The Song of the Devil (El Canto del Diablo)

The Song of the DevilThe term “murder ballad” always sounded somewhat comic to me.  I’m not sure the first time I ever heard that term.  I’d known about “corridas,” which people tell me are different, though “murder ballads” are considered “Corridas.”‘  Huh?  Now you know how I feel parsing the English to Spanish dichotomies that are like night and day on the border.  Corridas are not unique to Mexico.  Almost every culture has them, including my own.  One needs to look no further than the lovely Irish weepie, The Long Black Veil to see what I mean. Death songs are not uncommon the world over.

Death songs by the murderer himself?   Bragging and justifying his actions?  The corridas of gangs and the criminal cartel culture started showing up some 20 years ago in the LA gang culture.  The Mexican Mafia and MS 13 were known to traffic and trade them amongst their membership, along with “ponyos,” sometimes beautiful drawings made on handkerchiefs by Hispanic inmates in prisons throughout the Southwest.

Law enforcement were horrified by the murder ballads; at least in America they were.  Mexican authorities, not so much.  They’d seen death cults and ritual as a matter of cultural course pretty much their whole lives.

The Day of the Dead, or as the Catholic religion calls it, AAll Souls Day,” is a big deal in Mexico and the dead come back and drink, fornicate, and dance over their own graves.  It is a colossal “fuck you” to the great beyond and, some will tell you, to the idea of a deity itself.  It is celebrated with tequila, skulls made of sugar, and dancing skeletons.  The corazon and calavera present everywhere in sight.  In Latin cultures, death is as important as birth and its visitation is sometimes viewed as the coming of an old atavistic friend. . .or at least this is what the folktales and old stories attempt to weave into the mythmaking.

The murder culture so prevalent in Mexico right now  is not part of any musical or poetic narrative.  It is a full-on war and the country is losing itself.  The murders of thousands of women, cops, citizens and witnesses that happen with utter impunity hints at a greater madness–a plague of sorts.  Years ago, the great Spanish novelist, Jose Saramago, wrote a novel called, Blindness, in which a whole city lost its sight at the same time; with one exception.  It was damn near the kind of thing that the great Stephen King has perfected in fiction; an arresting and somehow almost plausible fictional device.

This is what Juarez now brings to mind.  It is like something out of a Stephen King novel come to life, except it is all actually happening.  People calmly walk up to others on busy streets, in broad daylight, and blow their fucking brains out. . .and walk away.  In Juarez, it sometimes takes the cops two hours to show up and claim the body.  There are NO investigations.  In fact, there is know human count, no official record of the dead and the disappeared.  I overheard one law enforcement officer say out loud, “It’s mutts killing mutts.  It’s bugs eating bugs.  Who gives a fuck?”  This was a Chicago policeman, who are in fact known for the tender mercies they extend to the local citizenry here.

Can you imagine if this happened in Malibu?  Or Westchester county?  Or Lake Forest?  Of course you can’t. The reason it’s happening at all is because it’s happening to people of color, who happen to be poor.  And it happens within spitting distance of America.

I saw my friend Penn Jillette in the last few days.  Penn is the reason I was able to start my etching studio 20 years ago.  I’d just been famously ripped off by the dealer Vrej Baghoomian and was broke with a three-week old son.  I called Penn and told him if he backed me in Big Cat Press, I’d give him an etching every time I made one for the rest of my life.  He replied, “How much you need, Baby?”  I told him and the next day I had the money.  He now has one of every etching I’ve ever made and will get one every time I make a new one.

Penn and I are very different politically, but the one thing we agree on is we ought to just open the borders.  Anyone who wants to be an American should just come on over; we both believe this, as well as anyone who wants to leave, should do so.  Penn is more Libertarian than anything else, but not in a doctrinaire way.  I just believe what we wrote on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry. . .”  I don’t believe there are words written about our country anywhere else that make me as proud to be an American than those words on that Statue.  Beyond this, Penn and I disagree on other principles politically, but on the big important issue of who gets to be an American, we agree completely.  I think if you can look at the Brooklyn Bridge or the Grand Canyon or the skyline of my beloved Chicago. . .if you can look at those things and see yourself as part of it, well, this is all of the birthright one need have.  Come on over, take our hand, make this stolen property we live on a better place for your fellow man.

