‘A powerful, and often uncomfortable read’ – I am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton and Live Happily by Luca Rastello

I am the Market promises to teach readers the tricks of the trade when it comes to smuggling cocaine. It is a billion pound industry, and one which is constantly at war with itself, and the American government.  Focusing on the international smuggling routes which cover South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, as well as trafficking routes through Europe and Asia, the book provides an insight into the trade which funds the lifestyles of criminals and nations alike.

I am the Market, then, is not your average DIY manual, and whilst the book is separated into five lessons, the path it forges to wealth and riches is a violent, bloody, and immoral one which costs the lives of innocent people; neither, however, is the book a simple morality tale advocating for harder legislation. In fact, as the introduction argues, legislation doesn’t seem to be working. In areas where coca plantations are being targeted, Rastello argues that rather than causing a decrease in drug production and smuggling, there has been the paradoxical effect of drug plantations spreading. It seems clear then, that the power and might of the UN and the US government is not curbing the market for narcotics, which Rastello also argues is being uses to fund wars and economies across the world.

There is surely no easy answer to such comprehensive and complex problems, and the smuggler’s account that makes up much of the book only emphasises the way in which the narcotics industry has widened its net across the globe. The aim of the book, then is not to provide answers to the problem but to describe a world which is usually filtered to the general public through the sensationalism of newspaper reports, and the legal jargon of the government. It is the frank description of a drug smuggler’s business that makes the book a powerful, and often uncomfortable read. The industry is essentially profit centred, and as a business which sits on the outside of the limits of the law, there are murders abound, and unsuspecting drug mules are  set up to take the fall for other smugglers much higher on the food chain. However, whilst it would be easy to dismiss this as the usual criminal activity, it is also clear that the industry relies on the corruption of federal organisations to get by without suspicion. The story of the drugs cartel which supplied sniffer dogs to most of the police and border control in most of the Caribbean is a particularly absurd example. It seems that there is plenty of money to be made in the drugs trade, regardless of which side you’re on, with those at the top of the food chain in control of hundreds of millions of pounds, and the power to influence important people.

It is clear, then that if you do it right, the smuggling trade can make millionaires, but as the book makes clear, it is often the poor that suffer the most. The story of one rich narcotics dealer in Venezuela, who hired the desperately poor locals to work on his farm, before killing them off when they were no longer require was especially hard to work. Add to this the poor and desperate who are themselves addicted, and it is clear that the drugs trade benefit’s the rich whilst the poor are often taken advantage of for the sake of a higher profit. Furthermore, they are also the ones who suffer when the Americans attempt to kill drug crops, their own farms being caught in the cross fire when American herbicides strike.

Any Cop?: Whilst I am the Market offers a unique insight into the drugs trade, I found the stark honesty of the first person account difficult to read. The anonymous narrator describes brutal crimes in the most matter of fact way, and whilst I don’t think the book aims to glorify or justify these crimes, I found it hard to read on after such stark descriptions. The narrator didn’t have the likeability factor that is found in most of the novels I read, and it was a challenge for me to get past that. However, it is important that the narcotic industry is described honestly, in order to better understand what needs to be done to stop the suffering of those who get caught in the cross fire and don’t benefit from the big money, the criminals and governments that have made cocaine a billion dollar industry. 

Claire Sedgwick

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