Pretty great reporting by the Times’ Patrick Radden Keefe with stunning detail on one of Mexico’s largest drug cartels. Says Keefe, “the drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become”. At what point will we realize how unsustainable the current “war on drugs” is?

Some particularly good lines from the piece:

  • In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.
  • His formal education ended in third grade, and as an adult, he has reportedly struggled to read and write, prevailing upon a ghostwriter, at one point, to compose letters to his mistress.
  • During the 1990s, when the market for meth exploded in the United States, new regulations made it more difficult to manufacture large quantities of the drug in this country. This presented an opportunity that the Sinaloa quickly exploited. According to Anabel Hernández, author of “Los Señores del Narco,” a book about the cartel, it was one of Chapo’s deputies, a trafficker named Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel, who first spotted the massive potential of methamphetamine. “Nacho was like Steve Jobs,” Hernández told me. “He saw the future.”
  •  “They’d send five hundred pounds of marijuana, and secreted in that would be two kilos of meth,” Jack Riley, the D.E.A.’s special agent in charge of the Chicago office, told me. “They’d give it away for free. They wanted the market.”
  • On those occasions when the government scores a big arrest, meanwhile, police and military officials pose for photos at the valedictory news conference brandishing assault weapons, their faces shrouded in ski masks, to shield their identities. In the trippy semiotics of the drug war, the cops dress like bandits, and the bandits dress like cops.
Related: can’t wait for Season 5 of Breaking Bad.