I recently finished reading The Cartel by my favorite author Don Winslow, who I was lucky to meet a book signing in La Jolla a few years ago. Sequel to The Power of the Dog, the novel is a work of fiction loosely based on true events involving the Mexican drugs cartels. Winslow wrote both novels after conducting decades of research in Mexico, research that likely endangered his life. I am a huge fan of Winslow not just because he write ingenious novels with complex storylines and intriguing characterization, but because he challenges my assumptions. Reading both novels and hearing him speak has opened my eyes to what’s really going on with the drug wars so commonly pegged as Mexico’s problem, when really that’s not the case.

With the popularity of the Netflix hit show “Narcos”, everyone has become fascinated with Pablo Escobar and the Colombian drug cartels back in the 80’s. But what some people don’t realize is that history is repeating itself, and this time a lot closer to home. Even with the surprising extradition of Mexican kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (whom Winslow based a character off of), the cartels continue to wreak havoc south of the border. In the past decade, they have murdered an estimated 179,000 people, including women, children, and innocent people. As portrayed in Winslow’s novels, the cartels’ merciless tactics bear similarities to terrorist groups – kidnappings, tortures, and beheadings are their trademark. The world already witnessed the brutality Escobar inflicted on the beautiful country of Colombia, and it saddens me that the same thing is happening to Mexico, a culturally-rich country that should be known for its warm people and diverse tourism, instead of its cartel-controlled battlegrounds.

But as sadistic as the cartels are, Winslow suggests that the source of the problem actually lies on our side of the border.

“Just across the bridge is the gigantic marketplace, the insatiable consumer machine that drives the violence in Mexico. North Americans smoke the dope, snort the coke, shoot the heroin, do the meth, and then have the nerve to point south (down, of course, on the map), and wag their fingers at the ‘Mexican drug problem’ and ‘Mexican corruption’.” ― Don Winslow, The Cartel

At the booking signing, Don Winslow brought up an interesting point that completely changed my perspective — it is so easy for us, as Americans, to place the blame on Mexico, saying “Mexico is so corrupt.” But what about the corruption in our own society’s soul that has allowed for there to be such a market for drugs, essentially fueling if not causing the violence in Mexico? As drugs pour in north of the border, money pours in south. Without the United States drug market, these criminals wouldn’t be in business, and the violence would not exist.

“As for corruption, who’s more corrupt—the seller or the buyer? And how corrupt does a society have to be when its citizens need to get high to escape their reality, at the cost of bloodshed and suffering of their neighbors?” ― Don Winslow, The Cartel