Alma Guillermoprieto

Mexico: A Voice Against the Darkness. De Alma Guillermoprieto

Javier Valdez, Sinaloa, Mexico, May 23, 2013. Photo: Fernando Brito/AFP/Getty Images

Alma Guillermoprieto, 18 mayo 2017 / THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

Yet another journalist has been murdered in Mexico. It was the usual pattern: Javier Valdez, fifty, wrote a drug story, revealed too much information, said something someone did not want said, and was killed at noon on a busy street near his place of work. Six other journalists, none of them quite as prominent as Javier, have been killed in drug-infested cities since the year began, but because he was a friend of mine the details matter more to me this time. On reflection, I was grateful that, unlike many of the more than one hundred reporters killed in Mexico over the last quarter century, he was not abducted, tortured for hours or days, maimed, dismembered, hung lifeless from an overpass for all to see.

No doubt Valdez owed his comparatively charitable execution—he was merely pulled from his car and shot twelve times—to his prominence: he had received a Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University and the Courage Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, published seven well-received books about the poisonous world he lived in, emerged as something of a hero for his younger colleagues, traveled, and talked endlessly about the fact that when a reporter was killed no one showed up at the protest marches except other journalists—no one seemed to think that it was important to have a free or unintimidated press. Since the vast majority of the reporters who have been murdered since the start of the drug wars work anonymously for tiny provincial papers, it has generally been assumed that someone like Javier Valdez would be safe. In fact, he survived for decades in the motherland of the drug trade, the northern state of Sinaloa. Why then was he finally not allowed to live?

Valdez grew up in one of the funkier barrios of Culiacán, the state capital of Sinaloa. Like most Mexican reporters, particularly in the provinces, he had clawed his way out of poverty and into a career. After graduating from a local university with a degree in sociology, he and Griselda, his new bride, found work as copy editors at a television station. This was thirty years ago, at the start of Sinaloa’s second drug boom, the one that transformed the state from a simple marijuana producer into a major intermediary in the world cocaine trade and, subsequently, the world’s second-largest heroin producer and exporter.

Javier was riveted by the story. Who wouldn’t be? Beyond Culiacán, entire campesino communities were going through ridiculous economic booms and then surviving an onslaught of violent, unfocused, useless government repression. Humble campesinos who barely knew how to sign their names were rising to legendary heights, and an entire folk culture—the narcocultura—was taking shape around them. It was a great story, and it was all about the barrios Javier had grown up in, the kids he had played with, the families and society whose destruction he was witnessing. Plus, the only way he knew to cure the hemorrhaging pain it caused him to see his homeland destroyed was to write about it. In 2003, having already made a name for himself as a reporter for news organizations in Sinaloa, he and a group of colleagues founded a newspaper in Culiacán, called it Riodoce, and gradually invented a kind of crime coverage radically different from provincial journals’ standard scandal-sheet news-of-the-moment.

Police guarding a gate to the attorney general’s office for organized crime soon after the arrival of Mexican drug lord Dámaso López Núñez, Mexico City, May 2, 2017. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images

I met Javier five years later, on my first reporting trip to Culiacán. He swore like a lifer, had a rough face and a body like a Mexican bodyguard, paunchy and hard. When he smiled his face draped in folds. Understandably, he was paranoid for the first five minutes of any encounter with a stranger, but in my case he beamed and relaxed when I asked if he had thought of collecting his short weekly columns for Riodoce into a book. As it turned out, he already had, but his most representative writing was still a work in progress. He was just refining the style that would serve him well over the course of countless Riodoce columns and four more books; detectivesque, unafraid of clichés, and sentimental, his voice was new to Mexican journalism and ideally suited to a broad audience. And what that voice told was a revelation. Here is my lightly edited translation of the column that ran on the morning of the day he was killed:

His uncle couldn’t put up with him any more. He was the shame of the family. So he decided to check him into a rehab center. He called someone and the ‘flier’ came right away: a windowless van with seven youths who kicked and shoved him to the ground, tied his hands and arms, hauled him into the van and took him away.

When they arrived they hit him some more. Someone who seemed to be in charge strolled up. Well dressed, tall, deep-voiced. Everyone stopped when he approached, almost as if saluting him. Blackball, he said. And they all started the beating again. This time they split his head open and cut his back, cracked his collarbone. He lay there, flat on the ground. They gave him paracetamol and two days later they shouted get up, asshole. Speed it up, this isn’t a hotel.

They shook him, gave him some powder, and he came to. Come on, we have to pick up two other new ones in the flier. That’s what the Blackball was, and now it was his turn to inflict it on others. If not, they would apply it to him again.

He kicked and punched with the best of them and that’s how he managed to get invited to the parties. A superior level. Beer, grass and coke. Women were there for them too. They could dance and get high and then take them without asking for permission. There were other prizes waiting for him. He qualified for them with Blackballs. With yessirs to the boss, who was el licenciado [a Mexican honorific akin to the Italian dottore]. They taught him to become a criminal and smuggle drugs. His nickname was el demonio. When his uncle went to inquire about him they told him he was much better. But he didn’t get to see him. Where is he. Well, he went to buy food and ask for donations at stoplights. But he’s doing great, soon he’ll be completely recovered. His uncle left, glad for the news but not quite convinced: not getting to see him left a bitter taste in his mouth.

No one like him. The licenciado would say bring me el demonio and they would take him into the presence. He was good at hitting and following orders. El demonio would show up and slambang. The victim wouldn’t be able to move for days. A prize for him. He knew they’d give him any drug he wanted, and also the female interns in the next ward. He lost his way in the dark clouds of the underworld. He smiled and drooled. And that’s how they found him, sprawled on the floor, with his mouth full of gummy stuff. When they went to fetch him for another Blackball the licenciado said too bad. He was my favorite. And then he shouted, Blackball.

Over the years his sketches filled in a world no one else outside the life had access to or could put into words. Thanks to this one, for example, his readers might be able to understand why a few years ago gunmen systematically raided the rehab centers in Tijuana and other towns along the border, killing some inmates and taking others away. They could speculate whether el licenciado was El Licenciado, otherwise known as Dámaso López Núñez, the former lawyer to Joaquin (“Chapo”) Guzmán, now engaged in an increasingly bloody war with Guzmán’s sons for control of the Guzmán drug empire. For clueless reporters from outside the life, like myself, Javier was endlessly generous with contacts, anecdotes, sources, tips, invitations to dinner, but it felt like we were in kindergarten, while Javier was poking around in the graduate chemistry lab, trying to find the secret formula before the evil professor realized that someone had been tampering with the chromatograph.

