Wonderful and educational read.
By Adam S. on Jul 13, 2011
I work on the border of Juarez, Mexico. I deal with issues that these guys have created regularly. This is a very good and true, seems to be, account of the life in the most corrupt goverment. Juarez is a battle zone and this guys manages to explain how it got this point. The editing was superb and the narration well thought out. I think that many who have an interest in Mexican/narco politics will find this as a great tool to understand the culture that the narco-terrorists have crafted over many years. Failed drug policies are evident as the reader goes thru the twists and turns of a true sicario. I wish all people would be able to understand and help a nation that is on the verge of collapse. I see the complaints and the jabs that others have given Bowden, but this guy seems to have a true interest in why Mexico is as corrupt as it is. The Mexican people are truly the victims and Mr. Bowden has once again outlined and told the stories that need to be told. Well done sir. Now I am off to read Down by the River. Forthcoming review of that novel as soon as I can.
A Journey Into Mexico's Heart Of Darkness.
By Robert Blake on Oct 27, 2011
"El Sicario" gives us a voice reaching out from the violent landscape of modern Mexico. This is an unforgettable account of one man's life as an assassin, a predator for the cartels which have turned some of Mexico's border areas into war zones, and in his life we see the development and evolution of today's Mexico roughly from the 1980s to the present. There have been some good books recently published on the current drug war raging in our neighbor across the Rio Grande, including John Gibler's recent "To Die In Mexico" and especially "Murder City" by Charles Bowden, who interviewed the former assassin for a documentary and edited their conversations into this book, this is one of the best because instead of just statistics and figures, it gives us a pure form of journalism in the form of one man's testimony. "El Sicario" is a raw trip into the heart of darkness. The Sicario divides his life into three basic sections: His childhood, his introduction to the cartel lifestyle as a young adult and finally his eventual exit from the cartel world, choosing to convert to Pentacostal Christianity of the variety so popular among Hispanic communities. There is a strange elegance to the way the Sicario guides us through each section, there is no attempt here to be flashy or "literary" and yet the words in their raw form have real power and pull. Unlike the flashy tales one gets in gangster movies like "Scarface," the Sicario's tale begins with humble roots in the typical, poverty-ridden surroundings of working class Mexicans, he describes his family and a father who worked to death to barely provide essentials. In a powerful moment the Sicario describes his one happy memory of a family outing: To the circus where they couldn't afford luxury snacks. His initiation into the world of drug trafficking and killing is very basic and unmessy: Young people in Mexico with few opportunities and in need of financial gain find an easy route through the drug world, getting paid well to kill, transport drugs and infiltrate the police and city governments. The Sicario becomes a narco hitman not because he had some grand plan, but because he needed money and wanted to have the same things he would see upper class Mexicans buy with such ease. In this story we see in Mexico's narco world an embodiment of a terrifying form of pure capitalism, the kind of capitalism and consumerism which has left many societies in ruins, producing more and more figures like El Sicario. In his preface Charles Bowden wonders if the Sicario is not only a figure out of modern Mexico, but from our future as a whole. The most intriguing parts of the book deal with the Sicario's descriptions of how the cartels infiltrate the local Mexican police forces, using training academies to inject informants and also provide top level training for their own kill teams. The US invests much money in training Mexico's police and in one chapter the Sicario even describes a trip to an FBI training facility where Mexican recruits are trained by US experts, what these experts might not know is that they are training the future commandos of the major cartels now rampaging across Mexican cities. Key moments in recent Mexican history are also explored including the rise of the Juarez cartel, the recent airplane crash which killed current president Felipe Calderon's presumed successor (the Sicario dismisses the reports of the crash being an accident, believing it to be instead a major cartel hit) and the rivalries which have led to the current bloodshed. The Sicario provides fascinating details on how drugs are transported, officials bought off and political alliances made. There are chilling moments where the actual business and routine of being an assassina are explored in detail. The Sicario describes his former work with a sense of professionalism, even lamenting the recent rise of "imitators," young hoods who riddle cars and kill bystanders when one clean shot could do the job. "El Sicario" is also a powerful personal story. It provides reflection on the haunting of memories, it dives into the psychology of a man who chose to do terrifying things for a living. It is no surprise that the Sicario's descriptions of the assassin lifestyle are not glamorous, but full of brutality and the need to consume drugs and alcohol to provide the needed mental numbness to do the job. Even if you aren't convinced by modern Evangelicalism, or especially Latin American Pentacostalism, you feel curiously grateful that this man did find a place where some form of peace and inner reflection has been achieved. "El Sicario" is not just about Mexico, but about the brutal tribalism and violence of people in our current societies. What the Sicario did for a cartel politicians easily do on a global scale. El Sicario's story is about the terrifying possibilities of men trapped in brutal worlds. A memorable, important read.
What An Eye Opener!
