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NewYorker: The Kingpins

Author: William Finnegan
July 2, 2012

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The New Yorker details the fight for Guadalajara, Mexico.

At the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Enrique Peña Nieto, who is forty-five, boyishly handsome, and generally expected to be the next President of Mexico, was asked to name three books that had influenced him. He mentioned the Bible, or, at least, "some parts" (unspecified), and "The Eagle's Throne," a Carlos Fuentes novel (though he named the historian Enrique Krauze as the author). And, for a few excruciating minutes, that was all he could come up with. The crowd laughed wickedly. Peña Nieto's wife, a former soap-opera star, squirmed in the front row. His teen-age daughter didn't help matters when, in a tweet, she scorned "all of the idiots who form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy."

That debacle was in December. It did nothing to slow Peña Nieto's well-financed march toward the election, which will take place on July 1st, but it did provide a welcome distraction for Guadalajarans, who are justly proud of their annual book fair. It is the second largest in Latin America, drawing more than half a million visitors, nearly two thousand publishers, and hundreds of authors, including, over the years, Nadine Gordimer, William Styron, and Toni Morrison. Guadalajarans sometimes offer it up as Exhibit A for the case that the city is a civilized place where life goes on unmarked by the violence that disfigures large parts of Mexico.

By late 2011, that argument was hard to make. Two days before the fair opened, twenty-six corpses were dumped under the Millennium Arches, a downtown landmark. Near the bodies, which bore signs of torture, was a message—what is known as a narcomanta—signed by the Zetas, the most feared organized-crime group in Mexico. The message taunted the Sinaloa cartel, the country's biggest crime group, and its leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo (Shorty). Sinaloa has controlled Guadalajara, which is the capital of the western state of Jalisco, for decades. "We're in Jalisco and we are not leaving," the Zetas announced. "This is proof that we are deep inside the kitchen." Most narcomantas (which appear virtually every day somewhere in Mexico) are disinformation, their assertions dubious, their true authorship unknowable. But the Zetas have been pushing westward from their strongholds on the Gulf Coast, and they had already taken the neighboring state of Zacatecas, so there was no reason to doubt that they coveted Jalisco, a rich prize, or that this was indeed their atrocity and their message to Guadalajara.

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