What I’m getting at is we should give sanctuary and comfort to our neighbors from Mexico.  If we believe the words we wrote on the Statue of Liberty; then let the light of freedom shine.

Published in: on April 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Volver (For the Daughters of Juarez)


Mexico is a word composed of  metztli (moon), xictli (navel) and co (place): the place in the navel of the moon.  That is, in the navel of the lake of the moon, as the Lake of Mexico is called.

I learned this from a poem by Octavio Paz, perhaps the greatest poet Mexico ever produced.  It is his poetry that first led me to Mexico and the many trips I made there at different junctures in my life.  I’ve always loved this country.  My friend, Rodrigo, used to tell me, “We Mexicans?  We are surrealism.”  He was a guy I knew who studied philosophy and poetry at the University in Mexico City.  He was full of stories about Diego Rivera and the Trotskyites of Mexico City. . .of Pancho Villa and Zapata.  Much of what I learned about Mexico early on was from him.  It was he who pointed me to Paz, Rugama and Galleano; writers who changed the way I saw the world.

The more I read about the current lawlessness and anarchy in Mexico,  the more I wonder how it got that way.  Was it the abject poverty, NAFTA, our stupid, fruitless and continually tragic “War on Drugs?”  Or is it, more likely, the inevitable intersection of all of these events.  It is a bit like watching three speeding cars  all headed for the same corner–in slow motion.

In Charles Bowden’s  Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, the Mexican army is finally called in to combat the narco-cartels and the inevitable happens.  The soldiers are eventually killed or lured into bodyguard jobs for the cartels.  At one point, all of the cartel kingpins wind up with police or military  protection.  Soldiers wind up clipping informants and Mexican cops for money.  Anyone who attempts to keep a list or facts about the missing and “disappeared” are marked for death.  The end result is that Juarez has the highest murder rate in the world; higher than Baghdad.

This city is a pressure cooker. . .there is no escape.  Mexicans cannot legally flee to America and there is nowhere else to go in Mexico that offers anything like safe harbor from the long reach of the cartels.  What the President of Mexico cannot say out loud is that he no longer has control of his country.  Even tourists are being kidnapped and ransomed for 5 or 10 grand in places like Tijuana.  The outlaw cultures like La Linnea, Los Rebeldes, and the Aztecas are now better armed than the army in Mexico.  There are states in Mexico, like Chihuahua, that are completely lawless.

Still, the maquiladora culture with its poverty-wage jobs, flourishes along the border of Texas and the marijuana-methamphetamine business is roaring forward.

American bigots hold all of this up as an argument for tightening our borders, not realizing that the lion’s share of those coming over the border illegally are doing so to escape the madness.  The narcos do not want to come here where they’d be subject to the much more harsh Texas Rangers or DEA or ATF.  Mostly, it is the folks who want jobs and to unburden themselves from the abject poverty and insanity of Mexico and what it has become since the cartels and NAFTA have had their way with their culture.

Octavio Paz lived abroad for many years as an ambassador and traveling academic before returning to Mexico City in 1971 and he damned near didn’t recognize his home.  It had become an urban mess mired in poverty and crime.  Paz died about five years ago and one is almost happy he was not around to see the rapid disintegration of his homeland’s rule of law.  His  suite of four long poems, Return, from 1976, were poems of rage and  disaster about the Mexico he came home to.  They are his “Mexican” poems and actually among my favorites of his long and luminous body of work.  I don’t think there is a poet out there who had a better role than the one Paz had from 1957 to 1987.  There was no better poet in any language on this planet than Mexico’s former Ambassador to India, Octavio Paz.

