Juarez’s anarchy cannot be separated from American policy and addictions, says journalist Charles Bowden
Sept. 1, 2010 (In These Times) — Drive across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and you’ll enter the most dangerous city in the world: Ciudad Juárez, where more than 6,000 people have been murdered since 2008, including more than 1,700 this year. Once a fast-growing laboratory for free-trade initiatives, Juárez now produces drugs and dead bodies, as thousands of Mexican soldiers and increasingly brazen gang members roam the city of just over 1 million.
As the killings become more grisly and frequent, questioning their cause has become almost suicidal. At least 30 journalists have been killed or disappeared in Mexico since 2006, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That makes Charles Bowden’s new bookMurder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields—whose most chilling subject is an experienced sicario, or hitman—all the more remarkable, and important. For while authorities on both sides of the border explain the violence engulfing Juárez with familiar “war on drugs” rhetoric, Bowden argues it is the predictable result of NAFTA’s failure, endemic poverty and America’s appetite for drugs.
“I kept trying to never go back,” says the 65-year-old Tuscon, Ariz., resident. “And then I would realize that I couldn’t walk away.”
Beyond the violence, what surprised you most about Juárez during your time there?
That it keeps functioning. This is a city that’s had 25 percent of housing abandoned. Had at least 40 percent of its businesses slam their doors shut. That has lost at least 100,000 jobs. That has had an explosion of violence, and there are still about one million people that get out of bed every morning and try to go about a normal life. I have said the city is dying, because by any logical standards it is. But there is a part of me that thinks I’m seeing a new kind of human community come into being that I don’t want to face and that I don’t have a name for. A city where murder, violence, kidnapping, torture, robbery and extortion are the economy. This is a new kind of city.