Roberto Saviano did it again, he gifted us with a book that is both, meticulously researched, backed by an enormous body of hard data, as it is well written and fast paced. As such it is a pure joy to read.

The weight of “Zero zero zero” is a little shy of 0,7 kilo, 680.389 grams to be precise. If you were to possess such amount of cocaine and would sell it on the streets, provided you would have the needed know-how, you could earn a hefty sum of money. Given the fact that a global average for a gram of coke is around 70 €, much less in the producing countries and South America in general and much more in Australia and New Zeland, where prices rocket to 170 € per gram and  even higher. You could easily make at least 5.000 €, twice or even three times that much “down under” and perhaps even a bit more through “enriching” cocaine with other substances. Those that don’t add any value to the high but contribute to the price and thus the final financial outcome of our small coke enterprise. Of course one cannot simply buy cheap cocaine in, say, Columbia, board the trans-Atlantic flight and then sell it dear on the European streets. Fortunately, the coke economy has this covered as well and transporting 0,7 kilos would not even be a big deal.

Couriers, human cocaine mules, are people who train themselves especially for transporting cocaine in their bodies, stomach and digestive system to be precise. A well-trained courier can easily handle up to 120 capsules, each containing 5 to 10 grams of cocaine. For our, as it is now already obvious, modest quantity, we wouldn’t even need an especially well-trained courier. There is a catch, though if any of the aforementioned capsules breaks, the courier will suffer an agonizing death and our small shipment will be lost. But as in business in general, so in coke trade as well, it is a business risk we simply have to take and is not even worth mentioning if we do our trade right. “Zero zero zero”, a title of the book being a name of the purest possible cocaine, is not a block of cocaine, it is much cheaper and digesting it is much more enjoyable than swallowing a kilo of cocaine.

However, the high Saviano delivers with “Zero zero zero” is much more powerful and has a more lasting effect than even the purest cocaine could have. The author that already made a powerful statement with his previous book, Gomorrah, about Calabrian mafia Camorra (and ‘Ndrangheta), is not backing down or downsizing his ambitions. On the contrary, this time, he bites into an even greater story, one about the global cocaine market, a story about each and every one of us, even if we don’t know it yet. Cocaine is everywhere, a taxi driver that drove you home yesterday uses it to make it through the night shift. A politician that gave a speech on the importance of the war on drugs snorted a couple of lines beforehand to deliver a more powerful of a message and appear more confident. Singer of your favorite band is using it to make it through an exhausting tour, your sister uses it to manage all the exams, your boyfriend uses and if not any of them, then definitely it is you who is using it. Bottom line being, our life is impregnated with cocaine in and throughout.

Poet of the Week
Valentina Neri
Imagining

Vanishing one evening

without a trace.

Without  forgotten clues

on the threshold of my room

and no arrow

to show me the way.

Wherever I could have gone

Would be of no relevance:

Laid at the bottom of the sea

Buried in the darkness of the woods

In China devoid of memory

Looking for a pitiful story

Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.

Everything is fine

As long as nobody ever knows.

Sublime fantasy

Vanishing without a certificate of death

So that one day they will understand

What is baffling me now.

Saviano is a tour guide that introduces us to the whole life cycle of cocaine. From the producers (first and foremost Colombia) to distributors (Mexican narco cartels, Russian Bratva (brotherhood), Italian ’Ndrangheta etc.) all the way down to pushers who deliver the drug to the final consumers, people all around us. In the first couple of chapters, we are introduced to the “founding fathers” of the modern cocaine trade, people such as the legendary Pablo Escobar. Pioneers that paved the way from producers to consumers, from Colombia to the States. These people, daring individuals who saw the enormous opportunity and business potential have since been eulogized in popular culture. They are the ones that contemporary narco cartels in Colombia and Mexico still try to surpass in notoriety and fame. Be that as it may, it is modern cartels that are infinitely more cruel and uncompromising. As cocaine trade has globally exploded in the last couple of decades and the demand is constantly growing, organizations that distribute it have also surged and fight for supremacy among cartels has left floods of blood.

In the last couple of years Mexico, a country that is officially not at war with anyone, has suffered enormously at the hands of cartels. While some 100.000 people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2007 and 2014, more than 160.000 were victims of homicide at the same time in Mexico. Predominantly common, everyday innocent people, but some high-profile targets, politicians, judges, police captains, investigative journals (domestic and foreign) have been regularly executed. The manner of these executions and tortures by far surpasses the cruelty of better known, terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic State. Cartels and mafia are not about ideology, they are about business and this makes them so much more dangerous. As Islamic State is losing its ground it is worth remembering that its power and now the evening of it have been strongly tied to the oil business. As long as it was able to control oil fields in Iraq and Syria and have Turkey turning the blind eye for it to export the oil, it was powerful. In comparison to oil, cocaine fields ain’t going nowhere, the white petroleum of our time will always find and build its pipelines. Whether it is the underground tunnels bellow the Mexico-US border, submarines in the gulf of Mexico, containers on the transatlantic ships, the stomach of a human mule, planes, helicopters, cars, trucks… Where there is a movement, there can be a cocaine movement.

What Saviano does so well is he provides a multidimensional perspective on the phenomena of coke and the complexity it embodies. At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to business, an enormously lucrative business that is. While capitalism is prone to crisis and the fall in profits, narco-capitalism knows no crisis and sees every crisis as a new business opportunity. Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a drug.