"El poder del perro"; The Power of the Dog. This novel delivers a healthy dose of reality, shadowing drug enforcement agencies, from the poppy fields of South America to the Mexican border. Laced with the politics of self-deception and political agendas, much goes unreported and unacknowledged as the US continues indefensible relationships with despots who perpetuate the violence of a drug-related economy.
Against this background, one figure traces the advances of the drug economy. Since Operation Condor in Sinaloa in 1975, Art Keller has been tracking the drug industry's recurring faces. A Company Man, Keller is one of the "lost, the lonely, the cultural misfits with a foot in two worlds and a place in neither, half-Anglo and Half-Mexican". North American fire power and munitions meet South American business-as-usual, a disheartening mix of military power in the hands of the politically untouchable who decimate the country's economy in pursuit of profit. Keller pursues one small corner of this world, but he does so doggedly, revealing the complicated infrastructure and government involvement along the US-Mexican border.
Keller is infected with guilt; he once was duped by the man who is now a key player, Miguel Angel Barrera. But Keller handles most of his business outside of the purview of the government agencies, a lethal alphabet soup of DEA, FBI and ATF, all committed to keeping a lid on the current problems. Art believes all Third World slums are the same, "the same mud or dust, depending on climate or season, the same smells of charcoal stoves and open sewers...malnourished kids with distended bellies and big eyes". At least in Guadalajara, the middle class softens the edge between rich and poor. Not so in the South American countries, reduced to abject poverty and a tiny percentage of ultra-rich. South America is a killing ground, where the poor are slaughtered with impunity.
Following the corruption endemic to the drug trade, from Operation Condor in Sinaloa in1975, Guadalajara in 1984, El Salvador in 1985, Mexico and NAFTA in 1992 through the late nineties, is like descending the levels of Hell, each more complicated and fraught with moral indictments, the exorbitant cost of the lesser of two evils, where moral ambiguity becomes the coin of the realm. Art Keller's personal journey, navigating this particular nightmare, illustrates how deeply flawed is the attempt to control illegal substances.
This kind of fiction serves a dual purpose: it entertains and informs. While Winslow writes a fascinating fiction of drug trafficking and those it touches so intimately, he also exposes the agencies who have failed to control the uncontrollable, yielding a massacre of thousands in the name of profit, a system of bribery and corruption so endemic that each layer only reveals another, a mix of murderers and drug lords who act with impunity to protect a way of life. In a blistering indictment of the War on Drugs, American support of Third World guerillas financed by the illegal narcotics trade and the easy greed of officials who sell their accommodation to the highest bidder, Winslow spins a powerful yarn that is both informative and disturbing: "The hardest thing in the world isn't to refrain from committing an evil, it's to stand up and stop one." Luan Gaines/2005.