“He was the most imperfect of men,” Griselda, his wife, said at the funeral. “But he had a heart as big as the universe.” He caroused too much, he drank too much, or maybe he drank just the right amount to survive the tension of negotiating what he could and couldn’t say about the deadly currents and shifting whirlpools of the Sinaloa drug world. His courage was always incomprehensible to me. Beginning in February he started to write frequently about El Licenciado, in sketches like the one above, and also parallel, deeply and anonymously sourced news stories for Riodoce and a Mexico City paper, La Jornada. The threats he was used to getting became more frequent and scary. On the day he was killed Javier had just come from a meeting with the Riodoce staff about his security situation; he should leave Sinaloa, at least for a while, everyone agreed. He was intercepted by gunmen on his way home.


Cuba: The Big Change. De Alma Guillermoprieto

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times/Redux

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times/Redux

Alma Guillermoprieto, 13 abril 2016 / THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

One could swear that nothing has changed. The chaotic lines we travelers form in front of Cuba’s stern immigration officers; their belligerent slowness; the noise and heat in the too-small room; the echoing shouts across the room from one olive-green-clad person to another (an argument or a conversation about the lunch menu, in Cuba one can never tell which); the parents who stand patiently in line with their children, waiting for them to go berserk.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.09.34 AMStill to come is the long line to have our hand luggage inspected, and the longer wait for our checked bags, which, mysteriously, aren’t inspected at all, and the exit line that will take us from purgatory into Cuba at last, but not before we’ve done one final penance waiting for a driver who never arrives, and another ten minutes for a shot of coffee that likewise never arrives, and one last relatively brisk line to change dollars into the confounding Cuban currency-for-foreigners, and a short line for transportation that some three hours after landing is about to take us, finally, into Havana.

And throughout, the increasingly irritated question: Why does it have to be like this? Why, for the fifty-seven years since Fidel Castro rode into Havana at the head of a scruffy rebel army, has it always had to be like this? Really, one could swear that nothing has changed.

And then, BOOM! the new reality. The driver of my spiffy yellow checkered taxi blasts on the air conditioner and lowers the window to shout the week’s hit song into the tropical air. He has the manner of someone on a steady diet of coke or Coke, pays no attention to me, fiddles with the radio dial, shouts out another song, nearly sideswipes five ancient cars in quick succession, skids to a halt at my destination, a residencia particular where I have managed to find the last available room in the entire city, dumps out my luggage, and screeches away, on the prowl for more passengers, more guanikiki. You know: moolah, billete…money!

All around in the old, familiar rattletrap neighborhood of Vedado there are more surprises: the sidewalk in front of my building is being replaced; the house across the street is being repainted; the avenue we just turned off of is freshly asphalted; a construction crane is visible just behind a block of delicately collapsing Art Nouveau residences. Everything is changing, or about to change, or promising to change, because the biggest change of all is about to happen. Barack Obama, leader of the Marxist Cuban state’s archenemy, is about to land for a state visit at the invitation of Cuban president Raúl Castro. The stock phrase being used in the press is that this is “the first visit by a sitting US president in eighty-eight years,”1 but of course that’s not the point. It’s the first visit since the Cuban Revolution, the first since the Bay of Pigs, the first since Fidel brought in the nuclear missiles that made the world freeze in fear of imminent nuclear annihilation in 1962, the first since the United States imposed fifty years of diplomatic and commercial isolation on an island with a population of eleven million.

There was a history of US-Cuban relations before that, too, and every Cuban remembers its bitterness. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was the United States’ imperial adventure in the Caribbean. It did not end when, after three years of occupation, Cuba agreed to sign the Platt Amendment. Essentially, the amendment allowed the US to take over Guantánamo and obligated Cuba to consult with and obey the US at every move. It was in force for thirty-three years. It’s impossible to understand the long hold Fidel Castro had on the imagination of so many of his compatriots—and so many disenfranchised citizens in Latin America—without this past. Cannily, and also wholeheartedly, he embodied the hero who led a heroic people in their fervent defiance of the Yanqui. Lest they slip in their convictions, a billboard in front of the former US embassy permanently shouted at the señores imperialistas that Cubans felt no fear of them whatsoever.

The anti-imperialist sign disappeared when Obama and Raúl officially reestablished relations in July 2015, and now a visitor might suspect that anti-imperialist socialism has been replaced by a sort of cargo cult whose deity is Obama. What, I asked, was that enormous decrepit building in which children could be heard at play? It was a collapsing school that would soon be fixed. A gulch-like street, a dysfunctional distribution system, all would be fixed: Obama was coming!

The apartment I shared with a colleague reminded us constantly of how tough everyday life still is for Cubans, despite the changes. Far above the standard for the typical Cuban dwelling, it required constant coping. Nothing worked properly in the kitchen, starting with the sixty-year-old stove, whose burners went from gas-belcher to towering inferno in seconds. There were two knives, neither of which could cut through a pepper I’d stuck in my luggage. Water set to boil in a dented tin pot soon developed an oily gray skin. At night, one of Havana’s pet-sized cockroaches winked its antennae at me from behind a threadbare dishtowel.

Nothing could be wasted: the hangers in the bedroom closet whose lower wire had rusted away had been carefully clipped so that the remains could still be used to hang blouses on. Every wall was a different color, according to what small amount of paint the owner had been able to scavenge on a given day. All this was the best the Cuban economy could provide in the bonanza years of the twenty-first century, and only because the owner had relatives abroad who could help finance the apartment’s renovation. “Now with Obama,” the owner said, in expectation of renewed trade between the two countries, “I hope I can really put this place together.”

The joke on everyone’s lips was that Obama should stay in Havana for a month, because in preparation for his three-day visit more had been done to fix up the place than in the previous half-century. In fact, the visit is happening because enormous change has already taken place, most of it at the urging of Raúl Castro, but there is only occasional grudging recognition of that. “Things are better,” an outspoken woman I know said, “but not enough.”

There is no more of the desperate hunger that afflicted everyone in the days following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Microwaves, rice cookers, and, most significantly, cell phones can all be legally purchased, and my outspoken acquaintance can shout her objections to the way things are at the top of her voice, not sharing my concern that someone might hear. (A concern that keeps me even now from identifying almost everyone in this story. The list of Cubans punished for speaking to foreign journalists is too long, and repression of the formal opposition too active, to take any sort of freedom of expression for granted.)

