Once a city heralded by the promoters of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Juarez, Mexico has now become a global epicenter of the failed so-called “war on drugs.” Just across the border from El Paso, Texas, the northern Mexican metropolis home to 1.3 million people has garnered a grittier reputation in recent years as a place where cartels battle for control, murders are rampant and poverty remains high in the backdrop of hundreds of foreign owned factories offering wages that can’t begin to compete with the allure of drug trafficking.
As part of his drug war policy, Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched 10,000 soldiers to the city in March 2008, but murders multiplied just the same as many residents in Juarez want the military gone. The facts and figures of the city’s social descent into chaos are staggering.
Four months into the new year, the rate of violent deaths has accelerated upward as 686 lives have already been claimed in the maelstrom. Ciudad Juarez could be headed to its deadliest year on record if it eclipses the 2,600 murders that occurred in 2009 alone.
The femicide of young women and girls, a social issue that once drew international attention to the city before seemingly being overshadowed in recent years, continues unabated. More than fifty women have been killed this year; their bodies often mutilated showing signs of torture and abuse.
According to the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, there are at least 20,000 abandoned houses in Ciudad Juarez and could be as many as 30,000. Privileged residents, fearing being caught in the constant crossfire of violence, have fled across the border in droves to El Paso. Painting this portrait in words, award-winning author and critically acclaimed journalist Charles Bowden plunges deep into the soul of Ciudad Juarez in his newest book “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.”
With gripping prose, he broadens the understanding of the ongoing violence beyond the headlines of the U.S. and Mexican media’s explanations of who is doing the killing and who is doing the dying. “Murder City” interweaves the story of the city through a myriad of personalities from a pastor who runs a desert asylum, a reformed killer for hire, and a woman broken by trauma. Luis Alberto Urrea has said of Bowden’s latest work that “there are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands.”
GUEST: Charles Bowden, Critically acclaimed journalist, Award-winning author of eleven books including “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.
Click here to read a transcript of the interview.