Episode 54 with the Thorough, Reflective, Intrepid, Wellspring of Knowledge, Journalist and Author Ioan Grillo


Show Notes and Links to Ioan Grillo’s Work and Allusions/Texts from Episode 54


On Episode 54, Pete talks with Ioan Grillo about his 20+years of reporting in Mexico and Latin America, and his three books on the regions. The conversation especially focuses on Ioan’s knowledge of gangs, cartels, and guns in Latin America and their connections to the United States’ loose and byzantine guns laws.

Ioan Grillo is a journalist and writer based in Mexico City, working for outlets including the New York Times, France 24 and National Geographic. He has been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media such as Time Magazine, Esquire, CNN, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Houston Chronicle, The Associated Press, GlobalPost, France 24, The Sunday Telegraph, Letras Libres and many others. He is the author of the books Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels (2021), Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America (2016), and El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (2011).

A native of England, Grillo lives in Mexico City.

Buy Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels


Buy Gangster Warlords (Bookshop.org)

Buy El Narco (Bookshop.org)

Ioan Grillo’s Amazon.com Author Page

Ioan Grillo’s Personal Website


First six minutes or so-Pete introduces Ioan Grillo, who talks about growing up in Brighton, England, and some of the literature and writers, like George Orwell, who inspired and challenged him


At about 6:00, Ioan talks about the type of stories that have interested him throughout the years and inspired his writing


At about 9:00, Ioan talks about his style of storytelling and its influences


At about 10:15, Ioan and Pete talk about George Orwell’s impact, particularly due to his essay “Shooting an Elephant” and Down and Out in Paris and London


At about 12:00, Ioan explains the term “fresa” as used in Mexico City and beyond


At about 13:30, Ioan talks about past and contemporary writers who have inspired, and continued to inspire him, including Ryszard Kapuściński, Jon Ronson, Yuval Harari, Nicholas Pileggi, Jesús Lemus, the exceptional staffers at El Faro, Javier Valdez, and Anabel Hernández. 


At about 19:15, Pete recommends the incredible read from Roberto Lovato, Unforgetting


At about 19:40, Ioan describes his beginnings writing in Mexico, and eventually covering the world of drug trafficking and the “narcocultura”


At about 25:30, Ioan talks about La Familia Michoacana, as discussed in Gangster Warlords and El Narco


At about 27:30, Ioan talks about the connection between the PRI losing power and the explosive growth of drug cartel violence


At about 32:00, Ioan talks about what he aims for in documenting real-life stories of criminals and victims


At about 34:30, Ioan talks about managing his mental health after experiencing and writing about so many sad stories and atrocities


At about 41:00, Ioan talks about the four groups who are the focus of Gangster Warlords: México’s La Familia Michoacana, Central America's Mara Salvatrucha, Jamaica's Shower Posse, and Brazil's Red Commando


At about 42:30, Ioan talks about the circumstances involving government, or lack thereof, that leads to incredible displays of humanity and criminal enterprises 


At about 46:40, Ioan talks about his most recent book, and how the book starts with him connecting the New York Él Chapo trial to the flow of illegal guns from the U.S. to Mexico


At about 49:30, Ioan talks about basic enforcement techniques that aren’t being enforced with regards to gun laws


At about 51:00, Ioan talks about the tragic death of Jaime Zapata, and how he traced the guns used to kill him, and this search’s connection to the history of the recent arms race


At about 57:15, Ioan talks about the incredibly low-tech National Tracing Center for guns in West Virginia


At about 1:00:55, Ioan talks about universal background checks and other simple ways in which to cut down on gun violence, before even dealing with the tensions around The Second Amendment


At about 1:05:30, Pete asks Ioan what beliefs there are in Mexico about the amount of responsibility/blame that the U.S. has involving drugs and guns


At about 1:07:40, Ioan reads from page 344-towards the end of Guns Blood Money… and the gun museum described as a microcosm/symbol of a hopefully brighter future with much less violence


At about 1:10:00, Ioan talks about upcoming projects

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