“What I want to know,” my acquaintance exclaimed loudly, “is why it takes the Revolution half a century to correct each mistake?” This is an exaggeration—there were mistakes, like the concentration camps for homosexuals and Seventh-Day Adventists set up in the 1960s, that were rectified in mere years instead of decades—but it is tangentially related to the question that must trouble the mind of those responsible for the huge current changes: How many mistakes can safely be corrected? When the house you live in is falling apart, how much can you tinker with the plumbing, the windows, the door jambs, and the supporting walls before the whole edifice collapses around you? This is the question whose answer Raúl Castro has been exploring since he came to power eight years ago.

Raúl Castro is the fourth of seven siblings born to a Cuban household cook and a poorly educated Spanish immigrant who made his fortune growing sugar cane on the eastern tip of Cuba—initially for the United Fruit Company. Like his older brother Fidel, Raúl grew up as a judío, or Jew, the quaint term used by conservative Catholics in Cuba for unbaptized children. (Raúl’s father did not marry his mother until he was twelve, and so the Castro children could not be baptized.)

Raúl seems to have determined from the start that he could not be anything like his strapping, handsome, charismatic, brilliant brother. Small and unprepossessing, he did poorly at school and became expert at dominating the background. He was with Fidel during his rabble-rousing university days in Havana and at his spectacularly failed assault on a military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago in 1953. He was by Fidel’s side during the exile years in Mexico, and also on the creaky old yacht that in 1956 carried several dozen men to their disastrous landing in a Cuban mangrove and subsequent near annihilation by the dictator Fulgencio Batista’s troops.

Along with Ernesto Guevara, known as Che, Fidel went on to create a guerrilla army—the Ejército Rebelde—in the island’s eastern mountains. In part because the United States withdrew its support from Batista, and also thanks to a courageous civilian opposition, the rebel army triumphed. On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba, and one week later Fidel entered Havana. Raúl immediately and cheerfully ordered the execution without trial of several dozen of Batista’s alleged torturers and assassins. Raúl then went about the task of consolidating a military force capable of defending the island against a US invasion. For the next forty-eight years the younger brother pursued this task, keeping his opinions to himself and rarely appearing in public. Anyone who stopped to think about it, however, knew that he was inevitably the second-most-powerful man in the country.

Because he ran an army, it was assumed that he was rigid and unimaginative, but those close to the Castro brothers’ inner circle spoke of Raúl as the tolerant one, the one who made sure all family members were made welcome at the weekly meals hosted by him and his wife—a former debutante and MIT student who joined Fidel’s movement from the beginning. Unlike his brother, he had a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor and a pragmatic turn of mind. In 2006, when Fidel was taken sick and announced his temporary retirement, positions in the National Assembly—the regime’s legislative body—were shuffled in order to place Raúl in the direct line of succession. Two years later, when it became evident that Fidel could no longer return to power, Raúl was confirmed as leader of the Cuban state.

The changes began immediately. “I won’t speak for very long,” said the man who had spent the better part of his life listening to his brother put others to sleep in the course of all-night monologues. And indeed, the newcomer has since distinguished himself by making few and short, to-the-point announcements, and then doing more or less what he says he’ll do. Since he took power, cell phones became legal, unused state land was turned over to private farmers, and for the first time in more than half a century ordinary Cubans have been able to purchase and sell property and travel abroad.

The Internet, so feared by hard-line conservatives in the government, became accessible to anyone with the money to pay for it, or the Cuban skills needed to get around the pay barrier. Pornography, most foreign stories about Cuba, and local, independent online publications are still blocked. Perhaps most importantly, within months after taking power, Raúl told the actor Sean Penn that he would consider meeting with Barack Obama if the then Democratic candidate were elected president.

Fidel’s brother has clearly been thinking ahead in a way the aging Fidelistas in the Cuban Communist Party have not. He may be trying to modernize Cuban socialism to the point where it is capitalist and open enough to accommodate the restless generations who are now under forty-five years of age; he may be dreaming of something like a Norway-under-the-palm-trees or, more likely, China-on-a-daiquiri. Perhaps he has the sense that the revolution is finished, that there is no future in the old dogmas and failures, that sixty years of poverty and repression are enough, and that he has no real power to control the inevitable future. Perhaps he is simply trying to ensure, finger in the dike, that a newly capitalist Cuba does not slide into a morass of corruption and cynicism.

Meanwhile, Raúl has internal opposition to face, starting with his brother, who still speaks for the old históricos in the Party. On the Monday following Obama’s visit Fidel published a meandering, querulous “reflection” about “Brother Obama,” whose point was hard to decipher, other than the fact that Obama trod Cuban ground not during his time in office.2 The gates for Fidelistas to air their irritation in virtually all the government-controlled media were thus opened, although by and large the protests are contorted pieces of writing, because they can attack Obama but not Raúl.

In a phone conversation from Mexico, the respected Cuban historian Rafael Rojas, who has not been allowed to return to his country since 1994 but studies it closely nevertheless,3 pondered the array of forces supporting and opposing Raúl Castro. “There is the [internationally recognized] opposition within Cuba,” Rojas said, “but it has little visibility inside Cuba because of its lack of access to media. Also—and this is a delicate subject because it generates controversy—it is affected by the dynamic of its dependence on the US-Cuban opposition based in Miami. However, there is another, invisible, opposition,” Rojas went on. “A reformist current within the various ministries sets itself apart not only from the orthodox, official line, but from Raúl himself. It believes that change must come more quickly.”

It’s not easy to see how the economic transition could go much faster: the difficulties are everywhere, and many people argue that without economic reform political reforms cannot prosper. A recent online debate among economists in Cuba and abroad examined the vexing issue of the Cuban peso (CUPs)—what Cuban salaries are paid in—versus Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs), which are pegged to the US dollar and can be changed into foreign currency.4 They are worth about twenty-five times as much as the lowly peso.

With the peso, and their ration card, Cubans and only Cubans can go into one of the miserable bodegas that dot every neighborhood and get their ever-diminishing rations of soap, rice, beans, cooking oil, and not much more, and also buy the few extra things the bodega has for sale but not always, like fruit juice or batteries. It is now possible for Cubans to buy items with CUPs in formerly CUC-only stores. Everyone agrees that both currencies should be unified as soon as possible, but one problem is that peso items are heavily subsidized.

Then there is the question of the surplus value, to use an old Marxist term, that the Cuban government extracts from its workers. Although the private sector has grown exponentially since Raúl Castro’s reforms, about 70 percent of the labor force still works for the state, earning an average of six hundred pesos—about $25—a month. In recent years the state has allowed a skill-based range of wages for its workers, and so some doctors now make as much as $67 a month. By comparison, though, the owner of the private home I stayed in is allowed to charge, in CUCs, the equivalent of $35 a night per guest, in each of two bedrooms that are fairly steadily occupied by tourists.

