Journalist Chronicles 'Killing Fields' Of Juarez Journalist Charles Bowden says that at first glimpse the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez looks like a flat tapestry of one-story buildings. His new book, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, focuses on the killings in Mexico's drug capital.
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Journalist Chronicles 'Killing Fields' Of Juarez

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Journalist Chronicles 'Killing Fields' Of Juarez

Journalist Chronicles 'Killing Fields' Of Juarez

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But the reality is, most days in Ciudad Juarez don't make the front page. They've become, as journalist Charles Bowden puts it, part of the ordinary noise of life. Bowden's written a new book about Juarez. It's titled "Murder City." And, Charles Bowden, for those of us who haven't been there, I mean, I understand there's obviously drug money, there's all that the drug money would pay for, but there's also still ordinary people who do go to work. There's still a lot of factories operating there. What does it actually look like?

CHARLES BOWDEN: What you don't see until you look closely, is 100,000 people that have lost their factory jobs; 40 percent of the businesses have folded in the last year; 25 percent of the houses have been abandoned. And, of course, then there's the killings.

LOUISE KELLY: Obviously, one of the big players in those killings is the drug cartels and you write very vividly about them and also about why a young person growing up in Juarez today might choose that path instead of staying straight. There's a passage I'd love for you to read to us starting on page 123.

BOWDEN: And you caress your gun stuffed in your waistband, and life is so good and the killing is fun, and everyone knows who has the guts to take the ride.

LOUISE KELLY: It's extraordinary writing. It's also an extraordinary description of a society that has pretty much completely disintegrated.

BOWDEN: They did a study recently, in the state of Chihuahua, and Juarez is the largest city in that state. They found, among young males, 40 percent, had the ambition to become a contract killer - a sicario.

LOUISE KELLY: Forty percent?

BOWDEN: That's correct. Now, to put that in some perspective, you have to realize that if you're a young male in Juarez, 50 percent of your peer group will neither be in school, nor have a job. The drug industry is a future. The problem is you won't live long. But you can't live very long in the nigh sense(ph) if you work in those factories 'cause the wages are essentially slave wages.

LOUISE KELLY: And the interesting thing is, Juarez was not always this way. You write in your book about how there were the good old days when there was murder and violence in Juarez, but things made sense. What was happening then? What changed?

BOWDEN: And I think eventually, among other things, the chickens come home to roost. And this drug war, which is the frosting on the cake - maybe it's what they call a tipping point. All I know is, in 2007, there were 307 murders in Juarez; in 2008, there were 1,600; in 2009, there were 2,600; and this year the murder rate's higher than 2009.

LOUISE KELLY: Juarez, we mentioned, is right across the border from the U.S. The U.S., obviously, has a big stake in trying to stop the spiral of violence in Juarez. Last week, we saw this very senior U.S. delegation - the secretary of state, secretary of defense, etc. - go down and send the message the U.S. is serious; we want to help Mexico solve this. Do you see any potential there? Can the U.S. have much impact on the situation in Juarez?

BOWDEN: Yes. They can make it worse, and they're doing everything they know how to make it worse. We have an alleged war that's going on - 36 months now, the violence has spread all over the country, and the U.S. delegation said they will persist in the policies that produced this result and give the Mexicans even more guns to work with.

LOUISE KELLY: So, what should the U.S. do?

BOWDEN: Well, to start - well, I'll tell you what they should do. They should reexamine the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has destroyed peasant agriculture in Mexico and bankrupt its small industry in Mexico. They should reexamine the war on drugs in the United States, which has produced a market for Mexican criminals that earn some $30 to 50 billion a year, second only to petroleum in Mexico's lucrative exports.

LOUISE KELLY: Charles Bowden, I have a practical question for you.


LOUISE KELLY: You describe in the book, Mexican journalists and how incredibly difficult and terrifying it must be to report there. Why do you keep going back? What's the allure of the story, there, for you?

BOWDEN: I don't really know allures(ph). What I think is there have to be witnesses. What I think is a record has to be made. So, frankly, I don't want to cover this. I'd much rather go smell the coffee somewhere or go catch a trout. But I want - I think, I mean, 5,000 people have been butchered in this city in three years. Somebody has to write this down. Somewhere there has to be a record.

LOUISE KELLY: Charles Bowden, thanks very much.

BOWDEN: Well, thank you. It's been fun.

LOUISE KELLY: That's Charles Bowden. His new book is out this week. It's called "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields."


And Mexican authorities say new information has surfaced in connection with the deaths of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez. Based on a gang member's confession, the intended target was the husband of a consular employee. He was a detention officer with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

AK: five men were shot to death at an auto garage near the city's airport. Twenty-nine bullet casings were found at the scene. And in a town in the valley of Juarez, a 21-year-old man was found in his bed shot by gunmen armed with AK-47s.


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