A recent publication by Robert Andrew Powell titled The Dead Women of Juarez (Kindle Single, $1.99) examines the numbers of women killed in Ciudad Juarez from the early 1990s to the present. What Powell finds is that the murder rate for women in Juarez is no higher than that of Philadelphia. This raises many questions. Here are but a few: 1) Why don’t places with extremely high murder rates for females get more attention? 2) How did Juarez get this reputation in the first place? 3) How come the cold, hard facts have been ignored in Juarez while the myth of the femicides persists?
by Matt Bucher
We’ve mentioned this on the site before, but the situation in Ciudad Juárez, and across Mexico, has escalated significantly. The Drug War is separate from the femicides, but there is no coincidence in the fact that a region so accustomed to reports of murder and violence has seen the number of murders increase dramatically.
Paradoxically, Juárez is still a growing city. The history and entrenchment of the maquiladoras provide the steady allure of (unskilled and low-wage, but supposedly plentiful) employment. The fact is now that this is a mirage. Many of the assembly plants have closed in recent years due to competition with China. For many who cannot find legitimate work, they quickly turn to the dark life of prostitution, border smuggling, and the cartel business. “Hitman” is high on the list of preferred occupations.
The Drug War in Mexico is on the brink of tearing apart the country. Since December 2006, more than 19,000 people have died in battles across Mexico. Even to call it a “drug war” or a “war” does it a disservice. In many ways, what we see in Juarez (and Mexico) now is a new way of human beings interacting and fighting and killing each other. I suspect Roberto Bolaño knew there was something unique about this attitude towards death pre-2003.
One point I’d like to make is that the system that primarily fails Juarez (and Santa Teresa) is the civic system. It turns out to be a system that feeds on human bodies and deposits them in waste dumps outside the city limits. The religious system has failed (more on the Penitent later), the social system has failed, the federal political system is nonexistent, but the civic system is particularly accountable for the enforcement of local laws and the complete failure to maintain any sense of human dignity. One of the great secrets of the Part About the Crimes is that it is not just a litany of murders. There are other characters populating the storylines—but most of these characters hold civil offices: they are city police officers, investigators, contractors, employees of the city sanitarium. The economics of the city seem designed to rely on the availability of young, unskilled women to perform the tasks of the maquiladoras, and yet their relatively short lifespans mean that the true source of employment comes from the investigation of those murders, the enforcement of seemingly meaningless laws. And yet who has any idea how to stop the murders?
When I first read 2666, my least favorite part was The Part About Fate. I felt like it was just in the way of getting me closer to the Part About the Crimes. I didn’t really get it. Now, (this is my second read of the novel) it’s my favorite part. It’s the part that rings the most true to me as representing “the future” and what’s happening right now in Juarez. And I say this is someone who hasn’t really experienced Juarez. Someone who doesn’t really speak Spanish, but yet as someone who feels invested in what is happening there right now. To me, The Part About Fate and its dreamlike tale of inhabiting death and fear ring the most true. Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, like Fate, looking at Juarez and knowing there is a galactic story there, but that I will probably have to return to the US without it, no matter how long I stay there or what I see. The critics can’t see the murders—they can barely hear anything outside of their small academic bubble. Amalfitano is also an outsider and he seems to be unable to pinpoint the danger facing his daughter. In a way, he lives in the past, part of the old systems and the old ideas (implicitly: of Europe). Amalfitano is oblivious to the routine murder and death (and big black cars) outside his windows. Fate is not oblivious, but he can’t make sense of it; he can’t grasp it. This is how I feel. I know that the nature of death and the way humans feel about it is changing here, but I can’t make sense of it. It is too new, even now (and at this point, I am referring to the hybrid of reality in 2010 Juarez and the world of 2666). How are the femicides allowed to continue? In what other city would this be possible? The “city” here seems key. Bolaño pays special attention to what Colonias the women live in and in what parts of the city their bodies are discovered. The fact that many are discovered in the city dump is symbolic of their status as both a fuel and a waste product of the city.
Which brings us back to the Penitent, the church desecrator. Clearly, he is bringing in gallons of urine and just dumping it in the churches. But, why? It goes without saying that Catholicism in northern Mexico has no point of comparison. It is as deep a part of the social fabric as any institution; more so than any sense of obligation to the city, state, or nation. To desecrate the church is to desecrate humanity and mortality. To do so with a waste product is a true offense. The massive amount of urine spent by the Penitent is on par with the massive amount of blood spent by the killers of women (and now the killers of anyone) who value nothing above violence and chaos.
Women are still being murdered in Juarez. Children are still being murdered in Juarez. I challenge you to set up Google alert for Juarez and read the news stories that are posted every day. I challenge you to read the Juarez section of the El Paso Times and count the number of deaths reported each day. Read the pundits speculate on how the US should or should not get involved. Raise the awareness that a new kind of horror is on the horizon. It’s on our borders and it appears to be unstoppable. War in the future will not look like Iraq; it will not look like governments; it will look like boredom: a list of names, years old, posted on a blog.