Thu, Sep 05, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Mexico’s drug war ‘one big lie’

Anabel Hernandez, journalist and author, accuses the Mexican state of complicity with the cartels and says the ‘war on drugs’ is a sham. She has had headless animals left at her door and her family have been threatened by gunmen

By Ed Vulliamy  /  The Observer, LONDON

The police in Mexico City said they would investigate only if they were paid; the family refused, figuring — as sometimes happens — that the police would take the money without taking any action. When her father was murdered, Hernandez’s resolve to nurture her craft — fearless of, and without illusions about, the establishment — was deepened by the outrage.

Within a year, Hernandez had broken a scandal about the extravagance with which the winning presidential candidate, former Mexican president Vicente Fox, had decorated his personal accommodation using public funds — while campaigning on a ticket of economic austerity. Two years later, she was honored by UNICEF for her work on slave labor and the exploitation of Mexican girls entrapped in agricultural work camps in southern California. Before long, Mexico’s drug war erupted, and Hernandez turned her attention to this most perilous of subjects, and the most powerful man involved: Joaquin “El Chapo’” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel. In the depth of its depiction of the world’s richest and most influential criminal, Hernandez’s book leaves every other account far behind.

When Zulema Hernandez (no relation) entered Puente Grande prison, convicted of murder, she cannot have thought herself in for a happy time. However, she could never have imagined the consequences of attracting the attention of the jail’s most famous inmate, Guzman, and becoming one of his lovers. The attentions of El Chapo (“Shorty”) led Zulema Hernandez to have two abortions, to being prostituted around the warders like “a piece of meat” and — once released — to her corpse being found in the trunk of a car with the letter Z, epigram of Guzman’s main rivals, Los Zetas, carved into her buttocks, breasts and back.

If this appalling tale, past midway through Anabel Hernandez’s narrative, captures the squalidness of Mexico’s drug war, another passage illustrates the way Guzman ran the jail in which he was supposedly incarcerated, inviting his extended family in for a five-day Christmas party. Anabel Hernandez also recounts the mysterious murders of the one senior public official who tried to expose the corruption at the jail at government level and the only warder who testified to it. And, most important, the fact that Guzman did not “escape” from Puente Grande, as the lore has it, in a laundry truck — he walked free in police uniform, with a police escort, long after the chief of the prison service and the Mexican deputy minister for public security arrived in response to the “news” of his escape.

For this is a book about, to use one of Anabel Hernandez’s best words, the “mafiocracy,” rather than the mafia — about the mafia state. It is about how the old Guadalajara cartel of the 1980s was protected by the Mexican government just as its heir, Guzman’s Sinaloa syndicate, is now. It is about the rise of former Mexican secretary of public security Genaro Garcia Luna, whom Hernandez accuses of being El Chapo’s protector at the apex of government.

“At first, I thought it would be difficult,” she says. “I didn’t think people would be ready to believe that the government is lying. That this is all one big lie.”

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