Meanwhile, the state is taking in an estimated $2.5 billion a year by renting out its doctors to more than sixty different governments. But it only pays those doctors some $300 a month while their stint lasts, plus less than $200 that are deposited monthly in a Cuban account, as a sort of inducement to doctors to return home after their tour of duty. In essence, the urgent task of unifying the two currencies will require the government to stop budgeting in funny money, find enough income to raise wages from their current indecent levels, and somehow fend off the almost inevitable inflation that will follow.

A member of the Catholic opposition I talked to one morning pointed out that the full-throttle development Cuba needs will leave tremendous inequality in its path, and indeed, I couldn’t see how the future was going to be anything but grim for someone like a taxi driver I’ll call Marcelo, who drove me around a few times. He was old enough to remember “a little bit” of how bitter prerevolutionary times were for his family, who were poor and black. Under Fidel, on the other hand, he had gotten free health care, a good education, and served abroad in a diplomatic position; it was no wonder that he was a proud member of the Communist Party. Now retired, he owned a rusty, rattling Russian Lada, perhaps twenty years old, whose gearshift popped out of its box every time he accelerated. The motor tended to go AWOL at stoplights, the floor of the trunk had rusted through, and the doors opened only from the outside.

Magnum Photos . A living room in Havana with a poster of Fidel Castro at right, 2015; photograph by Carl De Keyzer from his book Cuba, La Lucha, which includes an essay by Gabriela Salgado and has just been published by Lannoo. His photographs are on view at the Roberto Polo Gallery, Brussels, through May 15.

Magnum Photos. A living room in Havana with a poster of Fidel Castro at right, 2015; photograph by Carl De Keyzer from his book Cuba, La Lucha, which includes an essay by Gabriela Salgado and has just been published by Lannoo. His photographs are on view at the Roberto Polo Gallery, Brussels, through May 15.

A living room in Havana with a poster of Fidel Castro at right, 2015; photograph by Carl De Keyzer from his book Cuba, La Lucha, which includes an essay by Gabriela Salgado and has just been published by Lannoo. His photographs are on view at the Roberto Polo Gallery, Brussels, through May 15.

There wasn’t much life left in the old thing, but Marcelo, in his healthy sixties, could still have two decades in front of him, on a government retirement income equivalent to $7 a month. What was his future going to look like when his old workhorse gave out, now that the only way to make ends meet is to work for foreigners and get paid in CUCs? He didn’t answer the question, nor did he resume his usual cheery banter during the rest of the ride, and one could easily guess that his loyalties lay with Fidelista traditionalists rather than the reformist Raúl.5

Whether he sees this transition to its conclusion or gets swallowed up by it, Raúl Castro doesn’t have much time: he has announced his retirement following the general elections of 2018, when he will be eighty-six, and he is pressing for a two-term limit for all public officeholders. This, in fact, might be the only thing he and Barack Obama have in common: two leaders on their way out, bent on consolidating a legacy that their successors won’t be able to tear apart.

On the day of Obama’s arrival the streets were weirdly empty, as if most of the people of Havana had decided to stay away from any potential trouble.6 But with each passing hour they grew bolder. Soon enough, buildings emptied and crowds gathered wherever the arrival of motorized police heralded an imminent sighting of POTUS. People cheered awkwardly, not quite sure how to express the thrill they felt.

There was similar awkwardness between the two leaders: smiles and friendly chatting that reporters with Obama noticed even beyond the photo-ops, and a press conference Raúl Castro found so annoying, baffling, unnecessary, and threatening that he talked to his son through the first reporter’s questions, which happened to be about human rights. Obama, in his cocky, king-of-the-hill mode, then insulted his aged host with a theatrical wink at the audience as the old man fumbled with his earphones. Eventually, an angry Castro challenged the reporter to give him the names of any political prisoners and the press conference ground to its embarrassing end.

Although US media declared Obama the winner in the encounter, it hardly mattered that the presidents failed to charm each other or that Castro failed to win over the public. Obama is as skilled at public relations as any US politician, and the leader of a monolithic state hardly needs charm. Both sides got what they came for, which for the United States was to establish a mutually advantageous relationship with its neighboring country. For Cuba, it meant first and foremost doing away with the embargo, as Raúl Castro explained to Sean Penn years ago, but this will be for Congress, not Obama, to decide.

The major lobby for a change in the ground rules went to Cuba along with Obama. Warren Buffett was there, and Google too, along with the presidents of Paypal and Airbnb and representatives from various airlines who have negotiated the rights to land 110 flights from the United States to Havana every day. At a press briefing for journalists traveling with Obama, Deputy National Security Secretary Ben Rhodes added that GE and Caterpillar would like to persuade the Cuban government to buy their products. Also at the briefing was the chair of the US Chamber of Commerce, Carlos Gutiérrez, an exiled Cuban who as George W. Bush’s commerce secretary had campaigned hard against any rapprochement with the Castro regime. He came forward to intercept questions about human rights by assuring everyone that “the right to make a living” was a basic human right that would expand through US investment.

The excitement of the investment suitors and their sense of possibility were mirrored everywhere. Tourists strolled through Old Havana in their thousands, thrilled by the absolute newness of the place and relishing the absence of things that Cuba no doubt will soon acquire. Havana is the city where one is not chased and intruded on by loudspeakers blasting music in every store: there are no stores, or almost none. There are no advertisements; no traffic jams; no shopping malls; no twenty-four-hour Internet and its accompanying addictions; no supermarkets with their endless rows of choices. A vacation in Cuba is a respite from capitalism.

During the long, harsh decades under the regime created and led by Fidel Castro, these austerities were not a source of pride. What moved young people all over the world and what Cubans of the revolutionary period valued about themselves was instead their own resilience, their courage, and their spartan gift for unwavering commitment to a cause. Those days of heroic faith are over, and perhaps soon the reflex habit of repression will end too, and there will be no more political prisoners, who still number in the dozens, and no censorship. “Years ago it was difficult to hear our music [in Cuba] but here we are,” Mick Jagger said in decent Spanish. He was addressing an enormous crowd in Havana that gathered for a historic free concert by the Rolling Stones the day after Obama left. “Times are changing, no?”

Perhaps no other community felt the regime’s intolerance and persecution more consistently over the years than artists, but now they are finding a sense of renewed opportunity and purpose in the Cuban moment. In Old Havana an installation by the artist Felipe Dulzaides recreates the school of theater at the legendary National Arts Schools, which survive in ruinous condition in the suburb of Cubanacán. The schools were a favorite project of Fidel Castro, who put the architect Ricardo Porro in charge of the project. Porro himself designed the dance and visual arts schools, and recruited two friends, the Italians Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, to design the music and ballet schools and the theater school, respectively. But the vanguard architecture of the schools was censored by the revolution before all the buildings could be finished.