I missed a chance to see Mr. Paz read at the Mexican Fine Arts Museum here in Chicago about a decade ago, too my everlasting regret.  A friend who went later told me he read one of the poems from Return and, like an asshole,  missed it.  One of the greatest things about Paz’s poems is how much they reward re-readings.  They are like those great works of art that reveal themselves fully over time.  Paz employs no devices, no tricks, just rich radiant language that keeps beginning.  The Return poems are layer upon layer of revelation, much like one of those pinhole camera images where one can see inside and outside at the same time.

In these poems, he warns us of the soldier and his mortal pride; the snake and his rattle.  The poems now seem, to me, to be an eerily prescient foreshadowing of the Mexico that was waiting to be born in the ruinous blood of this new century.

Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Whispering Women (For the Daughters of Juarez)

The Whispering Women (For the Daughters of Juarez)

Yesterday was the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the heroic leader of the Mexican migrant workers throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.  Mr. Chavez would have been 84 years old; he passed away in 1993.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, through non-violence, Cesar Chavez fought for immigrants, working people, and the dignity of those who do the jobs we Americans think we are too good for.  I read the notice of his birthday with the ironic thought that I am glad that he is not alive to see what has happened to towns like Juarez and Tijuana and to some extent, Mexico itself.  That through the bloody vagaries of the drug wars and the human trafficking, Mr. Chavez’s country has devolved to an almost primal state of insanity and murder.

Of course, Mexico had help getting here.  The North American Free Trade Agreement, which was supposed to lift impoverished Mexicans out of their desperate state, brought only more poverty by paying stoop-labor and starvation wages in the maquila-style factories scarcely paying more than 40 dollars a week for 50 hours of work.  The maquilas hire women almost exclusively for the seamstress piece-work and circuitry jobs, because their smaller hands and fingers are better suited to the fine, close work.

It also helps that they are more docile than the men–easier to exploit and jerk around.

A great many Mexicans believe the mass murders of women in and around Juarez has its genesis in the bosom of the Capitalist system of the Maquladoras.  Hire the women and they become the family breadwinner, while the men are left to the streets and the narco-cartels like La Linnea, the Aztecas and Los Rebeldes.

When the wives get home and assert some new-found independence, the men kill them.  Alcohol and methamphetamine-fueled rages are often cited as the cause.  Some of the younger women go the party-girl route and are murdered by the cartels if they hear too much or say too much or are perceived as indiscreet–any goddamned reason, really.  Women are expendable in Juarez.  You can kill them all day and not get arrested. . .men too.

In Charles Bowden’s great, if grim, story of Juarez, Murder City:  Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, the author carefully presents several stories of individual Mexican citizens and their fates until a portrait from whole human cloth emerges of a city in the grips of a genocidal insanity.  What is remarkable about this account is how Bowden was able to complete a whole portrait of Juarez with so few facts available.  It is just good feet on the ground journalism; talking to one person at a time, until he has the story.  It is also worth mentioning that many, many journalists have been murdered in Juarez.  In fact, Bowden dedicated this book to one of them:

For Armando Rodriguez, who was gunned down on November 13th, 2008, after filing 907 stories on the murders of that calendar year.

Bowden reports that people used to keep “lists” of the dead and then the list-keepers became targets themselves;  the killers knowing that the most dangerous thing to these predators were facts.  Bowden’s careful crafting of these stories help us understand the city of Juarez’s descent into madness.

One of his subjects is a hitman, now eroded by drugs and alcohol and perhaps his own conscience.  In his desperation, he tells Bowden, “You don’t know me.  No one can forgive me for what I have done.”

Mr. Bowden also tells us the story of “Miss Sinaloa,” a party  girl from the west coast of Mexico (Sinaloa) who, in becoming involved with drug dealers, is used, drugged and raped into a state of madness, finding sanctuary (such as it is) at a makeshift asylum in the desert run by a worldly convict known as the “Pastor” who has taken it upon himself to care for all of the broken psyches of Juarez.

