Excerpt from Blood Gun Money by Ioan Grillo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Blood Gun Money

How America Arms Gangs and Cartels

by Ioan Grillo

Blood Gun Money by Ioan Grillo X
Blood Gun Money by Ioan Grillo
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 28, 2023, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Scott C. Martin
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Print Excerpt

1
The Guns of El Chapo

Freedom is beautiful.

—Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, shortly
before his third capture, in 2016

Finally seeing El Chapo in the flesh, a few feet away from me, conjured mixed emotions.

Like many in the Brooklyn courtroom, I felt a rush being so close to such a notorious villain as Joaquín Guzmán, who is up there with Pablo Escobar and Al Capone as the most infamous gangsters of the last century. Not only journalists but fans and tourists had been queuing up to get a sight of the sixty-one-year-old from Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains and see his beauty-queen wife in the gallery. Only the first few dozen would make it into the courtroom, fifty more into an overflow room to watch it on screens, with the rest turned away, so people were arriving earlier and earlier to get in line. On that January 2019 morning, while the polar vortex sprinkled snow on New York, I arrived at four-forty a.m. and still only just made it onto a courtroom bench.

Guzmán was reaching the end of his three-month trial for trafficking cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and crystal meth, which federal prosecutors claimed had made him fourteen billion dollars. As he was so notorious, the prosecutors called an overkill of fifty-six witnesses, including fourteen of his former cohorts, employees, and lovers. The scariest was a Colombian drug lord known as Chupeta, who'd had plastic surgery so many times that his face looked like a rubber mask as he confessed to ordering a hundred and fifty murders. Other gripping testimony came from a computer buff who'd built Guzmán an encrypted cell phone network and then tapped the calls for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a lover who described Guzmán jumping out of bed naked and running into a secret tunnel to evade capture.

Such tales made great television, and American networks were giving it broad coverage. A cable news reporter at the court told me that his editors liked the story because it provided a light touch from the divisive issues dominating media in the Trump era. Gun violence in the United States, from mass shootings to police killings, cut to the heart of the tribal politics gripping the nation. So did the migrant caravans of thousands of Central Americans arriving on the southern border. El Chapo, meanwhile, could be entertainment.

But seeing the short, stocky figure of Guzmán, in his finely pressed suit with his lively, wide-open eyes, also filled me with anger and sadness. I had been reporting on the drug violence in Mexico since 2001, after I moved there from Britain, and what I first saw as a thrilling tale of supervillains had morphed into a humanitarian catastrophe.

I found myself covering things I couldn't have imagined. I hit crime scenes across the country where gunmen would spray five hundred rounds at their prey, slaying bystanders and leaving pulverized bodies that began to color my dreams. Then I saw victims mutilated and decapitated, the rival cartels escalating the numbers of corpses they dumped in public as if they were playing high-stakes poker. In 2012, I found myself in a morgue in Monterrey, my nostrils filled with the stench of forty-nine bodies that had been left on a road, all with their heads, hands, and feet cut off.


Finally, I lost good friends to the bloodshed. Javier Valdez was a prolific and inspiring journalist from Guzmán's home state of Sinaloa who had penned eight books on the narco world. He generously shared his knowledge with me over long phone calls or longer drinking sessions in a cantina near his newspaper's offices. On May 15, 2017, he was leaving his office at midday when he was shot twelve times and died at the scene. "In the end, we are a big family of victims in this country," said his widow, fellow journalist Griselda Triana.

Excerpted from Blood Gun Money by Ioan Grillo. Copyright © 2021 by Ioan Grillo. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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