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Narrating Narcos

Narrating Narcos: Culiacán and Medellín

Gabriela Polit Dueñas
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    Narrating Narcos
    Book Description:

    Narrating Narcospresents a probing examination of the prominent role of narcotics trafficking in contemporary Latin American cultural production. In her study, Gabriela Polit Dueñas juxtaposes two infamous narco regions, Culiacán, Mexico, and Medellín, Colombia, to demonstrate the powerful forces of violence, corruption, and avarice and their influence over locally based cultural texts.Polit Dueñas provides a theoretical basis for her methods, citing the work of Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, and other cultural analysts. She supplements this with extensive ethnographic fieldwork, interviewing artists and writers, their confidants, relatives, and others, and documents their responses to the portrayal of narco culture. Polit Dueñas offers close readings of the characters, language, and milieu of popular works of literature and the visual arts and relates their ethical and thematic undercurrents to real life experiences. In both regions, there are few individuals who have not been personally affected by the narcotics trade. Each region has witnessed corrupt state, police, and paramilitary actors in league with drug capos. Both have a legacy of murder.Polit Dueñas documents how narco culture developed at different times historically in the two regions. In Mexico, drugs have been cultivated and trafficked for over a century, while in Colombia the cocaine trade is a relatively recent development. In Culiacán, characters in narco narratives are often modeled after the serrano (highlander), a romanticized historic figure and sometime thief who nobly defied a corrupt state and its laws. In Medellín, the oft-portrayed sicario (assassin) is a recent creation, an individual recruited by drug lords from poverty stricken shantytowns who would have little economic opportunity otherwise. As Polit Dueñas shows, each character occupies a different place in the psyche of the local populace.Narrating Narcosoffers a unique melding of archival and ground-level research combined with textual analysis. Here, the relationship of writer, subject, and audience becomes clearly evident, and our understanding of the cultural bonds of Latin American drug trafficking is greatly enhanced. As such, this book will be an important resource for students and scholars of Latin American literature, history, culture, and contemporary issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7909-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is an analysis of narratives on the culture of narco trafficking set in Culiacán, Mexico, and Medellín, Colombia, published over the past twenty years.¹ These two cities have experienced severe violence as a result of the expansion of the traffic of illegal drugs, and they have also been vastly explored and represented in works of fiction. To write this book, I crossed the line that unites and separates the actual cities from the cities created in fiction, conducting interviews with writers, journalists, lawyers, cultural promoters, painters, chroniclers, photographers, activists, professors, university students, booksellers, readers, and other people connected...

  2. 1 The Places
    (pp. 23-46)

    Writing the complex history of the origins and entrenched development of the traffic of illegal drugs in Medellín and Culiacán would require a book of its own. At the same time, it would be impossible to begin a literary analysis of works written in these cities without making reference to some of the salient moments of their histories. This chapter is divided into two sections, each dealing with one city. I focus mainly on the places, the events, and the individuals that appear in the literary works I analyze.

    The city has its charms, but Culiacán is not what could...

  3. 2 The Book in Three Culichi Novels
    (pp. 47-63)

    During my visit to Culiacán, I met people who shared with me stories, memories, and even objects that demonstrate how narco trafficking has affected them. One of the writers I interviewed gave me a recording of the gunshots with which the narcos had celebrated New Year’s Eve.¹ It was the recording of a dentist who had decided to keep evidence of the sounds of violence heard in Culiacán, while celebrating with his family at home. In the background of the recording, one can hear dogs barking, faint rhythms of Christmas carols, and snippets of conversations of a family gathering for...

  4. 3 The Author, the Crime, the Idiot, and the Language of the Narcos
    (pp. 64-78)

    Élmer Mendoza picked me up from the hotel at 9:20 in the morning and took me to La Mariposa Amarilla for a typicalnorteñobreakfast.¹ The restaurant is located somewhere between the city center and the outskirts of town. It is one of those urban hybrid zones between pavement and dirt, between highway and railroad. It is nestled amid middle-class houses and shacks, a place where the extremes of the tropics coexist—its exuberance and its perils, its beauty and its unpleasantness. The tables are arranged in a tent-covered field amid a garden full of plants, trees, and enormous vines....