He also details stories of murdered police officers–many in bed with the dealers–and tells stories of police that refuse to leave the station for fear of drive-bys, and with good reason; over 40 officers were murdered in one calendar year.

After reading Bowden’s account, one wonders why the government has not appealed to the U.N., for troops.  Their own army is clearly out-gunned and probably out-manned.  Mexicans I know say it is out of fear for their sovereignty.  Asking an occupying force, especially a foreign one, to enforce order is never an ideal choice.  But clearly President Calderon no longer has control of his country, nor can he protect its citizens. It is the wild west.

I had planned a trip to Juarez.  Two men I know in Texas, who were former employees of Blackwater–a security firm who famously deployed soldiers-for hire in Iraq–turned down top-dollar to accompany me for two afternoons.  One of them telling me he’d “rather be in downtown Baghdad, than fucking Juarez.”   A high school friend, Kevin Crowder, whose company outfits security devices for high-risk places in the world told me he would feel safer in Qatar; that Juarez was probably the most dangerous place on earth.  To quote Charles Bowden’s book, “They kill people on the way to the mall.”

We have a murky relationship with Mexico, each country a dark mirror of the other, each country in possession of what the other wants. . .each country, sadly, the worst thing possible for the other.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Chihuahua Monster

The Chihuahua MonsterCharles Bowden is the Lannan Literary Award-winning journalist and author  who is probably the best chronicler of the America-Mexican border history working today.  His Murder City is a harrowing account of the Juarez murders as well as the narco-wars and impact of NAFTA that currently plagues the U.S. and Mexico.  His writing is letter-perfect in that he knows that these events are inextricably bound together by a perfect storm of drugs, poverty, corruption and cultural intransigence.

Murder City underlines the hopelessness and despair of the fallout of a new world being forged by murder and drugs. Bowden knows that in the face of military and police collusion with the drug trade, the only facts are that there are no facts:

You live.
You die.
You vanish from the public records.
And you become the talk of the phantom called La Gente.

La Gente refers to the chatter on everyone’s mind and lips–the thing in the air in Juarez–the names of the murdered, the lack of names of the murdered. . .the fatalistic acquiescence to the drug wars and the murdered women as a thing of the fates.  The way it is now.  Bowden writes of the murdered women and of the murdered men who also are victims to an alarming murder-rate since 1994.

His book opened my eyes to the depth of corruption in Mexico among the federal police, the army, the state police.  To say that it is systemic is to grossly understate its condition.

It is black smoke in a madhouse.  One cannot tell the good from the bad because at this point there is no such thing as right or wrong–only consequences.  It is all wau wrong, with only slightly lessening shades of dark gray.

Bowden himself, admits there are really no reliable facts, but he takes a ballpark swing and does an astonishing job of illuminating our complex blood ties and blood feuds with Mexico.

His writing is sharp and wounding and devoid of cheap sentiment.  In the face of great pain, corruption and evil, he doesn’t pretend living through it and writing about it are the same thing.  He is a canny, world-weary observer that takes individual accounts and presents them in a way that preserves a larger and more nuanced portrait of two cultures rapidly untethering from any semblance of sanity; America and Mexico, with the border being the dark side of the mirror.  I intend on reading the other books by Bowden as well–Some of the Dead are Still Breathing and Down by the River.  His writing is unpolished. ..the violence in it is as ugly as it is in life; nothing glamorized or idealized about it.  His observations are the raw ether of the real thing.

Each day 200,000 people go to work in the maquilas; most of them barely clearing 60 bucks a week.  The cost of living in Mexico is no longer dirt-cheap — it is about 85 percent of what it is here in the States.  And there is an inexhaustible  supply of  people in need of work.   The American companies, like General Electric, Levi and others got to ship jobs out of the U.S. with the tacit approval of the government in its embrace of NAFTA and guaranteed poverty for two classes of workers in two different countries–American workers who lost the jobs and Mexicans; primarily women, who had no choice but to accept the starvation wages or eat dirt.  Couple this with the immense profit of the drug trade and then ask yourself; which industry would you rather work in?

