Gonzalo was a man who stormed into homes and dragged away men from crying wives and mothers. He duct-taped victims to chairs and starved and beat them for days. He hacked their skulls with machetes while they were still living. And then he became a Christian.
But back then, he enjoyed power, he could pay for houses in cash, he had four wives and children scattered all over. He smoked cocaine and drank whiskey every day.
How do we explain the psychology of Gonzalo? He says: “In those days, I had no fear. I felt nothing. I had no compassion for anybody.”
And that makes sense. If Gonzalo had been just like us, he wouldn’t have done all these horrible things. Something was missing in his emotional makeup.
Gonzalo spent seventeen years working as a kidnapper, murderer and soldier for Mexican drug gangs. He killed many people. Mexico has thousands of people like him.
Gonzalo also says:
When you belong to organized crime, you have to change. You could be the best person in the world, but the people you live with change you completely.
The author of El Narco, Ioan Grillo, interviewed Gonzalo, and says that he was friendly and well-mannered. Ioan also says
I have known angry violent men in my home country (England); hooligans who smash bottles into people’s faces or stab people at soccer games. On the surface, those men seem more hateful and intimidating than Gonzalo…Yet they have killed nobody.
Gonzalo says: “You learn a lot of forms of torture. To a point you enjoy carrying them out. We laughed at people’s pain–at the way we tortured them.”
One interesting fact about many Salvadoran gangbangers are that their fathers were communist guerrillas. The fathers killed people for the ideals of Che Guevara, and the sons kill people for money and power.
In four years, cartel gunmen slew more than twenty-two hundred policemen, two hundred soldiers, judges, mayors, etc. They are a major threat to their society.
In another post, I’ll go into the rest of Ioan’s book. He talks about the causes of all of this crime, which were a long time in the making. Among the causes: the drug trade has lifted the descendants of cannibal tribes, bandits, and displaced peasants out of wretched poverty. And the radical changes of the Sixties in America created a huge market for drugs north of the border. It’s ironic to think that the U.S. movement that created hippies who put flowers in the guns of American guardsmen is at least partly responsible for a huge amount of gun deaths south of the border.
It’s also horrifying that heroic ballads are written about the drug traffickers.
Some Mexicans have taken the law into their own hands, and are successfully standing up to the criminals. But vigilantism has its own problems, such as a lack of legal protections for the innocent. Still, they are succeeding sometimes where the Mexican state has failed.
Gonzalo did repent, but that was after he was put in jail. He also blames his actions in part on the cocaine and alcohol he was taking, but it was his decision to take the drugs, it was his decision to keep company with criminals and be a criminal. I believe that repentance and redemption are possible, but sometimes it takes a total change of scene (like a jail cell) to make a criminal start thinking.
El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency – by Ioan Grillo (2011)