Welcome John Gibler, and Host Sam Quinones (website)

To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War

Host, Sam Quinones:

Mexico’s harrowing drug war is not a consequence that many thought would accompany the country’s long-awaited and admirably accomplished transition from a one-party state in 2000.

But there it is. By 2011, the war has been raging from four to six years (depending, crucially, on your definition of when it started, which we’ll be talking about).

I can’t keep count; long ago the numbers overwhelmed me. What is it now? 35,000 dead, and rising every day.

The killings seem to reach new depths of barbarity every few months. Who remembers the “Soupmaker” in Tijuana? New places in Mexico become war zones almost overnight (Gomez Palacio, Durango), then fade as the “front” in this war shifts.

What’s more, there’s a new, very public approach to killing that is also unnerving and was never seen in Mexico prior to all this.

Beheadings, hangings from overpasses, body dumps. Messages scrawled on headless torsos. Narcomantas – narcobanners – hung in parks or along roadways, expressing drug gangs’ political points of view.

Once upon a time, the massacre of 45 people at Acteal, Chiapas captured the country’s attention for years as the lone example in recent memory (it happened in 1997) of such a heinous type of event.

Acteal is now long forgotten amid the piles of bodies that have stacked in Michoacan, Tamaulipas, Durango, Baja California Norte, Nuevo Leon, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and of course, Ciudad Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua.

Of course, these days, one massacre or body dump is remembered for about as long as it takes for the next to appear.

Itinerant journalist John Gibler is preoccupied with all this — the way of dying and how the living remember it — in his new book, To Die In Mexico.  [cont’d.]

The book is a petite (in size) but muscular book of reportage mostly about the folks who see all this before almost anybody: the reporters and photographers in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and elsewhere.

As public as these killings are, and covered by the valiant folks in Gibler’s book, there is no explanation or resolution, to virtually any of them.

The book begins with a political cartoon expressing what is thus the popular response to each gangland-style homicide – responses, in fact, that in Mexico have long accompanied each such killing in Mexico:

“She must have been involved in something;” “It was a gang feud;” “What was he doing out at that hour?;” “It was a settling of accounts;” “She was a whore.”

If none is ever explained, public imagination is allowed to run wild, and the fact that someone is murdered is proof of his guilt or complicity.

Today, we hope to shed some light on, if not individual homicides, at least the origins and the reasons for the drug war, why it has spread, its effect on Mexico and Mexicans, and the U.S. role in all this, how the U.S. is affected, and a whole lot more.

Please join us and add your point of view to what I hope will be a gripping discussion.

Welcome John Gibler. You were in Oaxaca a few days ago. Where are you writing from today?

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Sam Quinones

Sam Quinones

The S.F. Chronicle Book Review called him “the most original American writer on the border and Mexico out there.”

The L.A. Times Book Review said “over the last 15 years, he has filed the best dispatches about Mexican migration and its effects on the United States and Mexico, bar none.”

Columbia Journalism School selected him as a 2008 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot prize, for a career of excellence in covering Latin America.

Sam Quinones is a journalist and author of two acclaimed books of nonfiction growing out of 10 years he spent in Mexico as a freelance writer. He teaches Tell Your True Tale writing workshops, and a storytelling experiment of the same name.

His cult classic, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2001) is a collection of nonfiction stories about contemporary Mexico.

His second book of non-fiction stories, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2007). It was called “genuinely original work, what great fiction and nonfiction aspire to be, these are the stories that stop time and remind us how great reading is.” (S.F. Chronicle)

He now writes for the Los Angeles Times, covering immigration, drug trafficking, and gangs.