their heads in the clouds,” she says.
Hernandez’s book will be published in English this month with the title Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers, so that we in the English-speaking world that consumes so much of what the cartels deal, and which banks their proceeds, might learn the lie of “cops and robbers,” of “upright society versus the mafia” — the received wisdom that still contaminates coverage of drug wars and the “war on drugs.”
Two writers in particular have pioneered the struggle to counter this untruth: one is Hernandez, and the other is Roberto Saviano — author of Gomorrah, about the Camorra of Naples — who writes in a foreword to Hernandez’s English edition: “Narcoland shows how contemporary capitalism is in no position to renounce the mafia. Because it is not the mafia that has transformed itself into a modern capitalist enterprise, it is capitalism that has transformed itself into a mafia. The rules of drug trafficking that Hernandez describes are also the rules of capitalism.”
By the year 2000, Hernandez had made a name for herself in Mexican journalism, on the daily paper Reforma. However, in December of that year, she found herself personally caught up in the murky crossover between state and criminals when her father was kidnapped: a crime the family believes to have been unconnected to his daughter’s work.