By C. Thomas on Aug 28, 2011
After hearing so much news almost on a weekly basis about the horrors that are currently taking place in various states in Mexico, mainly in Ciudad Juárez, I came across El Sicario after seeing the preview for the documentary "Room 164" and thought it may be insightful to hear it from the "horse's mouth" so to speak. I have to honestly say after reading this book completely from cover to cover it really blew my mind. It is literally to the point the you refuse to believe some of the things El Sicario is revealing, but it is just too detailed, emotional, and so full of feeling that it is difficult to doubt. Not to mention various footnotes verifying many of the stories he tells. El Sicario is a chilling autobiography but the scariest and most uncomfortable thing about it is not even the sinister acts of violence he committed and witnessed, but the unprecedented level of corruption in Ciudad Juárez. I mean corruption is a serious understatement to say the least. This autobiography is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you're brave enough to hear the truth about Mexico definitely consider picking this one up. 5 Stars!
Review for El Sicario
By Alan Petersen on Jun 24, 2011
According to the introduction the bulk of this book is based on the interviews with El Sicario (recorded for the documentary, El Sicario: Room 164) so it does read like a transcript more than an autobiography. There were a few of these hand-drawn sketches that didn't make much sense so not sure if it was filler for the book. They also got a little preachy not just on religion but on the government. I could have done without the editorial of the author (it wasn't content from the Sicario). The book was Okay. It was interesting to read how this person started out as a pretty normal kid growing up in Mexico to becoming a monster. It's also chilling to read how he glosses over all the killing he has done now that he has found God without paying for his crimes. Not sure how carefully his story was verified but it was an interesting to read and it provides a glimpse how the situation in Mexico has gone from bad to worse over the last few years. The most chilling parts of course are when he describes the torture, murders, and other horrible things he did as a killer for the cartels.
By Jose Martinez on Oct 17, 2011
really enjoyed and learned if you can say that about the situation in mexico i actually did feel like i was right there with the guy as he was telling his story
Scary stuff, but important for all of us
By J. Bower on Aug 03, 2011
I bought this book after hearing the authors interviewed on NPR. I had to read for myself to see if I believed their claims. After reading, I'm convinced. The "war on drugs" has corrupted Mexico so completely that the police are the ones running the drugs, the anti-corruption squads are corrupted and the army is working for the bad guys. This is very bad news for Mexico and for he US, and it implies that we have to change our drug control strategy completely. Anyone interested in the issue should read this book.
Insight Into Murderous Milieu
By Zenhead on Nov 09, 2011
This book is the paper version of a dialogue conducted by the Italian documentary film maker,Gianfranco Rossi. My understanding of how Mr. Rossi became engaged in this effort was that border writer, Charles Bowden, who has written before about life on the American-Mexican Border, worked with Professor Molly Melloy, New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to debrief "el sicario," on his involvement over 20 years time in the killing of numerous individuals who came up on the wrong side of the Juarez Cartel. Of key interest to me were the roots of corrupt Mexican police law enforcement practices as enveloped by various drug cartel leadership in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Living roughly 70 miles north of Palomas, Chihuahua, and about 100 miles west of Juarez, I've seen the change in the Mexican Border towns & cities over the last 9.5 years that I've lived in New Mexico. Until 2007, going to Mexico seemed pretty easy, although I had very significant prejudices against such travel because of the "flim flam/shady" nature of Mexican law enforcement. In the first 5 years I lived here, the flim flamming was essentially shaking down Americans on put up charges of some kind designed to shake down the touristas for some kind of bribe or payment to "not get into trouble." I'd been to Mexico, to the surrender site of Geronimo, the Apache warrior, in 2007. At that time, we heard that a major fire fight had occurred farther west in Cananea, Sonora. The reason for that fight was a turf battle between drug cartels. That seemed to exemplify the situation in Mexico in 2007. Since then, however, the slaughter in Chihuahua, Sonora, Tamulapais, Neovo Leon, Cuahilia, and various other Mexican states has escalated into a horror show exemplified by decapitations & dismemberment of bodies. "El Sicario," who defected from the cartels due to a psychic & spiritual breakdown, apparently now resides somewhere in the U.S. Charles Bowden & others who made him available for the "on screen" discussion that is contained in this fine book, were able to persuade the man to discuss what it means to be a killer for cartels. The fact is: young Mexican males who showed promise were recruited to run drugs across the border into El Paso, Texas, and then on to other American cities, beginning roughly around the 1990s. "El Sicario," describes how he moved up the line from casual drug runner to a person of interest in college, with his studies supported by people he knew to be suppliers of drugs. Eventually, he enters the Police Academy in Chihuahua, and becomes a police officer in Juarez. The most significant aspect of that early process is that the cartels paid for & groomed a % of all Mexican local & federal police officials to work exclusively for them .. the cartels .. from Day One. As the Mexican cartels have taken over more & more of the booming drug business in the U.S., the roles of these policemen who work actually for the cartels, has become more significant. Many of the victims of cartels appear to have been policemen who got