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The Drug Lord.

Peter Neissa's novelized account of drug trafficking in Colombia follows the life of drug loard Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha from his beginnings as leader of a gang of gamines (street urchins) to his death in 1986. Orphaned during the Era of Violence of the late forties, when General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla ordered the massacre of citizens in the village of Maraguey in an attempt to wipe out leftist strongholds in the Colombian countryside, Gacha grows up street smart and indifferent to violence. Cunning, charismatic, handsome and brutal, he rises through the ranks of the El Centro gang, one of the four gamin organizations that control crime in Bogota, and makes friends with La mano negra, of the Colombian mafia. In the beginning, the gamines' main source of big money is illegal trade in emeralds, but Gacha soon learns that there is more to be made in drugs. Through a series of clever manoeuvres and uncanny strokes of luck, he eventually becomes King of Bogota, a drug lord in control of an international business worth billions of dollars.

Neissa's book takes the reader from the slums of Bogota to the city's elegant restaurants and sumptuous mansions, and then on to the vast estates of Medellin. The author, who is Colombian by birth, knows his subject. He provides us with an insider's look at the country's social and political structure and at the factors that produce the kind of mentality displayed by Gacha and his men. Resentment of the upper classes motivates at least one of Gacha's underlings, who sympathizes with the guerrilla organization M-19 and participates in their attacks. Although Gacha himself is not a revolutionary, he uses the political unrest as a tool to mislead government agents.

Among the most fascinating parts of The Drug Loard are the descriptions of the gamin gangs, with their clearly defined turfs, strict codes of conduct, hierarchical organizational structures, and ruthless methods. Neissa also explores the workings of the Medellin Cartel, the involvement of the oligarchy in the drug trade and government corruption. One of the constant themes is that the real source of the problem is the seemingly insatiable appetite for cocaine in the United States and elsewhere.

The book depcits positive characters, as well. Several sincere and honest policemen, judges, and government officials put their lives on the line to challenge the drug organizations. Neissa also describes some of the innocent victims who are sucked into the criminal underworld through no fault of their own. One of them is Gacha's girlfriend Margarita, who thinks her lover is a legitimate businessman until she is attacked and raped by members of a rival gang.

Neissa's writing is often clumsy and his dialogues are stilted and contrived. Nevertheless, The Drug Lord tells a powerful, compelling story--one that is still, unfortunately, extremely relevant to readers throughout the Western world.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:472
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