In Mexican culture, “The Day of the Dead”  is the equivalent of “All Souls Day,” a day of celebration where the dead rejoin the living to have a few drinks and laugh at their graves.  There is also the shape-shifting of man and animal, the magical realism and folk-tale redolent of a half-world between what is real and what is not.  This new Mexico is actually the new real world and its inhabitants are not the product of some magical tale, but an earthly nightmare authored by the greed of two cultures.

The more I read about the murders of the women, the deeper and darker the story becomes.  It is about the degradation of two cultures, the murder of innocents, the moral blindness of both countries and the degrading realization  that there is great profit in all of this pain.

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Juarez Beast

In a conversation with Miguel Aragon; a young artist I know who grew up in Juarez, he told me that after the North American Free Trade Agreement, and actually long before it, American companies like GE, Levi and others scoured Mexico for cheap labor, posting notices all over the country and Central America, promising jobs–jobs in the Maquiladora-style factories.  Miguel’s own aunt has worked in the factories for no more than 30 dollars a week in Mexico for two decades.
NAFTA allowed American companies to break American labor unions and outsource their manufacturing to Mexico where labor was abundant and they could  pay poverty wages.  American politicians got behind this and the only voice out there against it was H. Ross Perot and everyone thought he was crazy.

Most of the work was for seamstresses and circuit-board assembly which meant that most, if not all, of the work was better suited to women employees who would also be more docile about being fucked around.  In the meantime, whole families moved up to the state of Chihuahua to pursue employment.  These policies left a great many men unemployed and some found a new life with the narco-mobs and the gangs.  Others drank more and nursed their anger while their wives worked at the maquiladora jobs.

Around 1993, these women started turning up dead–murdered–around human rights groups think as many as 4,000 women have been raped, murdered and discarded in the state of Chihuahua, mostly around Ciudad Juarez.

Miguel says women got hired because they had smaller fingers and could do close, fine assembly and sewing.  He also says his own culture is a big part of the problem.  He said the macho males couldn’t bear not being the breadwinner and a growing sense of independence among the women provoked violence in the men.  He told me, sadly, “It is us–we’ve done this to our own.”

Police have made relatively few arrests in these murders and former President Vincente Fox attempted to dispatch this crisis with the quote “It has been blown out of proportion –the news keeps rehashing the same three or four hundred murders.”  Really?  Even if the number were that lower number and not the 4000 women’s groups in Mexico are saying it is, it is an astonishing homicide rate for a town the size of Juarez, and that all of the victims are working women is appalling and beyond the pale.

Both Presidents Fox (and Calderon, his successor) acknowledge the Army cannot even police Mexico, with the narco-mobs and proliferation of gangs (WAY up since NAFTA) like the Aztecas, La Linnea, and Los Rebeldes.  What they’re NOT saying, and what many fear saying, is that a great much of this slaughter is domestic violence unchecked.  Men murdering their wives, girlfriends, lovers.  There have been many attempts at misdirection.  First, authorities tried to paint the victims as bar girls and prostitutes.  Then the gangs were convenient scape-goats and some of them were even guilty, which made selling this easier.  Then the omnipotent serial killer theory got passed around with the help of a bus driver who drove the route many of the victims took home.  These were all compelling scenarios…real-life boogey-men…because the truth of it is SO much more despairing and inhuman–men murdering their women in domestic quarrels, and getting away with it.  For Mexican leaders it is apparently too awful to even admit.

What I wonder in all of the speculation, is what did American companies do in order to safeguard their female employees?  Did they do anything at all?  I’ve read lots and lots of accounts and have not seen any evidence of American maquiladora-style factories doing anything to protect the young women they lured from all over Latin America to work for stoop wages.  As Americans, we bear some ownership in this furious  spate of “femicides.”  This is what happens when we allow our businesses to make people tenants in their own countries; when a population of humans can starve to death while standing outside a grocery store.  We become the beating heart of the Beast.

