I Am the Market by Luca Rastello

In this tell-all book, Italian journalist Luca Rastello presents the story of an anonymous cocaine smuggler, referred to only as the Market, who gives an account of the war on drugs from his perspective.

With anecdotes spanning the continents of Europe, North and South America, and time periods ranging from the 1970s through the early 2000s, I Am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, In Five Easy Lessons would easily rise to the level of a globe-trotting Robert Ludlum thriller, if it wasn’t a real-life narrative of the global cocaine enterprise.

I first picked up this book because of its brazen and risqué title, though it was probably the teasing details in the jacket cover of the smugglers’ creative, ever-evolving tactics that got me reading: the drug-sniffing dogs provided to the police by kennels run by smugglers; the coca dissolved in water, hidden in electrical cables and building cranes; and the small-scale couriers who get caught as part of the overall plan to distract from larger shipments. As the Market says, “Nothing is better hidden than that which is in full view.”

In the wake of the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s recently released critique of western governments’ war on drugs policies, I Am the Market is pertinent reading. The book is structured in five chapters, termed “lessons,” which lay out the problems, complications, and solutions inherent in smuggling large quantities of cocaine. Rastello’s writing makes for fluid reading, though Mr. Market’s swaggering tone may alienate some readers. 

With this being the first American edition of the book, it’s also worth mentioning that the narrative of I Am the Market focuses on the expansion of the cocaine trade into Europe rather than the United States, thought America’s far-reaching influence on international drug policy is never far from the story. Additionally, this account isn’t a rosy memoir of an undetected criminal—Mr. Market admits to spending 20-odd years in prisons for his efforts and there are also a fair number of casualties in the course of this story. Though on that point, Mr. Market offers the thought-provoking statement that “it’s not the nature of the merchandise that creates the monster, it’s the market.”

I Am the Market is about large-scale cocaine smuggling, but it’s also about the cops-and-robbers game playing out between various governments, politicians, law enforcement, and small- and big-time drug smugglers. Each player has their own interests and motivations, which – as I Am the Market reveals with just a touch of Garcia Marquez – aren’t always as they appear. The Market’s account of the co-dependent relationship between the smugglers and governments and law enforcement does tend to overlook the many casualties and losers in the drug smuggling game. However, these claims do give the reader pause by offering another side to the story beyond the standard spin produced by the media, politicians, and law enforcement.

In the end, though, readers would be wise to remember Rastello’s word of caution in the introduction: this is a non-fiction tell-all, but it is also the non-fiction tell-all of a self-professed “criminal participant.”

About the Author

Topher Levin is a library associate at the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library and serves as assistant editor and content contributor for kcmetropolis.org, Kansas City’s online journal of the performing arts.