Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
The Hunt for El Chapo, Patrick Radden Keefe, the New Yorker.
How the world’s most notorious drug lord was captured.
“One afternoon last December, an assassin on board a K.L.M. flight from Mexico City arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. This was not a business trip: the killer, who was thirty-three, liked to travel, and often documented his journeys around Europe on Instagram. He wore designer clothes and a heavy silver ring in the shape of a grimacing skull. His passport was an expensive fake, and he had used it successfully many times. But, moments after he presented his documents to Dutch customs, he was arrested. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had filed a Red Notice with Interpol-an international arrest warrant-and knew that he was coming. Only after the Dutch authorities had the man in custody did they learn his real identity: José Rodrigo Arechiga, the chief enforcer for the biggest drug-trafficking organization in history, Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
To work in the Mexican drug trade is to have a nickname, and Arechiga went by the whimsically malevolent handle El Chino Ántrax. He supervised the armed wing of the Sinaloa-a cadre of executioners known as Los Ántrax-and coördinated drug shipments for the cartel’s leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who was known as El Chapo, or Shorty. Arechiga was a narcotraficante of the digital age, bantering with other criminals on Twitter and posting snapshots of himself guzzling Cristal, posing with exotic pets, and fondling a gold-plated AK-47. Guzmán, who is fifty-seven, typified an older generation. Obsessively secretive, he ran his multibillion-dollar drug enterprise from hiding in Sinaloa, the remote western state where he was born, and from which the cartel takes its name. The Sinaloa cartel exports industrial volumes of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine to America; it is thought to be responsible for as much as half the illegal narcotics that cross the border every year. Guzmán has been characterized by the U.S. Treasury Department as “the world’s most powerful drug trafficker,” and after the killing of Osama bin Laden, three years ago, he became perhaps the most wanted fugitive on the planet. Mexican politicians promised to bring him to justice, and the U.S. offered a five-million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture. But part of Guzmán’s fame stemmed from the perception that he was uncatchable, and he continued to thrive, consolidating control of key smuggling routes and extending his operation into new markets in Europe, Asia, and Australia. According to one study, the Sinaloa cartel is now active in more than fifty countries.”
Hell Is an Understatement, Graeme Wood, the New Republic.
A report from the bloody, crumbling Central African Republic.
“Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), has never been known for the reliability of its public utilities. Most trash is picked through by scavengers, and the remaining mango pits, scraps of plastic, and rusty bottlecaps pile up on dirt roads or get blown into fetid open sewers. But since December, along a desolate stretch of the Avenue de France, the Red Cross has operated an on-demand, white-gloved sanitation service that, within an hour of being called, will show up to collect human bodies, whether chopped up or left intact.
The Avenue de France marks a divide between two neighborhoods, and the human remains belong to those who have, for one reason or another, strayed too far in the wrong direction. The road itself is devoid of foot traffic-a no-man’s-land where both sides can deposit their victims, so they don’t have to bury them or let them rot within smelling distance in the African sun. North of the line is the Fifth Arrondissement, a neighborhood inhabited almost exclusively by Christians now that its Muslim residents have either been killed or forced into exile. The Muslims who haven’t fled the country live primarily in the Third Arrondissement, just south of the Avenue de France. There, being a Christian is a condition nearly as fatal as being a Muslim is to the north, south, east, or west.
About 15 percent of Central Africans are Muslims, and for much of the country’s 54-year history, they lived in relative harmony with the Christian majority. But in the last year, CAR has collapsed-first in a spasm of political violence and now in a grisly carnival of factional and religious slaughter that has left it one of the very worst places on Earth. It is a country the size of Texas, with as many people as Boston, and an economy less than a tenth the size of Chattanooga’s. Reliable data doesn’t exist for the number dead, but from December until March, street lynchings became so common that they ceased to be news. The danger is unequaled anywhere in present-day Africa except, perhaps, Nigeria on a bad day. Bangui competes with Damascus for the title of world’s grimmest capital city.”
The Istanbul Derby, Spencer Hall, SB Nation.
Soccer, fire and a game at the world’s crossroads.
“Come up the steps of this hotel, there’s something you should see while we explain this setup to you. First, there is this soccer game. It takes place in Istanbul, a city of 18 million people founded around two thousand years ago, a city so old it has Viking graffiti in its Muslim mosque which was once a Catholic church built for an emperor. Nothing can happen here that has not already happened, and yet people are very, very excited about a soccer game between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, Istanbul’s two oldest and bitterest rivals.”
Tourism, Construction and an Ongoing Nuclear Crisis at Chernobyl, Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek.
“That apartment building was part of my two-day excursion into Chernobyl, one that quickly dispelled any notions that this swath of Eastern Europe is a radioactive wasteland. Or, rather, only a radioactive wasteland. I can’t quite believe that I am saying this, but tourism to Chernobyl is booming. There were 870 visitors in 2004, two years after the Ukrainian government allowed (some) access to the Exclusion Zone. Today, the Kiev-based tour company SoloEast says it takes 12,0
00 tourists to Chernobyl a year, which accounts for 70 percent of the pleasure-visitors heading there (including myself). I even stayed at a luxury hotel of sorts, a neo-rustic cottage that featured towel warmers and a sign that said, “Please keep your radioactive shoes outside.”
For the most part, the defunct station of reactors (the first went live in 1977; the last, the one that blew, in 1983) looks like a tidy industrial park in central Ohio: shorn green lawns, a smattering of abstract art, half-empty parking lots, a canal rife with fish. Nothing indicates that this is the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history.
Yet as tourists Instagram away at Pripyat’s ruins, Chernobyl is undergoing one of the most challenging engineering feats in the world, as a French consortium called Novarka tries to replace the aging sarcophagus that contains the reactor, a concrete shell hastily and heroically built in the direct aftermath of the meltdown. The place remains a half-opened tinderbox of potential nuclear horrors, and just because much of the world has forgotten about Chernobyl doesn’t mean catastrophe won’t visit here again.
But don’t let that detract from your sightseeing.”
‘The State Doesn’t Exist For You,’ Josh Raisher, Foreign Policy.
Israel says it wants to lift its Bedouin citizens out of poverty. But it keeps demolishing their villages.
“Awad Abu Freih says that the Israeli government has demolished his village, al-Araqib, some 60 times over the last five years. It needs more land for Jewish people, and so wants the village gone, explains Abu Freih, a middle-aged man with a small, graying beard. ‘I think this is the reason why, al-Araqib, they destroy it.’
Abu Freih is a Bedouin from Israel’s Negev Desert. Of the roughly 200,000 Arab Bedouins in the Negev, about 70,000 live in dozens of villages that the Israeli government considers ‘unrecognized’ — or built illegally. Al-Araqib is one of them: a collection of trailers, tents, and homes made of blue tarp and aluminum. About 300 people live there.
According to Abu Freih and other villagers, the demolitions of al-Araqib follow a pattern: Residents receive an eviction notice setting a date by which they must leave — usually, they are given a week. Then riot police arrive early in the morning on or around the stated day to remove people from their homes. Often, al-Araqib’s residents are herded to the village’s small cemetery while bulldozers raze structures. The whole process takes about an hour.”