Podcast interview from KUER at University of Utah
Journalist Charles Bowden has spent some 15 years writing about Ciudad Juarez and in that time, he’s witnessed what he describes as the collapse of a society. In 2009, there were 2,600 murders in Juarez – up from around 300 in 2007. Houses sit empty, jobs have disappeared and gangs hold the city in their grip. Friday, our conversation with Bowden about his book Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.
Imagine a place where you can kill a person or rape a woman for days, and nothing happens. That’s what Juarez is like now, Bowden says. 10-15 million Mexicans live in the US illegally now, desperate to escape the violence and poverty. It’s the biggest mass migration in history.
Juarez is Ground Zero for the madness. It’s common for 10-20 people to be murdered each day there, often being tortured then beheaded. There’s no health care. One reporter sought political asylum here because the Army wanted to kill him (and was jailed here for seven months before being freed.) “Something’s going on in Juarez that’s larger than Juarez. A modern city based on all our principles and industry and trade is collapsing.” And it’s collapsing into sickening violence.
He spoke with a contract killer, someone who has probably killed 500 people and who kills for cartels, the army, and the government. He said the killer was not deranged, not at all. “Terrible things are done by people who are completely normal.” That’s the truly hideous part about it. The killer, who once tortured two DEA informants for three days by burning them alive, was trained by the FBI when he was a police officer. Cops desert now to join the cartels, it pays better. Juarez is now so dangerous that contract killers live in El Paso because it’s safer and commute to Juarez to kill.
Mexico can’t shut down the cartels. Their oil fields are dying and will be depleted in nine years. Mexico’s primary source of income are drug profits and migrants sending money back home.
Bowden says, the war on drugs is lost and we need laws mandating that imported goods are not made by children and the people making them were paid a living wage. Otherwise they will keep coming here because they have little choice. That’s how to control the border. Give people reasons to stay in their own countries. And legalize drugs too.
He says we can’t deny what’s happening there, even if we want to. “You can not know of the slaughter running along the border and remain the same person… Once you know, you can’t ignore it.”