Charles 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 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.