Just Read: THE CARTEL DOES NOT EXIST: NARCOTRAFFICKING IN US AND MEXICAN CULTURE by Oswaldo Zavala translated by William Savinar

Had to read this when I saw the title because I wrote about a similar topic last year with a more hyper-local focus. The Cartel Does Not Exist is an academic-style book that explains that drug trafficking is real but the idea of the ever powerful big bad Mexican narco is completely fictional.

I happened to be reading this book when that situation happened recently with the four American’s who drove into Mexico and two got killed. Then there was an apology issued by “the cartel” along with a few beat up guys as a trade-in basically. Everyone online is laughing away at how reasonable or whatever that seems–for them to admit wrong-doing and to try to show sympathy by handing over a few of their guys. All I could think was, yea but whose story is that? Where is the proof that this letter and these guys came from some narco group?

It’s those types of questions that Oswaldo Zavala explores in this book. He is looking mostly at novels and journalism (and some tv) to show how the idea of the cartel has been invented by the government and constantly reinforced by popular culture. Like, where is the data from? How were these narratives collected? What is being implied in how the data and narratives are presented? Who is the presenter of the information? One of his ongoing examples is El Chapo, who people believe to be this rich powerful drug lord, but Zavala shows that his story is really a myth. The way his most recent arrest aligns with a magazine article of him, the fact that none of his money can actually be accounted for in any way, how he gets arrested without incident or security. In reality, El Chapo actually shows the symbolism of the state because when we blame these crazy seeming guys, then no one is questioning the government.

There is also the fact that the mindless murders that we are told the cartel is responsible for actually follow the militarization of an area–not the other way around. The Mexican military enters a location that they claim is so deadly and bad, then it turns deadly and bad. And what’s more is that all of these locations are conveniently location in places where natural resources are being exploited. Zavala points to the American war on drugs as a major factor in Mexico’s particular brand of anti-drug policies (and the formation of the CIA and choices made by certain leaders in the past few decades). By the end of Drug Cartels Do Not Exist, Zavala argues that the war on drugs proves to be very successful. It got people all over America and beyond to believe that drug trafficking is the most urgent problem in the world–all while being “disenfranchised by their own governments” (147).

I will say that this book is a challenge to get through. He summarizes and references a lot of Mexican novels and if you don’t know those primary texts (like me) it can be hard to follow along. I started this book a while ago and was reading Sexo en Nueva York in the middle of it and eventually I was like, okay I need to just finish that then come back to Zavala’s book after. I started this book over to really understand what he was saying. So I wouldn’t call this book super-accessible (it also costs a lot–I got it from my school’s library) but it is really great. I do not see the word “cartel” the same as I did before.

Best line: “Drug trafficking is not a causal factor of the security discourse, but rather an objective of that discourse. In other words, what we commonly call ‘narco’ is the invention of a state policy that responds to specific geopolitical interests” (Zavala 46).


Click aqui para todos los libros yo tengo en español en mi librería Ten Dollar Books.


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