Ricardo Porro died in Paris in 2014, Garatti returned to Italy years ago, and the school of theater survives in fragile disrepair, as does its own wry eighty-nine-year-old architect, Roberto Gottardi, who still lives in Cuba. At the adventurous art gallery in Old Havana where Dulzaides is presenting his homage to the school and its architect, he showed me a video and photo installation, and an exquisite scale model of the school made by Gottardi’s students. Now, perhaps, the National Arts Schools themselves might one day revive. “Gottardi has spent the last fifty-two years trying to figure out how the theater school can be completed,” Dulzaides said. “To me, that is the perfect metaphor for the Cuban Revolution today.”

—April 13, 2016

Former president Jimmy Carter went to Havana in 2002 and 2011. Following negotiations with then President Fidel Castro, he went on state-controlled television in 2002 and introduced Cubans to Oswaldo Payá’s democracy project, a signature-collecting campaign in favor of free expession and freedom of association, which most had never been able to hear of. He subsequently watched a baseball game, after throwing the first ball at Castro’s insistence. In 2011 he participated in talks intended to improve relations with the United States. ↩

An indispensable book by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), traces the repeated efforts by Fidel Castro and each of his counterparts in the White House, from Eisenhower to Obama, to understand each other and reach working agreements on points of conflict or mutual interest. ↩

Rojas was granted a four-day courtesy visa in 2009 on the occasion of his father’s death. ↩

“La Unificación Monetaria: Un Desafío de Enormes Proporciones,” Cuba Posible, February 22, 2016. ↩

The dissatisfaction with recent reforms felt by the rank-and-file of the Communist Party of Cuba is expected to be aired at the Seventh Party Congress, to take place on April 16–18. Several articles in the official press have pointed out that the all-important Sixth Party Congress of 2011 approved dramatic economic reforms—allowing hundreds of thousands to work in the private sector, for example—only after extensive and effective consultation with the base of party members. There has been no equivalent lengthy discussion period prior to the Seventh Congress. A member of the reformist wing of the party I talked to countered the critics by saying that the current proposed reforms are merely extensions or improvements of the reforms approved in the 2011 Congress. ↩

This wasn’t true of the well-known opposition group Ladies in White, who tried to march as usual down the Quinta Avenida. The Washington Post has a video online of what happened; see “Cuban Protestors Arrested Ahead of Obama Visit,” March 20, 2016. Primly, the security forces assigned female police to shove the female protesters into police vans. The protest group, well recognized abroad, has little visibility in Cuba because its actions are not mentioned in official media. Nor was there any news in the government press of the more than five hundred arrests of dissidents in the weeks prior to Obama’s visit. In virtually all cases these days, protesters are released after a few hours, although occasionally they are beaten or interrogated before their release. ↩

Mexico: Making the Dogs Dance. Haciendo bailar a los perros. De Alma Guillermoprieto

The end of the nearly one-mile tunnel through which drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera escaped, Foto: Arturo Hernández/Demotix/Corbis

The end of the nearly one-mile tunnel through which drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera escaped, Foto: Arturo Hernández/Demotix/Corbis

Alma Guillermoprieto, 14 JULIO 2015, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

Within a few hours of his relaxed escape from Mexico’s highest security prison early Saturday evening, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as “el Chapo” for his stocky build, was back on Twitter, hopping about the ether, crowing and taunting like some sort of manic cartoon character. “Never say never,” the world’s most wanted drug trafficker cried at @ElChap0Guzmán. “There’s no cage for this great Chapo!” He sent greetings to his family, thanked his collaborators, praised his sons, looked forward to working again with his compadre, Ismael “el Mayo” Zambada, who had run the Sinaloa Cartel since Chapo’s arrest; and Don Rafa—Rafael Caro Quintero, a patriarch of the drug trade who was scandalously released from prison two years ago by a compliant judge and is now a fugitive. Lapsing momentarily into a bitter, mulling mode, Guzmán made rude references to president Enrique Pena Nieto: “And you, @EPN, don’t call me a delinquent again, because I give people jobs, not like your piddling cheap government.” Back in manic mode, the trickster taunted: “Tricks are more effective than brute force, that’s what’s worked for me.”

There was a vengeful tweet early on from Guzmán—offering, to my mind, the first convincing evidence that he did not, in fact, turn himself in last year in the course of an arranged deal, but was captured by army and navy special forces. [UPDATE: Though a new account suggests he may have been captured by US agents disguised as Mexican forces.] “Now they’re scrambling for a place to hide, those who put me on trial, the marine who took me to the helicopter, and the faggot que me puso,” a narco expression that means, roughly, “(he) who betrayed me by positioning me so that I could be caught.” Immediately afterward he quoted an old Spanish saying that sums up both his modus operandi and Mexico’s present humiliating condition. “Money makes the dog dance.”

“I put that escape at some fifty million dollars.” This highly professional estimate came from a man called Jhon [sic] Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, more commonly known as Popeye, Pablo Escobar’s closest bodyguard, contract killer, and go-between. Out of prison after twenty-two years behind bars, compulsively garrulous, a little tense, he discussed the case of Joaquín Guzmán with a reporter from Univision, the Spanish-language television network. “That’s a very delicate case,” he said. “In high security prisons you can’t make tunnels, because in the [control] room where they have the cameras they have sensors that detect immediately if there’s digging going on. That escape was about money…[involving] the prison guards and a lot of people outside.”

The high-security Altiplano Center for Social Rehabilitation, better known as Almoloya, has three-foot thick walls and restricted communications, and in fact, all of the imprisoned heads of rival organizations to Guzmán’s are still very much in residence in their own solitary confinement cells there. Guzmán, who is the head of the “Federación”—a loose assortment of drug clans who work together in the state of Sinaloa—was sent immediately to Almoloya following his arrest on February 22, 2014. There had been a week-long chase earlier in Guzmán’s home state, ending at a beachside residential hotel in the pretty resort city of Mazatlán. It was the eve of the Mazatlán carnival, which features several beauty contests—Guzmán, partial to beauty queens, is married to one—and when he was asked what he was doing in such a public place, he replied simply that he hadn’t seen his two little girls for quite a while. This was understood to mean that he had taken a heroic risk to see his family, but it could also mean that Guzmán was proceeding as usual, taking a little time off to watch the beauty queen parade from a hotel balcony in the company of his wife and kids, without fear of danger.