on the wrong side of their sponsoring cartels, or were killed by opposition cartels moving into another's territory. The man who is "El Sicario," appears to be intelligent but of a criminal attitude from the earliest days. Somehow, as he sank farther into doing business with his cartelista bosses, he found himself performing extermination acts for bosses he rarely ever saw. He makes clear that he was totally subservient to these bosses. In one case, he describes bringing a victim to a motel, & keeping that victim sequestered in Room 164, while the man's family made arrangements to pay a debt that had been reneged upon by this man. In some cases, El Sicario describes how he & an accomplice or two, beat the victim into submission. In others, he describes how he strangles a victim to the point of death, only to revive him @ the call of one of his "bosses," apparently to torment the victim. A "cat & mouse" game ensues, where the victim is sometimes taken to the point of death by strangulation, then revived. In the end, the word comes to kill the victim, once and for all. El Sicario reveals that very few victims of bad debt collection survive. He describes the professional manner in which a true "sicario," or hit man, or thug, kills his victims v. "amateurs." There is an obvious pride in his workmanship, meaning, quick, clean, professional. Some victims are described as being lowered & raised out of 55 gallon drums of boiling water or oil, their flesh being burned off, then debrided until their bodies are scorched & they are boiled to death. Businessmen who play with the Devil of whichever cartel is in charge, often don't realize that second or third homes they own are often transformed into party places, but also, contain numerous cemeteries for the victims. In the end, El Sicario breaks down under the strain of years of alcohol and drug use. He simply hits a wall of numbness that implodes & leaves him in a position where he simply cannot drink or drug any longer. He does not show the apparent signs of an addict going through withdrawal, but is steered by an acquaintance, to some religious revival kind of event. The strain of his killing life & a tiny core of morality break through, & allow him to realize a forgiveness for his crimes. The fact appears to be: Mexico has passed into a place where much of the drug trade plying off norteamericanos is controlled by cartelistas who are heavily engaged with all layers of the Mexican law enforcement system & also, a growing # of Mexican military officials. The slaughter is now in the thousands. Men like El Sicario are actually recruited constantly. The "burn out" rate for these men is enormous. The cartels leadership could care less. They are Gods in a society where graft & corruption set the stage long ago for a breakdown in authority that seems headed towards an actual narcostate on our southern Border. Travel into Mexico is problematic now. My own reasons for traveling to Mexico are based on my own interest in the Apache Indian history of the 1800s. Places of such interest are there, essentially untouched by modernity, but the danger of straying for very narrow paths is obvious. I know I'd never, ever want to meet such a man as "El Sicario." He is someone who does not really show a hatred for Americans. Most of his victims are Mexicans & there is no mercy given those whom he's been told to collect from. The slaughter underway in Mexico is grim & sometimes primitive in it's manifestations of dismemberment, torture, decapitations, murders. The cruelty with which many victims die in Mexico today represents a twisted turn into Evil. "El Sicario," may or may not have escaped that life ... time will tell. But his story is one of nightmarish violence & he has done a service by telling what he's told. The book by Charles Bowden & Molly Melloy provided me with a first line view of the killers who do the killing. It's frightening to read the details of those who do the killing and the sad ends of so many who went sideways of the cartels for whatever reason. Mexico is on a path of some kind of self destruction. One wonders if it can survive. I'd recommend that any American wanting to know more about the killing machine that exists in Mexico today read this book. I further suggest that Americans who casually use a variety of drugs (those who aren't addicted to drugs) read the bookk & ask themselves: is there any way I can ever, from now on, smoke marijuana, or hash, or shoot heroin casually, drop ecstacy, or use methamphetamines ... without accepting they're part of this slaughter. Were it not for the massive drug problem in the U.S., these cartels would be focused more on their own people. While that has happened, the reality is: the cartels are providing a service to millions of Americans who escape "life on life's terms," through drug use. And for that, we are responsible in part for so many Mexicans dying on a daily basis. [...]
Inside look at cartel operations
By Chris Sims on Feb 26, 2012
The book fulfills a noble cause by providing an informative inside look at cartel operations. I am curious if the documentary version would have been better and if you're looking to buy this then maybe check the video version as well. I was very pleased with the translation as there was a lot of effort made to accurately describe the verbage and mexican sayings used by the narrator. i loved how it would sometimes use the spanish and english so you can get the exact pieces. The book did seem wordy and repeditive but overall it had nuggets of information in it that were very useful to explaining the sophistication, tactics, and techniques of sicarios. i also appreciated the down to earth nature of the sicario which made it easy to sympathize.
By Blue Rose on Aug 13, 2013
I read El Sicario and it is very interesting to know more about the black market world and how it operates. With the issue that is going on right now, it makes you understand how everything operates in detail(not much detail), but makes you understand from another perspective. It gives you the chills in parts of the books that are very informative. This book is very interesting and I would recommend others to read it, it can help out for school topics.