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Investigative ink in his veins: From Arlington to El Chapo

Noah Hurowitz. / Jacqueline Hall photoNoah Hurowitz aims to go beyond El Chapo story. / Jacqueline Hall photo

When Noah Hurowitz entered Joan Black’s third-grade class at Dallin, she found him to be “filled with intellectual curiosity. What was really amazing was that no matter what topic came up, he knew a lot of information and had much to offer. He had a highly developed vocabulary and extensive language.”

Years later, when Hurowitz’s mother, Nancy Strong, told Black that her son had become a writer, the retired teacher wasn’t surprised. “I knew it,” she recalled recently. “I just plain knew it.”

Hurowitz, now 31, is the author of a book published in July, El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord, (Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster). The work tells how the drug dealer, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman, amassed a powerful drug-trafficking operation and also addresses Hurowitz’s views about the war on drugs. 

“The goal from the beginning,” said Hurowitz in a recent interview, “was to tell El Chapo’s story but to go beyond that and use his life and career to show how the drug trade developed and how it is almost a pillar of support for the Mexican government.” Others, he said, also benefit, including the U.S. military and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which saw its budgets balloon, thanks to the war on drugs.

Grew up in Arlington

Hurowitz grew up in Arlington with his twin brother, Mike, his brother Dan and sister Kate. His father, Donald Hurowitz, lives in Melrose, while his mother remains in Arlington. Hurowitz wrote much of his book at his mother’s home.

The book is based not only on courtroom testimony but on Hurowitz’s interviews in Mexico with cartel gunmen, Chapo’s family members and the DEA agents who brought him down. “I wanted to provide a sense of place,” he said. “I wanted to show the remote dirt roads, the opium fields on the mountain sides, the guys on ATVs whizzing around with guns in their waist bands.”

Hurowitz came to journalism in his usual off-the-beaten-path way. Unhappy at the private elementary school he was attending, he asked to leave and ended up in Black’s classroom. Later, restless while at Arlington High School, he dropped out during his junior year to travel cross country with a friend. He later enrolled at Greenfield Community College, where he was able to finish his high school diploma while getting a head start at college. He credits Arlington High School Principal Charles Skidmore for finding a way to make this happen. On a whim, while at the University of Southern Maine, he signed up for a work-study job at the school newspaper. “It immediately stuck, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The war on drugs has always focused as a useful smoke screen to pursue other interests. The Nixon administration used it as a way of criminalizing people in black neighborhoods and criminalizing the Left. In terms of foreign policy, it continues to be used as a way of controlling governments in Latin America and elsewhere that they want to keep in line."
                                                                                                                                                                              -- Noah Hurowitz

From college, he paid his dues on a weekly paper in Maine and then moved to New York where several internships led to a job at the Brooklyn Paper,  covering local news and then the news site DNAInfo. Let go for his efforts to unionize, he “ran off,” as he put it , to Peru to learn more about the country where he had already spent some time and to improve the Spanish he had begun learning at Ottoson Middle School.

He did some freelancing and applied to Rolling Stone magazine. He was not hired on staff  but his language skills plus his experience covering trials in New York City paid off when the magazine asked him to cover the trial of El Chapo. After that, out of the blue, he says, Atria sent him an email asking him if he’d like to write a book. He packed up his Brooklyn apartment and moved to Mexico City, where he began his research and his travels to remote parts of the country.El Chapo by Noah HurowitzCourtesy of Atria Books

Going there, he acknowledged, “wasn’t the safest thing to do, and my parents did not love it,” But he took precautions, working with a “fixer,” someone who knew the area, the customs and the people. Each day, he checked in with the Mexico representative from the Committee to Protect Journalists. And yes, there were several encounters with armed men, including one with a man called Beto, who he later learned was murdered, and another at a roadblock where the fixer’s ties to the area paid off. 

His view: Legalize drugs

For Hurowitz, working on the book persuaded him that drugs should be legalized. “Ending the drug trade and the trafficking of illegal drugs is never going to happen. Criminalizing drugs leads to violence and death and overdoses.

“The war on drugs has always focused as a useful smoke screen to pursue other interests. The Nixon administration used it as a way of criminalizing people in black neighborhoods and criminalizing the Left. In terms of foreign policy, it continues to be used as a way of controlling governments in Latin America and elsewhere that they want to keep in line.”

He said it’s important to understand who doesn’t benefit, noting the communities in Latin America where there has been corruption and loss of life, as in Mexico, Colombia and Honduras.

The New York Times cited his book in its “New and Notable” section, and it has been described as “fast paced” and “hard to put down.” He recently learned that El Chapo’s son bought the painting that is used on the cover. “People being mythologized,” he said, “are interested in their own myth.”

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