In the helicopter flying him to Almoloya last year—he had already escaped from a high-security prison once, in 2001—the world’s most notorious trafficker commented off-handedly that he was responsible for some thousand or so murders, but he was in fact charged in several Mexican courts only with trafficking and organized crime. As the pretrial investigations began their lumbering progress through the legal system, the prisoner was confined to a windowless cell equipped with a twenty-four-hour video camera. He was taken to a patio for an hour of solitary exercise every day, and allowed family visits only once a month, each visit contingent on a judge’s specific approval. Despite these restrictions, it is claimed that he somehow managed to organize a hunger strike last summer to protest the jail’s appalling conditions, although the government, while acknowledging the strike, denies his involvement in it. But plans for his escape were well underway by the time of the hunger strike. In fact, they appear to have started almost as soon as he was arrested, and they were based, cheekily, on the very same device that has become Guzmán’s trademark: a well-lighted tunnel equipped with a transportation rail.

One of the more entertaining photographs taken in the aftermath of Guzmán’s larky escape shows Mexico’s Attorney General, Arely Gómez, squatting next to a neatly carved and reinforced, twenty-inch-square opening in the floor of an unfinished cinderblock house. The house is in the middle of a cornfield a mile away and in plain sight of the Almoloya guard towers, and less than a half mile from an Army regiment. In the photo, Gómez stares wistfully into the black hole, as if hoping that a white rabbit might suddenly pop out of it. The rabbit, however, had already hopped onto an unknown mode of transportation a good twelve hours earlier. “Up to that moment,” according to the somewhat pleading official communiqué issued near midnight on Saturday, “the day had transpired in normal fashion. [Guzmán] had even been provided with his daily dose of medication.” One helpful detail Alejandro Rubido, the government’s Commissioner for National Security, did not provide at the Sunday morning, no-questions-allowed press conference in which he confirmed Guzmán’s escape, is the precise time that the prisoner’s flight was perceived by his guards. At 8:52 PM, according to the official statement, the twenty-four-hour surveillance camera in his cell registered that Guzmán withdrew to the cell’s shower area “where he also regularly washed dishes.” Conveniently, the camera’s blind spot is in precisely this area. “Once the prisoner’s long absence from view was noticed,” the official statement reads, emergency measures were put into place “according to security protocol.” Following protocol can consume long hours, and it may be that during the entire time it took Guzmán to reach his tunnel’s escape hatch, clean up in a makeshift shower, select from a pile of brand-new clothing waiting for him in the safe house, and make his way over muddy, pitted, country roads to the main highway—or a waiting helicopter, who is to say?—the chase had not even started.

All that was left was for police and federal investigation units to marvel at the tunnel Guzmán’s troops had dug unerringly from about sixty feet beneath this spot, under corn fields and pasture lands, beneath the prison compound and all the way across it, to the exact three-foot-square area occupied by the shower in Guzmán’s cell. He and his engineers seem to have a thing for waterworks; access to his first major oeuvre, a marijuana-ferrying, two-hundred-foot-long creation that crossed the border from the state of Sonora to Arizona, was activated by means of a lever disguised as a water faucet outside a private house. Days before his arrest last year, he is said to have evaded his pursuers by means of a tunnel hidden under a spring-loaded bathtub in one of his many Sinaloa residences.

It took admirable skill to carve what may be history’s longest escape tunnel, sixty feet underground. There was all that prison drainage, wiring, and pipes to avoid, too. And Guzmán, who for all his pranksterism has revealed himself to be obsessively devoted to detail, no doubt insisted on the tunnel’s inner dimensions: 5’7” high, so that he would not have to stoop (he is just under 5’6”) and 70 cm across. The tunnel was equipped with ventilation ducts and electricity, as well as, apparently, a motorcycle hooked onto a sturdy rail, allowing Guzmán to speed under the muddy fields to the waiting safe house in a matter of minutes and in great style. El Universal, a Mexico City newspaper, has estimated that 291 trips by a dump truck would have been required to remove the 2,040 cubic meters of dirt and rubble extracted in the construction process. Praise songs retelling Chapo Guzmán’s second escape from prison are already up on YouTube.

The most damaging consequences of Guzmán’s latest great adventure will not be suffered by the government of the ever less popular Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, or by those with whom Chapo has scores to settle, or the drug troops of enemy cartels he will necessarily do battle with, or the soldiers, journalists, judges, politicians, and police he may order hits on, though they may add untold thousands more to Mexico’s narco graveyard. The Sinaloa drug clans have not suffered greatly during his time in jail, and business appears to be stable; the drug world has already reconfigured itself, and there is some small chance that we could be spared a major increase in violence even when, as seems inevitable, Guzmán is recaptured, or killed.

“What’s happening now with Mr Chapo Guzmán?” Popeye asked rhetorically. “When [Escobar and his people broke out of prison in Colombia in 1992] the CIA came after us, the DEA came after us. That’s what’s going to happen to Mr Chapo Guzmán. I give him eighteen months at large. Mr Chapo Guzmán must be feeling what I felt after we broke out of prison. Right now he’s feeling good, Pablo Escobar was feeling good, but [Guzmán] knows that…they’re going after his family, his wife. He’s going to have to break with all his old ties. He’s only going to be able to meet with his partners in the drug trade and with the people in charge of his military apparatus. It’s going to be hard to catch him [but] the Americans are going to put a 20 million dollar price on his head. Anyone with [that kind of price] on his head will fall.”

It was one of those sunny Mexico City mornings when it seems that the world is the way it is supposed to be, with school children on vacation skipping along the sidewalks and the traffic almost manageable, a mirlo bird whistling sweetly on the telephone wires. Emmanuel del Rey, the keyboard player for one of Mexico’s most idolized rock bands, Café Tacvba, considered the damages of the grim joke played by the trickster drug lord over the weekend. Café Tacvba has huge drawing power among youths from Mexico’s poorer neighborhoods, and it was these kids del Rey had in mind. “The message the escape will leave all those muchachitos who work with the drug trade,” he said, “or who are thinking of making a life in organized crime, and who already think that Chapo is more intelligent, more astute, more powerful, more moneyed, and also a lot more fun, is that he is! They’ll think Chapo Guzmán is proof that, just like in Star Wars, the dark side is more powerful. And this is a terrible thing.”

It should be a simple matter to keep one dangerous criminal in prison, and yet Joaquín Guzmán Loera did not last even eighteen months in his cage. As one of the anonymous praise songs on YouTube says about his latest caper:

Money is very pretty
No cop can resist it
They just look at all those greenbacks
And they start to get the giggles.