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Red Bird (For the Daughters of Juarez)

The Red BirdThe term maquila, or Maquiladora, comes from a time when Mexico was a colony of Spain.  It referred to the price the Spanish paid the native Mexicans for processing grain.  Over the years, the term has come to describe the American industries that outsource piece work–mostly for the manufacture of clothing–for cheaper labor in Mexican border towns like ciudad Juarez.  Blue jeans, cheap jackets, dresses and other cut-rate garments are pieced together cheaply and quickly by the Maquildora culture.

This of one of the dubious fruits of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  American companies no longer had to pay union labor, or even a minimum wage by outsourcing these jobs, and at the same time making impoverished Mexicans tenants in their own country.

NAFTA had its many critics in the U.S. in the early 90’s before it was signed into law.  On the face of things it seemed to be good news for Mexico .  Jobs!  Never mind that it was little more than indoor stoop labor and virtually guarunteed the worker more of the same poverty.  For Mexico, economically, NAFTA was like switching seats on the Titanic.  Still, young women came in droves from Central America and South Mexico to get jobs as seamstresses.

It was shortly after the implementation of NAFTA that the murders of women around Juarez began.  I don’t mean to infer that one thing has anything to do with the other; it is just an odd circumstance of fate, economics and misjudged opportunity.

Since 1993, some 500 young women have been murdered in and around Juarez.  This is the number the Mexican government will admit to.  Others, including many human rights groups, say that this number is low–by thousands.

The intrepid reporter, Teresa Rodriguez, who made the documentary, The Daughters of Juarez, has covered the murders for 15 years.  And it isn’t as if there has not been a public outcry for  a resolution in these crimes.  Gregory Nava, the film director, and star Jennifer Lopez made a film in 2008 called, Bordertown which, considering Lopez’ considerable star power came and went without much notice.  In fact, I’m not sure it ever got a theatrical release.  I caught it on cable and found it a compelling enough to warrant real outrage.

So where is the outrage?

If 500 to 4000 young American women were slaughtered in our country, I garaun-fucking-tee there would be enormous outrage.  Hell, how long did we hear about Natalee Holloway when she went missing and was presumed dead in Aruba?  And this was one young American woman.

The cynic in me thinks that this is the case because it’s happening to poor people.  Young women with virtually no political power in their own country.  President Vincente Fox was particularly impotent in dealing with this massacre.  A great many of these crimes were attributed to the Narco-Mafias so prevalent in Mexico.  The cops live in fear of them, because they’re out-manned and out-gunned.
Still, why not turn the army loose on these fuckers…on the drug-mafias, the animal street-gangs like Los Rebeldes– when a group of criminals slaughters hundreds  of your citizens…women, who cannot defend themselves?  Well, then you hunt the fuckers down like mad dogs and shoot them in the streets.

And this is coming from a guy who is a rock-ribbed opponent of the death penalty.

The murders of these women is an act of war.  that it is a war within the borders of Mexico matters not a bit.  Send your army out and shoot the fuckers in the street.

Here’s hoping that Mexico’s new President, Felipe Calderon, has more guts than the pussy he replaced.

I know a young man from Juarez.  I met him at the University of Texas.  Miguel Aragon is a marvelous young print-maker working on his graduate degree.  Some of his images are of mangled carrion birds like crows and blackbirds.  He told me once that Juarez was like the wild west.  Before NAFTA it was more a way-station for pot mules and college kids partying from El Paso.  It is a border-town.  Once the Maquiladora culture became more firmly rooted, it became more violent, unpredictable and subsequently more poor.

This is not the Mexico I know anymore; the place I would go because the literature, painting, and ferocious landscape spoke to me.  As I re-read Bolaño’s 2666, a different country emerges; one with all of the bone-deep hatreds our own Republic was born of…one of theft, murder and the silent hopelessness of the ghosts of young women walking the dessert.

