Although Mexico had been an important oil producer since the beginning of the XX Century, in the 1970's huge oil fields were discovered. President López-Portillo (1976-1982) even warned Mexicans that they should prepare to "manage abundance". What happened was that the government borrowed heavily, using oil revenue as collateral, until the economy imploded in 1982, sinking Mexicans into a long decade of low growth, high inflation and increased poverty.
With the discoveries, the oil workers' trade union became immensely rich. To the eternal corruption of Mexican politicians and officers, a huge wealth was added. PEMEX, the state-owned monopoly, was looted to the current state of bankruptcy.
The novel develops between 1968 and the early 1980's. By the end of that period, the leader of the national trade union was Joaquín Hernández Galicia, a man very corrupt and violent strongman. He was still in charge when Aguilar Camín published the novel. That must have taken guts, since by that time, also, the government exercised severe censorship over critical publications and the press. The "Contact" of El Negro with government is none other than Fernando Gutierrez Barrios, a legendary chief of the Federal Security Services, a sinister secret police in charge of repression. Three years after the publication of the novel, he would become Minister of the Interior. He is transparently portrayed by Aguilar Camin.
What the author does here is to show the imbrication between politics and trade unionism, and the way the union came to dominate not only oil revenue, but also politics in oil-producing regions. The narrative is totally believable, even if fictionalized, and several real characters appear as guest stars, remarkably Miguel Reyes Razo, an old political columnist still alive.
One plus, for a Mexican or someone familiar with Mexico in those times, is the evocation of Mexico City and Veracruz in the late 1970's and early 1980's. How much things have changed and yet how little! Sadly, corruption, including the oil workers' trade union, far form having decreased, has increased, to the detriment of our society.
What did you think of the novel?
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