One laughs only until the rage sets in.

La versión en español:

Haciendo bailar a los perros; un texto de Alma Guillermoprieto sobre la fuga de El Chapo Guzmán

Alma Guillermoprieto, 23 julio 2015 / PRODAVINCI

Luego de unas pocas horas de su relajado escape de la prisión de más alta seguridad de México durante la mañana del sábado, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, mejor conocido como “El Chapo” por su complexión pequeña, estaba de vuelta en Twitter, dando saltos por el éter, cacareando y burlándose como una especie de caricatura frenética. “Nunca digan nunca”, exclamó el traficante de drogas más buscado del mundo en @ElChap0Guzmán. “No hay jaula para este chapo tan grande”. Le mandó saludos a su familia, agradeció a sus colaboradores, alabó a sus hijos, ansió volver a trabajar con su compadre, Ismael “el Mayo” Zambada, que había dirigido el Cartel de Sinaloa desde el arresto de El Chapo; y Don Rafa —Rafael Caro Quintero, un patriarca del negocio de las drogas que ahora es un fugitivo— fue escandalosamente liberado de prisión hace dos años por un juez. Degradándose momentáneamente a un estado amargo y reflexivo, Guzmán hizo referencias groseras al presidente Enrique Peña Nieto: “Y tú @EPN no me vuelvas a llamar delincuente porqué yo doy trabajo a la gente no como tu pinche gobierno corriente” [sic]. De vuelta al estado frenético, el embaucador se burló: “Mas vale maña que fuerza y eso a mi me a funcionado.” [sic]

Si los tweets fueron escritos por Guzmán, que se sabe que es escasamente alfabetizado, o dictados, con constantes errores de ortografía, por secuaces, no es el problema. Él y sus hijos igualmente presuntuosos han tenido las mismas cuentas durante algunos años. Los tweets fueron considerados auténticos y provocaron fervientes respuestas de cualquier cantidad de mujeres jóvenes twitteando emojis de corazones y hombres jóvenes alabando su coraje y exclamando: “¡Bienvenido, Gran Señor!” Otra forma de acatamiento twitteado era común entre los hombres, que se unían para exclamar ¡Eres la Verga! en respuesta a las misivas de su héroe.

Había un tweet vengativo de Guzmán de hace más tiempo, ofreciendo, en mi opinión, la evidencia más convincente de que él no se había entregado a sí mismo en el curso de un acuerdo arreglado, sino que había sido capturado por fuerzas especiales del Ejército y de la Marina. “Ahora si no hayan ni donde meterse aquellos que me juzgaron ni el marino que me llevo al helicóptero ni el puto que me puso” [sic] una expresión narco que significa el que me traicionó al posicionarme para mi captura. Inmediatamente después citó un viejo dicho español que simboliza tanto su modus operandi como la condición humillante en la que se encuentra México actualmente. “Con dinero baila el perro.”

“Ese escape debe haber costado unos cincuenta millones de dolares”. Este estimado altamente profesional vino de un hombre llamado Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, más conocido como Popeye, el guardaespaldas más cercano de Pablo Escobar, sicario e intermediario. Fuera de prisión luego de veintidós años tras las rejas, compulsivamente hablador, un poco tenso, discutió el caso de Joaquín Guzmán con un reportero de Univisión, la red televisiva estadounidense en idioma español. “Eso es un caso muy delicado”, dijo. “En prisiones de alta seguridad no puedes hacer túneles, porque en el cuarto de control donde tienen las cámaras tienen sensores que detectan excavaciones inmediatamente. Ese escape fue sobre dinero… [involucrando] a los guardias de seguridad y mucha gente afuera”.

El Centro de Rehabilitación Social de alta seguridad en Altiplano, mejor conocido como Almoloya, tiene paredes de casi un metro de ancho y comunicaciones restringidas, y de hecho, todos los jefes apresados de organizaciones rivales a la de Guzmán están recluidos ahí en celdas de confinamiento solitario. Guzmán, que es el jefe de “La Federación” (una variedad de clanes de drogas que trabajan juntos en el estado de Sinaloa) fue enviado inmediatamente a Almoloya luego de su arresto en el 22 de febrero de 2014. Hubo una persecución de una semana en el estado natal de Guzmán, terminando en un hotel residencial en la orilla de la playa de la hermosa ciudad de centros turísticos Mazatlán. Era la víspera del carnaval de Mazatlán, que presenta varios concursos de belleza —Guzmán es afín a las reinas de belleza, está casado con una— y cuando le preguntaron qué estaba haciendo en un lugar tan público, simplemente respondió que no había visto a sus dos pequeñas durante un tiempo. Con esto se entendió que había tomado un riesgo heroico para ir a ver a su familia, pero también podía significar que Guzmán procedía como de costumbre, tomándose un tiempo para ver el concurso de belleza desde el balcón de un hotel en la compañía de su esposa e hijos, sin miedo al peligro.

En el helicóptero que lo llevaba a Almoloya el año pasado —ya se había escapado de una prisión de alta seguridad una vez, en 2001— el traficante más infame del mundo comentó de manera insensible que era responsable de unos mil asesinatos, pero sólo fue sentenciado en varias cortes mexicanas por tráfico de drogas y crimen organizado. Mientras las investigaciones previas al juicio emprendían su torpe progreso a través del sistema legal, el prisionero estaba confinado a una celda sin ventanas equipada con una cámara de video las 24 horas. Era llevado al patio para ejercitarse una vez al día y le permitían visitas familiares sólo una vez al mes, cada una dependiente de la autorización específica del juez. A pesar de estas restricciones, se ha reportado que logró organizar una huelga de hambre durante el verano pasado para protestar por las pésimas condiciones en la prisión, una huelga que el gobierno reconoce, aunque niega que él estuvo involucrado. Planes para su escape ya estaban en progreso. De hecho, parecen haber empezado casi tan pronto como fue arrestado y se basaban, descaradamente, en el mismo recurso que se ha convertido en el distintivo de Guzmán: un túnel bien iluminado equipado con un riel de transportación.

