Small Wars Journal

SWJ El Centro Book Review - Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 4:15pm

SWJ El Centro Book Review - Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War


Robert J. Bunker






Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Alejandro (Alex) Marentes

Morrisville, NC: Lulu, April 2019

232 Pages

$19.04 Paperback; $6.99 eBook


The work Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War represents the first book (& ebook) to be published by this blog site. Borderland Beat is an informational and collaborative English language blog (drawing upon US and Mexican contributors) reporting on the Mexican narco wars. The blog is a contemporary raw feed of unassessed information. The Borderland Beat blog focuses on non-professional (volunteer) Spanish to English translations with less journalistic interpretation and/or detailed analysis linked to the contributions. The work joins in the same ‘digital blog/online journal to book’ publishing trend as seen with SWJ—El Centro (since 2012) and Blog del Narco (in 2013). 


The book is written (compiled) by Alex Marentes—a former active duty and reserve Marine and a thirty-year Albuquerque Police Department officer (retired)—who was born in Ciudad Juárez and lived there for the first ten years of his life. To his fans at the Borderland Beat blog, which he founded and owns, he is known by the pseudonym “Buggs” (in reference to Buggs Bunny the Looney Tunes character). The author was recently interviewed at Borderland Beat by the female blogger Chivis concerning the work, his past experiences, and motivations to initially create the blog.


The Borderland Beat book focuses on more organized narco violence taking place in Mexico during the 2008 through 2013 era before the later cartel fragmentation due to kingpin targeting—when Alex Marentes was more directly involved with the blog. It draws its material via the site’s blog posts and the author’s professional (rather than academic) directed research. The book cover is Mexican skull art based with elements of violence—bullet rounds, revolvers, barbed wire, pills, fire, and brass knuckles—combined together to create a narcocultura inspired skull. The work is 232 pages long and devoid of page numbers.  It provides no references, citations, or notes, other than one or two URLs, but is supported by the author’s website which has some sources and videos. The work contains numerous images of drug war violence (not sourced) and is divided into the following listing of impressionistic and interpretive themes (with somewhat more structure evident at the end of the work related to specific cartels and timelines). The titles of these themes (which follows an ad hoc capitalization protocol) are as follows:


            • Preamble

            • How to Interpret this Book

            • Glimpse of Hope

            • Rocky Point – Sonora

            • The Curse of Cusarare

            • The Encounter with Drunk Sicarios

            • Creel in the Sierra Tarahumara Country

            • The Blog and the Contributors

            • The Interview

            • Danger to bloggers reporting Cartel violence

            • A need for Blogs

            • The Execution of Two Chapos

            • El Diablo

            • The Narco Corrido Culture

            • In Search for La Linea

            • Heating up the Plaza

            • Calderon takes on the Cartels Syndicate

            • The House of Death and Special Agent 913, Lalo

            • Armed to the Teeth

            • The Regions of Major Conflict: The Highway of Death

            • The Golden Triangle

            • El Chapo Reigns; Supreme Capo

            • The Sinaloa and Juarez Conflict

            • From the al-Qaida Playbook

            • The Real Test of Confidence

            • The Mexican Drug War’s Collateral Damage

            • Cartels Fight Over Plazas

            • Lazca’s Affiliation

            • The Political Factor

            • The link of García Luna with “El Mayo”

            • A Portrait of Power

            • The Pact Between BLO and the Zetas

            • El Grande Dispensing Violence by Orders of “El Jefe de Jefes”

            • Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO)

            • El Grande

            • El Grande is Arrested

            • The Fall of the Boss of Bosses

            • Le Barbie

            • Tony Tormenta

            • La Pelirroja

            • Tale of the bus passengers forced to fight to the death

            • Don Alejo, a True Hero

            • Pedro

            • By ACI – Borderland Beat

            • Mexico: Operation Salim

            • Back Home

            • US impact

            • The Home town influence

            • One last incident

            • Cartel Structure

            • Bio of the Mexican cartel covered in the book; Guadalajara Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel, Gulf Cartel, La Familia Michoacana, Knights Templar – Caballeros Templarios, Beltrán-Leyva Cartel

            • Narco Terms

            • Events of Organized Crime (2006-2012)

            • The bounty of Mexican capos posted in January 17, 2009

            • Activities of Barrio-Azteca (1987-2009)


Hence, the layout of the book is both conceptually artistic and constructivist in nature (befitting the author who has become a professional photographer in his retirement) and in many ways is reflective of the ambiguity, threat of danger (specifically for Mexican bloggers), and fragmentary information inherent in Mexican drug war reportage. The book has an Apocalypse Now (the edgy Vietnam War movie) vibe to it that attempts to make some sense of cartel violence (and rampant corruption) taking place in Mexico without ever being able to explain the unexplainable. Some cases in point include “The House of Death and Special Agent 913, Lalo” (a cartel kill house) and the “Tale of the bus passengers forced to fight to the death” (kidnapped victims literally forced into Los Zetas gladiatorial games). Many of these themes showcased are also meant to articulate and justify the need to stand up the Borderland Beat blog itself. This approach to creating the structure and content of the work will immediately turn off more linear and rationalistic right brain thinking readers. This is especially true given the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) laden angst inherent in the subject matter and rawness of some of the material (which represents unedited primary source blogger writings).


From the reviewer’s perspective, the main detraction with the work, however, is the small font size utilized—approximately 9 point—presumably to keep the page count down. This makes reading the book somewhat tedious. Another problematic area with the work is a lack of page numbering (as is found with online blogger posts). This makes properly referencing the material contained in Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War to specific pages difficult. To do so requires the hand numbering of each page contained within it.  In many ways, this work should be treated as source material for an ethnographic study of drug war violence as seen through the blogger perspective (all of them at the online blog, except now for Alex Marentes, keeping their identities secret to protect themselves and their families from cartel retribution). The work, and much of the raw material it contains, should be valued and accepted as such and not judged or reviewed as an academic or analytical work which it is clearly not meant to be.



Categories: El Centro - SWJ Book Review

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at