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Bookstore Challenges 'Narco Culture' in Hotbed of Mexico's Drug War

David Agren - The Guardian
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January 19, 2016



A bookshop in Apatzingán Mexico, opened by the Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica. (David Agren/The Guardian)

Over recent years, the sun-baked streets of Apatzingán have seen assassinations, kidnappings and blazing gun battles as armed vigilantes rose up against the cartel gunmen who once controlled this conflictive corner of Mexico’s Michoacán state.

So it’s probably not the kind of town you would expect to find a gleaming new bookshop and arts center stacked with works that include Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, studies on the philosophy of Hegel and the novels of Mexican author Octavio Paz. Just as unlikely seeming are the store’s stated goals: to promote peace and help restore the social fabric through books and music.

The highbrow publishing house and book retailer Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica (FCE) set up shop in the town this year as part of a government crime-prevention strategy pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Skeptics have questioned the value of promoting literature in a region where rule of law is not enforced and basic services are patchy, but Socorro Venegas, FCE director for children and young people, argued that the arts can play an important role in any setting. “Speaking of a culture of peace is important in any place,” she said.

Set in a renovated railway station and surrounded by squatters living in old rail coaches, the FCE center offers reading sessions for children and adults, dance classes and even mariachi lessons.

It is an attempt to offer an alternative to the narco culture of Mexico’s lawless hinterland: a way of life which can prove tempting for young people who see former classmates making easy money, cruising the streets in new trucks and getting the girls they want.

Read the rest at The Guardian

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