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'The Cartel': The cost of the war on drugs

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'The Cartel' by Don Winslow
'The Cartel' by Don Winslow
Courtesy of Knopf

The dedication page of Don Winslow's new book is filled with names: Alberto Torres Villegas, Roberto Javier Mora Garcia, Evaristo Ortega Zarate...  There are 130 in all. 

They are the journalists who were murdered in Mexico during the period Winslow's book covers. And, he writes, "there were others." 

"Cartel" tells the story of a ruthless Mexican drug lord and the DEA agent who spends his life fighting the war on drugs. It's a novel, but Winslow spent years researching the brutal realities of the drug trade south of the border: the cartels, the corruption — and the journalists who paid with their lives for covering what was happening right in front of them.

Winslow's portrayal is so spot-on, sometimes it's hard to tell fiction from truth. "Cartel" features a prison break eerily similar to that of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who escaped from Mexico's highest security prison this July and remains on the loose.

"I'm an entertainer, this is a thriller, but I try to run very close to reality," Winslow told MPR News' Kerri Miller. He joined Miller to discuss his book and the dark realities of the war on drugs.

"We've criminalized drugs," Winslow said. "If only criminals can deal with them, then the only recourse when there's any kind of conflict is violence. By driving this into the shadows, we create and sustain these horrifically violent cartels." 

The answer Winslow put forward is to decriminalize the drugs at the center of cartels' dealings. The legalization of marijuana in several states, he said, has already led to some cartels losing interest in moving the drug.