Nolan Reviews Book on the Existence of Cartels
Rachel Nolan, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, recently published an article in Harper’s Magazine titled, “Do Cartels Exist?” In the article, Professor Nolan uses her personal experience and references Oswaldo Zavala and Benjamin T. Smith to debate whether cartels really exist.
In 2008, a plane crashed in the heart of Mexico City, killing two people. Many people believed that the cartels shot the aircraft down, or that the government was trying to rein in investigators. In 2008, a plane crashed in the heart of Mexico City, killing two people. Many people believed that the cartels shot the aircraft down, or that the government was trying to rein in investigators.
In 2010, Los Tigres del Norte performed at the bicentennial celebration of Mexican independence on the same avenue where the plane had crashed two years earlier. Their big hits were the old ones with the guns, but their new song “La Granja” was about going against the narcos.
The drug wars nearly kept Professor Nolan from becoming a journalist because she didn’t understand the biggest story in the place she lived. She read about cartels this and cartels that, were supposedly in a struggle against one another for control, but she didn’t see how the usual steps would help her understand.
William Finnegan wrote a piece in 2012 that reflected the confusion I felt at the time about the drug wars. Oswaldo Zavala’s book asks us to consider the possibility that drug wars are all a lie. Felipe Calderón declared the war on drugs his number one priority, and ordered the armed forces into the fight, unleashing death on a scale not seen since the Mexican Revolution.
The Mexican government and the U.S. government say the violence is “drug war violence”, but the story is familiar from official sources in Colombia too. The story goes that when the kingpins were captured, there was a battle for turf and supply routes.
Professor Nolan references Drug Cartels Do Not Exist: Narcotrafficking in U.S. and Mexican Culture, by Oswaldo Zavala’s, and argues that the cartels don’t exist and are a distraction from the real story of who is using the drug war to consolidate power and make money. One defense for drug traffickers is to claim that a criminal structure is merely a figment of a prosecutor’s overactive imagination. However, the war on drugs has been winning since 1971. The book is not journalistic or historical, but an odd but appealing mix of argument and analysis. It shows how an official story gains authority as it shifts over into the cultural sphere, and how Netflix seizes on the obvious gold mine. Zavala accuses the television series Narcos of helping to promote the government line and also makes the same accusation against prominent journalists and authors. He maintains that there is little accurate reporting on the drug wars, but the underlying premise seems sensible enough.
Read the full article here.
Rachel Nolan is a historian of modern Latin America. Her research focuses on political violence, Central American civil wars, childhood and the family, historical memory, and U.S.-Latin American relations. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the history of international adoption from Guatemala. Read more about Professor Nolan on her faculty profile.