Published in: on March 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Bird For The Daughters of Juarez

Bird for the Daughters of JuarezShortly before his death in 2004, Roberto Bolaño, the great Chilean novelist, mailed off the manuscript for 2666, his sprawling, frustrating, multi-layered masterpiece about a world coming apart in many locations and time periods– all at the same time.

Central to this story–stories, actually–are the murders of women in the fictional St. Teresa, which is actually Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.  Authorities fear there may be as many as 5000 unsolved murders of young women and admit that there are at least 1200.  The Mexican government blames the outlaw Narco-Mafias, as well as members of  Los Rebeldes, a notorious Juarez street gang involved in drug and human trafficking.  Police have also arrested itinerant workers and bus drivers known to drive the routes where some of the women’s bodies have been found, all to no avail.  The murders continue as well as an eerie proliferation of corridos, or “murder ballads;” songs circulated about killings of unfaithful lovers, hookers  and “bitches.”  It is a horrifying phenomenon that has been going on since around 1993, with the indifference or incompetence of police forces too afraid of the gangs to adequately protect the young women, mostly from other parts of Mexico and Central America.

What resonates from all of the conflicting stories are ugly tales of sexual mutilation and violence accompanying each murder.  Rape is almost always a component of these crimes. Bodies are found in vacant lots and trash dumps as well as by the sides of the roads.  What is shocking is the cavalier nature of this brutality.  Women are murdered routinely and with impunity, with no fear of consequences.  At the center of Bolaño’s messy novel  is the idea that someone or something in the air suggests these are “sacrifices”  for a world devolved into a degenerate state.  There are lots of other ideas ventured as well, but the sickness at the center of the world’s heart is never more acutely rendered in this novel than the murders of these women.  That it is based in concrete fact gives the novel a chilling moral authority.

Before Bolaño died and his novels were published, he traveled widely throughout Mexico and South America and Spain for a time, embracing Marxism and then abandoning it, all the while bearing witness to down-at-the-heels governments unable (and in many cases unwilling) to help those they govern.  He seems to have adopted a mordant gallows humor about the condition of mankind.

I’ve read 2666 once and am re-reading it now.  I’m not now convinced this was ever supposed to be one book.  It’s always felt to me like a combination of books.  That Bolaño died before this book was ever in galleys tells us that he was not the final voice in deciding what exactly went into this book.  Of course, once  2666 was published, the posthumous Bolaño became a critical fetish-object; the praise being hurled from every quarter, for this door-stop tome full of digressions, contradictions and multiple stories;  some having very little or even nothing to do with the others.

The underlying thematic device, for me, seems to be the world’s rapid untethering from any idea of sanity.  The murdered women part of 2666 is where we hear Bolaño at his most ferocious.  the murder of innocents is still a thing of incomprehensible sadness; well-worthy of moral outrage even in an insane world.

I’ve heard people describe this book as “apocolyptic” or “millennial,” whatever the fuck that means.  I’m not so sure.  I’m not so sure about anything with 2666–even as to whether it was completed or not.  Oddly enough though, I was convinced I’d read a great book–in fact, a great few books.

I love the literature of Mexico and South and Central America.  As a young man, I felt as though books like Eduardo Galleano’s Genesis: Memory of Fire and Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude kind of set me free with their magic and their shape-shifting.  In a lot of Mexican-Indian cultures, birds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds are interlopers between worlds, often carrying the spirits of the dead from this world to the next, or in Haitian literature, to the “gray world”–a kind of way station between the living and the dead.  These authors and those stories warned us that the natural world stood witness to our evil and our folly; that in daylight or in darkness, to some living entity, we are always visible.  This thought used to give me comfort.  And now, I  am not so sure.

The ongoing murders of women in Juarez are still largely unsolved.  There have been many arrests for individual murders but better than 99 percent of them are still without resolution. Ciudad Juarez, in fact the whole state of Chihuahua and its governing body, stand as a black mark on the earth; unholy ground marked evil by its own inaction.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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