"Plata y plomo"
by Jesús Blancornelas
Welcoming Spanish Lit Month 2015
readers to the party with a dirty tumbler full of Mexican narcojournalism may seem a strange way to kick off the festivities out here in Caravanalandia
, but it's not like I've ever been accused of having my finger on the pulse of the book blogging world so what the hell, let's rock and roll. "Plata y plomo" ["Silver and Lead," slang for money and a bullet] is an intense 17-pager written in a terse, violent style not all that far removed from the Bolaño of 2666
's "The Part About the Crimes" or the Ellroy of My Dark Places
, but why take my word about the ass-kicking nature of the prose when you can see it for yourself in the essay's high adrenaline opening lines? "Le achicharraron el pene con un puro. Cicatrices en muslos, pecho y
brazos no eran de cigarillo. Lo encueraron... Enalambrados tobillos y muñecas. Apretados tanto hasta
sangrar. El primero y último tiros fueron en la boca" ["They burned his penis with a cigar. Scars on the thighs, chest and arms weren't from cigarette burns. They stripped him naked... Wrists and ankles bound in wire. Tight to the point it provoked bleeding. The first and last shots were to the mouth"] (47, ellipses added). I'll spare you all the other grisly forensic details for now, but suffice it to say that they're fitting enough insofar as "Plata y plomo" deals with all the narco killings Blancornelas (1936-2006, above) covered or witnessed since giving up being a ring reporter in the 1950s. So how does the Proustian madeleine
of Mexican narco violence function as a journalistic device in this piece? As Blancornelas tells it on page 49,
contar cadáveres desde 1985 no es como "nocauts" cuando era cronista deportivo 30 años atrás. Vi muchos. Fili Nava. José Medel. Toluco López. Mauro Vázquez. Ratón Macías. El Pajarito Moreno. El Negro Urbina. Baby Vázquez. Ultiminio Ramos. Halimi. Ike Williams. Acumulaban "KO's" como cuentas de rosario. Pero en Baja California los ajusticimiamientos en los últimos quince años, pasan de 300 y a veces llegan a 400 por año. Enumeración parecida a la de Sinaloa. Aproximada a la Ciudad Juárez. Seguramente cercana al terror neolaredense.
[tallying up the dead bodies since 1985 isn't the same thing as tallying up knockouts was when I was a sports reporter 30 years ago. I saw a lot of the latter. Fili Nava. José Medel. Toluco López. Mauro Vázquez. Ratón Macías. El Pajarito Moreno. El Negro Urbina. Baby Vázquez. Ultiminio Ramos. Halimi. Ike Williams. They accumulated KO's like rosary beads. But in Baja California, the executions in the last fifteen years surpass 300 and occasionally reach up to 400 per year. A number similar to that of Sinaloa. Roughly that of Ciudad Juárez. Certainly close to Nuevo Laredo's terror.]
Despite the body counts and the graphic descriptions of corpses dissolved in lime, discovered shot en masse Mexican Revolution-style or found hanging from bridges and the like, our reporter--himself the target of an assassination attempt in 1997 owing to his writings on cartel violence in Tijuana--insists that "Oler a muerte. Sentirla de cerca. Así como que te acaricia la mano" ["Smelling death. Feeling it up close. As if it were caressing your hand"] is something one never gets used to. "El estómago se revuelve" ["Your stomach churns"], for one thing. For another, "Cada vez que veo a un ejecutado o la foto, siento como si tuviera a mi lado la muerte" ["Each time that I see somebody who's been executed or the photo of somebody who's been executed, I feel as if I had Death at my side"] (51). "Algunos asesinatos son atribudos a ajustes de cuentas entre la delincuencia organizada" ["Some killings are attributed to settling of scores among organized crime"], he explains (56). "Pero otros son calificados como mensajes ocultos de la mafia hacia el gobierno" ["But others are considered to be secret messages from the mafia to the government"] to warn the official power structure not to interfere with the unofficial one. Whatever, Blancornelas writes as if he means it and his reflections on the worldwide narco trade's "remedo de los tiempos alcaponescos y hollywoodianos" ["imitation of Hollywoodian and Al Caponesque times"] (61) as it relates to wholesale murder in the streets eventually doubles back to one of his first lessons learned as a Mexican crime reporter: no investigation will take place. "Recuerda bien, reporterito" ["Remember it well, little reporter"], a public prosecutor warns him, "que en boca cerrada no entran moscas" ["flies can't enter your mouth if your lips are sealed"]. Savage but truly top shelf nonfiction.
Blancornelas, Jesús. "Plata y plomo." In Viento rojo. Diez historias del narco en México (Mexico City: Random House Mondadori, 2004, 45-63).