GQ and Mother Jones contributing editor Bowden (Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future, 2009, etc.) digs into the complexities behind the ominous escalation of violence in Ciudad Juárez, a city across the border from El Paso that now has the tragic distinction of being the most dangerous city in the world.
In 2006, shortly after his controversial election, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, whom half of the nation considers illegitimate, declared war on the region’s drug cartels. He sent thousands of federal troops to Juárez’s state of Chihuahua, vowing to hunt down the leaders of the major drug distributors. At the same time, women in Juárez began to disappear, and their decomposing bodies began turning up in shallow graves in the desert. The disturbing trend was echoed by a simultaneous increase in rape and domestic violence in all of Juárez’s social strata. For the city’s unskilled labor force, the primary alternative to the drug business is a job in a maquila, whose ultra-low wages assure manufacturers from El Norte cheap production of goods for the global economy. Add to the mix a local police force willing to sell its guns to the highest bidder, and you have the makings of a potentially viral social disaster. Bowden began following the murders in March 2008. Before long, they outpaced his ability to contextualize them. Were they all drug-related? How many were committed for revenge or just the thrill of it by killers taking advantage of the growing lawlessness? Were the cartels behind them, or the police? Or the army, charged with restoring order? Straightforward answers elude the author, as they do nearly every observer—the city’s journalists, who are challenged to report on crimes without inciting killers to come after them; the social workers who deal with the human detritus who survive the violence; even a reformed sicario (assassin) who can only lovingly relate the gruesome details of his former craft but is clueless about who ordered his services or why. Bowden uses his tremendous talents to tell a haunting, darkly poetic story of a city’s horrifying descent into madness and anarchy.
A potent book that readers won’t soon forget, and a warning of what can come of an insatiable market that knows no borders.