  5. 4 Dealing with Everyday Violence: THE JOURNALIST AND THE PAINTER
    (pp. 79-101)

    In the time it took to write this chapter, the death of more than twenty journalists were reported in Mexico. On September 20, 2010, after the shooting of photographer Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco, theDiario de Juárezpublished a controversial editorial in which they asked the narcos for an explanation for their use of violence (“El Diario de Juárezpide tregua a narcotraficantes,” 21). The editorial is both a recognition of the narcos’ hegemonic power in the city as well as an acknowledgment of the lack of government action. Journalists are among the many professionals who stand in the crossfire...

  6. 5 The Epics of Two Highlanders: CÁSTULO BOJÓRQUEZ AND RAMÓN GUERRERO
    (pp. 102-110)

    When I speak of literature as a memory of sorts, I do not necessarily refer to the literary reconstruction of archetypes in the way Carl Jung describes them but rather in the way in which literature, and fiction in particular, plays with stereotypes.¹ As I stated in the introduction, following the work of Sander Gilman, in hisDifference and Pathology, stereotypes are protean figures. They allow us to represent the other as either good or bad, and they are like palimpsests over which we write over and over again.

    César López Cuadras, the author ofCástulo Bojórquez, was born and...

  7. 6 The Problematic Emergence of Sicarios in Colombia
    (pp. 111-133)

    The only time the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez wrote about the phenomenon of narco trafficking in Colombia was in his bookNoticia de un secuestro, published in 1996 and translated asNews of a Kidnapping. García Márquez chose to make a statement about the emergence and implications of the traffic of illicit drugs through a chronicle of the kidnappings of several members of the local intellectual, cultural, and political elite that had been carried out under Pablo Escobar’s orders. The book aroused a series of criticisms, mainly because the author did not distance himself from the hegemonic view of...

  8. 7 Love and Letters in the Times of Narcos
    (pp. 134-147)

    The novelCartas cruzadaswas published in 1995, amid the booming success of film and literary narratives aboutsicarios. In his novel, however, Darío Jaramillo Agudelo does not focus on criminals, narcos, or sicarios to narrate the effects of narco trafficking in Medellín.¹ He delves into the years that preceded the emergence of the narcos and explores the transformation that the Colombian society experienced beginning in the 1970s, when easy money making suddenly became acceptable in all walks of life. By stepping back from the then common representation of violence enacted by young shantytown dwellers (the sicarios), Jaramillo Agudelo goes...

  9. 8 Gender and Genre in Héctor Abad Faciolince’s Angosta
    (pp. 148-162)

    My meeting with Héctor Abad Faciolince (henceforth Abad) was short. We had tea at a place next to his bookstore Palinuro, located close to downtown Medellín. When I explained the reason for my visit, he showed some lack of enthusiasm about my research work. What would my visit to Medellín and my conversations with local writers add to the analyses of their literary works? Was mine a sociological approach to his novels? Somehow his skepticism about my project reminded me of the attitude César López Cuadras showed when I asked him about his literary production and narco traffic. Only months...

  10. 9 Playing with Stereotypes
    (pp. 163-171)

    Throughout this book I have tried to understand and analyze the tensions between the use of stereotypes and references to local idiosyncrasies in literature as well as the need to describe in alternative ways the people, the circumstances, and the stories of those who participate in narco trafficking. When dealing with images, as shown in chapter 4 in the analysis of the works of the painter Lenin Márquez, the notion and the perception of stereotypes may change, as images provide more stable and concrete references to our senses and imagination. Here I analyze the work of photographer Juan Fernando Ospina,...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 172-178)

    In 2010, while doing research for this book, I went to a conference at Brown University and attended a panel in which one of the presenters read a paper on “Recortes de prensa” (“Newspaper clippings”), Julio Cortázar’s short story about violence and the impossible predicament of its representation. The analysis was brilliant, and the author said something that haunted me for several months. He argued that Cortázar’s story was a paradigmatic text that revealedeverythingabout the difficulties of representing violence. Back at home, I read the short story again and realized that my colleague was right. From a theoretical...