Needed: An “Iron Wall Of Bayonets” Between Mexico And the U.S.
is an effort to make sense of Mexico`s
downward spiral into a blood-drenched
failed state. The
breakdown of Mexican society is shown through the
microcosm of Ciudad Juarez, the city right across the
El Paso, Texas. In 2008, the year covered by
Murder City, no less than 1607 people were murdered in Juarez
(official population of 1.3 million).
Bowden`s book is full of powerful
and disturbing images. The author provides an excellent
feel for what it is like to live in
lawlessness of Mexican society is also well
described with a barely subdued rage in passages such as
“You can take a woman and rape her for days and nothing will happen. If
you choose, if in some way that woman displeases you,
you can kill her after
raping her. Rest assured, nothing will happen to you
because of your actions.”
In Juarez, accused wife-beaters and
rapists are let off and offered
they are even apprehended.
When you read
you can hear the screams of the executed victims, watch
mass grave is uncovered and the never-identified
corpses are quickly taken away by the
Mexican army, and
ride shotgun with a
professional contract killer—as he riddles a target`s
car with bullets.
The book`s most powerful scene: the
August 13, 2008 drug
rehab clinic massacre in Juarez in which eight
patients were killed by “armed
commandos”. Mexican army soldiers were parked right
outside the clinic, but took off once the shooting
started. After the massacre, ambulances refused to come
to take the wounded and the police cordoned off the
area, but declined to enter the scene of the crime.
Bowden describes a
makeshift memorial in the clinic:
“I found this glitter in a room with flies buzzing off the fresh blood
on the floor and the walls. A candle glittered in the
corner by a crucifix. The bodies had been taken out, the
machine gun fire had died. There was nothing left but
the flies and the flame”.
An apt metaphor for present day
Bowden blames the Fox-Calderon
administrations for mounting an offensive against the
cartels thereby provoking the current turmoil. He flatly
Mexican police (municipal, state, and federal) of
being in the pay of the drug traffickers and not doing
anything to prevent the violence. He tells the story of
a kidnapped traffic cop who escaped his captors and
crawled into a bakery seeking help—but when the owner
wanted to call the Juarez police, begged him not to and
later fled the city. After municipal police officers
began to be executed, the police announced that they
would not be responding to calls anymore, but would stay
in their stations. The ineptitude of
that they posted up ads in payphones to help them find a
State and federal police are no
better, according to the author. One of the main
subjects of the book is a former
sicario turned “born-again
Christian” who kidnapped and murdered his victims
while working as a
policeman. Ironically, the hitman was officially part of
the state police`s anti-kidnapping unit. As for the
federal police, in April 2008, four federal policemen
were arrested in Juarez for
drunkenness, causing a scandal,
molesting a woman and assaulting [other federal
The Mexican army is no less
corrupt. When the army entered Juarez in force in early
2008, one of its first acts was to detain and
sexually assault a municipal policewoman. Also, the
Zetas – a paramilitary drug trafficking
organization—were founded by Mexican army commandos and
became a murderously efficient private army. Bowden
reports it was originally
meant to be a
“new, pure force to fight drugs” and was trained by
the U.S. government, but it quickly went rogue and
“joined the Gulf
Bowden shows the Mexican
government`s response to the violence to be laughably
inadequate. After the commander of a special police unit
was murdered, “…
Juarez officials decide to address the problem of crime.
They launch a campaign against jaywalking in the city”.
The fact that Mexico is broken down beyond repair is
illustrated by the striking fact that Juarez`s
mayor, the publisher of its daily newspaper, and other prominent
citizens live across the border in El Paso.
The atmosphere in Juarez is filled
with fear that rivals the worst days of
Stalinism. Cops are afraid to leave their precincts,
shooting survivors are finished off in the hospital in
full view of the staff, and journalists do not identify
murder victims for fear of reprisal.
lacks any meaningful analysis of the socio-political
situation in Juarez and its effect on the United States.
Bowden provides no
historical background and barely analyzes the
causes of the violence. There are scattered
interesting observations—Mexican soldiers
and dark" while
have lighter skin that
pigment steadily as the rank gets higher until there
is the rarified air of the generals who look like
Europeans dropped in some colonial outpost”.
However, that is all we ever get about
ethno-racial composition of Mexican society.
Bowden comes across as a strident
critic of NAFTA (he accuses it of
unions and steal[ing]
American jobs“). But does not develop his
argument beyond a few sentences such:
got in return were cheap prices at
wages at home, and an
explosion of illegal immigration into the United
Bowden does not address the issue
of immigration to the U.S directly. However, everyone he
spoke to who lived in America as an illegal alien was
engaged in some form of criminal activity and was in
jail. This, as well as the fact that so many subjects of
heavy drinkers and
cocaine users explodes the myth of the
immigrant who is in America to
jobs those lazy Americans will not.
Overall, the book`s narrative is
very disorganized and hard to follow. We might read
about an incident in the beginning of the book, only to
be reminded of it in the middle, and have it described
again in the end of the book. The prose has an
annoyingly dream-like quality that does not fit well for
a non-fiction book. Further, Bowden injects too many
personal reminiscences and feelings.
would be better as a magazine article or a travelogue,
not as a current affairs book.
However, for all the weaknesses of
Murder City, it serves as a warning to Americans about what is
happening just over the border—and what kind of
society we will have if unchecked immigration from
Mexico is allowed to continue.
Already, the violence of Juarez is
spreading to this country. Phoenix, previously a favored
destination for young Northeastern professionals and a
jewel of the Sun Belt has become the
capital“ of the United States.
In El Paso, Carlos Spector
was the immigration lawyer for Emilio Gutierrez
Soto, a Juarez journalist who wrote articles about
Mexican soldiers robbing civilians in Chihuahua and
fled Juarez for El Paso after receiving
death threats from a Mexican army general.
In El Paso,
on American soil,
Spector has been followed and menaced by Mexican army
officers. Similarly, the unnamed former
Bowden interviewed is now on the run in America from his
former employers—but feels just as unsafe as in Juarez.
police corruption will be daily features of the
American Southwest if measures are not quickly taken to
stem the deluge of illegal aliens. If it continues,
within a decade, parts of America will be just as
lawless and violent as Ciudad Juarez.
And if immigration enthusiasts
think that is
“discriminatory”, they should visit Ciudad Juarez and see what the