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Book Reviews

Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa

by Linda Diebel

Somewhere beneath the congratulatory chatter from countries who are party to free trade agreements like NAFTA is a gnawing voice of doubt and concern saying that all is not well in the new global economy. It’s a voice that is often heard and investigated by the indefatigable Toronto Star journalist Linda Diebel, whose stories on Latin America have garnered much critical acclaim and uncovered numerous human rights abuses that put the lie to the glossy brochures trumpeting a new dawn for democracy in our hemisphere.

By investigating the 2001 assassination of internationally celebrated human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, Diebel opens the door on an exhaustive survey of the Mexican political landscape, uncovering the disturbing development of death squads in a favourite Canadian tourist destination. The investigation of Ochoa’s murder, which remains the focus of controversy (some officials claim she staged a suicide to appear like a murder), became an obsession for Diebel, who knew the lawyer during a seven-year stint at the Star’s Mexico City bureau.

Betrayed is a very full, at times overwhelming read that recalls the horror stories that came out of Central America during the 1980s. Diebel herself draws the suspicion of government authorities for asking too many questions, and while she must necessarily be part of this story, Diebel leaves the reader unclear about parts of the narrative where she does not physically appear: was she there to record the events first-hand, or were those chapters reconstructed later?

It also feels at times as if Diebel has emptied the entire contents of her journalist’s notebook into her computer and neglected to whittle her story down to the essentials. At over 500 pages, Betrayed feels a bit too bulky, confusing both for changes in tense and for the inclusion of material (such as a series of email messages to Ochoa’s boyfriend) that feel superfluous to the main thrust of the story.

But if readers can wade through those sections of the book and focus on the main theme here — an individual atrocity symptomatic of a disturbing pattern of crimes by men in high places — they will be rewarded with a frightening, rarely portrayed side of Mexico that demands the kind of attention Diebel’s reputation will hopefully grant it.