Una de las fotografías más interesantes tomadas luego del bulesco escape de Guzmán, deja ver al Fiscal General de México, Arely Gómez, agachado al lado de una apertura cuadrada de 20 pulgadas, reforzada y muy bien esculpida en el suelo de una casa de bloque no terminada. La casa está en la mitad de un maizal a plena vista, pero a casi dos kilómetros de distancia de Almoloya y a menos de un kilómetro de un regimiento del Ejército. En la foto, Gómez melancólicamente observa el hueco, como esperando que un conejo blanco repentinamente salga de él. El conejo, sin embargo, se había ido en un modo de transportación desconocido unas doce horas atrás. “Hasta ese momento —según el suplicante comunicado oficial, emitido cerca de la medianoche del sábado— el día había sido bastante normal. [Guzmán] incluso había recibido su dosis diaria de medicación”. Un detalle útil es que Alejandro Rubido, el Comisionado para la Seguridad Nacional, no presentó el domingo en la conferencia de prensa matutina en la cual se confirmó el escape y no se permitieron preguntas, fue la hora exacta en la cual el escape del prisionero fue percibido por los guardias. A las 8:52 pm, según la declaración oficial, la cámara de 24 horas en su celda registró que Guzmán se retiró al área de las duchas de la prisión “donde regularmente lavaba los platos”. Convenientemente, el punto ciego de la cámara está justo en ese sitio. “Una vez que se notó la larga ausencia de la visión de la cámara —dice el reporte oficial— se implementaron medidas de emergencia siguiendo el protocolo de seguridad”. Seguir el protocolo puede consumir largas horas y pudo ser durante ese tiempo que Guzmán se fue por la entrada de su túnel, se arregló en una ducha improvisada, escogió ropa limpia y nueva que lo esperaba en  su refugio y atravesó caminos de barro y tierra hasta la autopista principal —o un helicóptero que lo esperaba, ¿quién sabe? La persecución ni siquiera había empezado.

Todo lo que le quedó por hacer a la policía fue maravillarse ante el túnel que las tropas de Guzmán habían cavado con increíble precisión, casi veinte metros por debajo de donde estaban parados, debajo de campos de maíz, pastos, la prisión y todo el trayecto hacia ella, hasta el espacio de poco menos de un metro cuadrado que ocupaba la ducha en la celda de Guzmán. Él y sus ingenieros parecen tener interés por las tuberías; el acceso a su primera obra, una creación de 60 metros que cruzaba la frontera de Sonora hasta Arizona para transportar marihuana, se activaba con una palanca disfrazada como un grifo fuera de una casa privada. Días antes de su arresto el año pasado, pudo evadir a sus perseguidores usando un túnel escondido debajo de una bañera con un sistema mecánico en una de sus muchas residencias en Sinaloa.

Requirió de admirables habilidades para cavar lo que puede ser el túnel de escape más largo de la historia, a veinte metros bajo la superficie. Tuvieron que evadir todas las tuberías, desagües y cables de la prisión. Y Guzmán, a pesar de todo su afán por las bromas, ha revelado que los detalles son una obsesión para él, algo que se ve reflejado en las dimensiones del túnel: 1.7 m de alto, para que no tuviera que agacharse (ya que mide un poco menos de 1.68 m) y 70 cm de ancho. El túnel estaba equipado con ductos de ventilación y electricidad, además de una motocicleta enganchada a un robusto riel, permitiendo a Guzmán llegar sumamente rápido y con mucho estilo a su refugio. El Universal, un periódico de Ciudad de México, ha estimado que se habrían requerido 291 viajes de un camión para remover los 2.040 metros cúbicos de tierra que se extrajeron en el proceso de construcción. Ya hay en YouTube canciones alabando el segundo escape de El Chapo Guzmán.

Las consecuencias más graves de la más reciente gran aventura de Guzmán no serán sufridas por el gobierno del cada vez menos popular presidente mexicano, Enrique Peña Nieto, ni por aquellos con quien El Chapo tiene cuentas pendientes, ni las tropas de carteles enemigos con quienes necesariamente tendrá que batallar, ni los soldados, periodistas, jueces, políticos o policías que pueda mandar a matar, aunque puede que sumen miles de nuevos muertos al cementerio del narcotráfico en México. Los carteles de droga de Sinaloa no sufrieron mucho durante el tiempo que pasó en prisión y los negocios parecen mantenerse estables; el mundo de la droga se reconfiguró a sí mismo y es probable de que podamos ahorrarnos un considerable aumento en la violencia cuando, como parece inevitable, Guzmán sea recapturado o asesinado.

“¿Qué está pasando ahora con el  Sr. Chapo Guzmán?” Preguntó Popeye retóricamente. “Cuando [Escobar y su gente se escaparon de prisión en Colombia en 1992 y] la CIA nos perseguía, la DEA también nos persiguió. Eso es lo que pasará con el Sr. Chapo Guzmán. Le doy unos dieciocho meses de libertad. El Chapo Guzmán debe estar sintiendo lo que yo sentí luego de que nos escapamos de prisión. Ahora se siente muy bien, Pablo Escobar se sentía bien, pero [Guzmán] sabe que… están buscando a su familia, a su esposa. Va a tener que romper con todos sus viejos lazos. Sólo va a poder reunirse con sus socios del tráfico de drogas y con la gente a cargo de su equipo militar. Va a ser difícil capturarlo [pero] los americanos van a ofrecer una recompensa de 20 millones de dólares por su captura. Cualquier persona [por ese tipo de recompensa] por su captura caerá.”

Era una de esas soleadas mañanas en Ciudad de México cuando parecía que el mundo es como se supone que debería ser, con niños de vacaciones saltando por las aceras y con el tráfico casi manejable, un mirlo trinando dulcemente sobre los cables de teléfono. Emmanuel del Rey, el tecladista de una de las bandas más idolatradas de México, Café Tacvba, consideró las consecuencias de la siniestra broma jugada por el narcotraficante durante el fin de semana. Café Tacvba tiene mucha influencia en la juventud de los vecindarios más pobres de México, y eran estos niños a quienes Emmanuel del Rey se refería. “El mensaje que el escape le va a dejar a todos esos muchachitos que trabajan con el tráfico de drogas o que piensan hacer una vida con el crimen organizado, y que piensan que El Chapo es más inteligente, más astuto, más poderoso, más adinerado, y también mucho más divertido, ¡es que lo es! Van a pensar que El Chapo Guzmán es prueba de que, como en la Guerra de las Galaxias, el lado oscuro es más poderoso. Y eso es algo terrible”.

Mantener a un criminal peligroso en prisión debería ser algo sencillo, pero Joaquín Guzmán Loera ni siquiera duró dieciocho meses en su jaula. Como dice acerca de su última travesura una de las canciones que lo alaba de manera anónima en YouTube:

El dinero es muy bonito.
No hay policía que se resista.
¡Cómo admiran el billete!
Les agarra una risita.

Uno solamente se ríe, hasta que llega la ira.

Texto publicado en inglés en The New York Review. Traducción de Mario Trivella Galindo