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Murder City: Failed Solutions for Ciudad Juárez

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Charles Bowden’s Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields is an unflinching look at the violence on the U.S.-Mexico border and the failing solutions by both countries to address it.  With an intense sympathy for the many victims but also a degree of understanding even for a contract killer who finds God, the author doesn’t let the reader find comfort in anything.  The book, just published by Nation Books (New York: 2010), can be found at your local bookstore or online distributors.  Here are a few selections from this devastating catalog of violence.

“There are two ways to lose your sanity in Juárez. One is to believe that the violence results from a cartel war.  The other is to claim to understand what is behind each murder.  The only certain thing is that various groups—gangs, the army, the city police, the state police, the federal police—are killing people in Juarez as a part of a war for drug profits.  So a person never knows exactly why he or she is killed but is absolutely certain that death comes because of the enormous profits attached to drug sales.”

“When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed and went plowing into the lives of millions like a greed-seeking missile in the early 1990s, this city that pioneered using cheap labor to bust unions and steal American jobs continued to be ignored…. Only as the killing of 2008 accelerates does Juárez get new press attention and finally draw attention to the simple fact: It is dying.”

“The army’s work in Juárez is barely reported because writing or saying what the military is up to could result in serious injury or death. So, at best, the newspapers will report some execution and say that the neighbors described the killers as dressed like commandos….”

“A drink in hand is necessary for thinking about this military achievement. First, no one knows who is doing the killing, but two thousand soldiers and six hundred federal police have managed to bring Juárez to its highest annual murder rate in history. Second, there are no arrests, and it seems strange that such a massive force with roadblocks all over the city cannot, even by accident, bag one single killer.  Third, there is the matter of the army torturing cops, raping female cops, and answering to no one. And finally, there is the thing whispered in the city… that the army is doing the killing and, hence, sees little need for arrests since the cases are not mysteries to it.”

“Almost every morning, Juárez teems with poor people in clean clothes, and these clean clothes come from the labor of women who lack running water or even conventional clotheslines.  They are the secret engine of the city, the cooks and bottle washers, the laborers in the factories where women have been supplanting males for decades, the beasts of burden carrying groceries, the mothers of children, and always the dirt police who turn out family members each and every morning in clean clothes, their hair pulled back, their lips red, their eyes weary, the women are the washing machines in a city of dust.”

 “Jane Fonda cares, so does Sally Field, and so both have been to Juárez to protest the murder of women…. Over the past ten years or so, four hundred women have been found murdered, the majority of them victims of husbands and lovers and hardly mysterious cases. This number represents 10 or 12 percent of the official kill rate. Two movies have been made about the dead women. Focusing on the dead women enables Americans to ignore the dead men, and ignoring the dead men enables the United States to ignore the failure of its free-trade schemes, which in Juárez are producing poor people and dead people faster than any other product.”

To learn more about Charles Bowden’s perspective of recent developments in Juárez, click here to watch his interview on Democracy Now.

Listen to Charles Bowden’s brief explanation of how the recent history of Juárez has led to the city’s current reality in this interview with National Public Radio.

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