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September 04, 2011

Page: 21/39

Home > 2011 Issues > September 04,, 2011

A haunting account of the menace of drug trafficking
By Jayant Patel
Murder City, Charles Bowden, Nation Books, Pp 328 (PB), $ 27.50

THIS is a racy novel set across the Rio Grande from El Paso, where lies Juarez, Mexico, a city so clouded with violence of drug trafficking that its leading citizens – police, politicians and even the drug lords find it safer to live in El Paso. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state and has the highest murder rate to date. Mexico, home to the world’s riches man, has had more than 10,000 people killed – mostly in the northern and northwest parts of Mexico.

The author Bowden presents in detail the forces that have led to Mexico’s place in the multinational drug business. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into Juarez every week and the violence and corruption that follow yield 200 to 300 murders each year. Bowden looks in on Juarez’s stock-in-trade – killing – during 2008 and tries to figure out what, if anything, these numbers mean and what’s behind the statistics. He employs some traditional journalistic tactics to get those relating to the lives of the people he believes represent the city’s new soul – Jose Antonio Galvan, a radio evangelist who has set up a ramshackle mental asylum; a former hit man who has found God and is living on borrowed time; and Emilio Gutierrez, a newspaperman who fleas from the army’s wrath, speeding of to Texas with his young son; a beautiful woman, Miss Sinaloa, a beauty queen who is gang-raped and who loses her mind to descend into madness.

Bowden provides a badly needed human context showing us there are real lives being perverted, mired or otherwise put in jeopardy, but he seeks out accountability for the killings, asking some obvious questions that are not being asked – Who exactly is behind all these killings? What’s he reason for them? And who, if anybody, is in charge of Juarez, or Mexico for that matter? He laments that on both sides of the border slaughter goes on mostly unnoted and unreported.

The Mexican legal system is the antithesis of transparency, so there’s little help there. Gutierrez tells Bowden, “The president is illegitimate. The army has installed itself. They have become the government. They are installed in all the state governments. They control the municipal police.”

As Bowden searches for reasons to explain what and why all what is happening, he realises that Juarez and other border towns represent the total collapse of a civic society.

(Nation Books, 116 East 16th Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10003;

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