Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden

Coat of arms of Mexico.Image via Wikipedia


“Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields” by Charles Bowden. (Nation Books, $27.50)

Usually, non-fiction books cover a time that has already past, with the author having had the luxury of standing back and examining his or her facts before assembling them into a final narrative. This book, however, addresses a situation that is continuing to this very day. Some of the worst aspects of life in “Murder City” – Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – have developed since the book was published.
Don’t read this book for amusement or relaxation. This beautifully constructed – it’s almost poetic at times -- tale will horrify you while forcing you to expand your thinking about an extremely timely topic and causing you to fret about the darker side of human nature.
In 2008, 1,607 people – men, women and children—were murdered in Ciudad Juarez, which is right across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The following year, the total rose to 2,660. This year, the total may be higher. Many of the victims are raped and murdered women. And torture is commonplace.
“Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness,” the author, a journalist, writes. “But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community and has no single cause and no singe motive and no on-off button. Violence is not a part of life, now it is life.”
Bowden found that while there’s no denying the ruthless role played by the drug lords in illicit drugs, some issues are rarely cited, including how the North American Free Trade Agreement obeyed the law of unintended consequences by diminishing Juarez’s economy and leaving thousands working for wages even lower than before NAFTA or simply unemployed. But there’s easy money to be made in drugs.
Another aspect seldom reported in the United States (and not in the Mexican press, from fear or as a result of bribery) is the role of the nation’s military as well as federal, state and local police units. To one degree or another, they are all corruptly involved in the drug trade. (more)
Murder City review, Page 2
Bowden’s depressing summary: “In over half a century of fighting drugs, Mexico has never created a police unit that did not join the traffickers. Or die.” He offers another compelling observation: “ … there are two Mexicos. There is the one reported by the U. S. press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war against the evil forces of the drug world and using the incorruptible Mexican army as his warriors. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, and laws and is seen by the U. S. government as a sister republic. It does not exist.
“There is a second Mexico, where the war is for drugs, for the enormous money to be made in drugs, where the police and military fight for their share, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes …”
There’s corruption on the American side too. One border guard is serving a lengthy prison sentence after being paid $5 million to turn a blind eye to drug shipments crossing the border. And there’s the role played by American drug users who comprise a rich market for the cartels and a are critical contributor to the climate of crime.
The politicians talk of optimism, but Bowden shows us the ugly totality. After the deaths of two Americans in Ciudad Juarez recently, the Obama administration sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico to show Washington’s support for the Mexican government’s attempts to deal with the ongoing violence. It made for good television, but the deaths continue.
Americans who buy and sell illicit drugs are complicit in this slaughter, but so are the Mexican authorities and their subjects who are raking in huge profits from this sordid business. If you doubt this, then read this book.
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