Death in Ciudad Juarez

by Matt Bucher

We’ve mentioned this on the site before, but the situation in Ciudad Juarez, 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, Juarez 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.


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or create a trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Death in Ciudad Juarez”

  • […] is the original post: Las obras de Roberto Bolaño » Blog Archive » Death in Ciudad Juárez Share and […]

  • Comment from Oregon Michael

    Thank you, Matt, for this excellent overview and for all the work you’ve done to make this group read happen. I’m very grateful for your thoughts and for the comments of everyone else who’s participating.

  • Comment from Eric Pulido

    Great post Matt! I entirely agree with you on this book. It seems to me that it’s really easy to lose track of the elusive topic that Bolaño is trying to discuss. I’ve lived in Mexico all my life (albeit in central Mexico) and in my case I like the part about the crimes the best because it conveys the great numbness that permeates the country in so many senses, after a vaguely and unrememberable long period of dispair. All these characters that may seem so cartoonish to an outsider are vivid (subliminal) archetypes of our society: the criminals that will remain unpunished, the victims that will not fight for justice because of their despair, the forces of justice and good that are powerless being submerged in the forces of corruption and evil, and the morally pathetic rest of us that somehow remain at bay beyond despair on islands of numbness. As you have so well put it, our problem is entirely civic in nature and as such it feedbacks forever. Even if the femicide problem fades away into the oblivion I fear that this uncivic feedback will remain for a long time (without any real basis for it, I’d say at least another generation). One could find endless examples of this phenomenon, and I’ll leave one just to be poignant: the question of racism is rarely talked about in mexico, and to some extent one could believe that we don’t really have any sort of problem (other than Bolaño’s mexican dream of fucking up the ladder to improve the race), but countless indigenous populations are being abused if someone can find an use for their rightful XXI-century-pay-your-taxex-property, just because as a minority, they have no way of screaming injustice. If you forgive my verbosity, I’ll just give one other example in the opposite direction that I have seen reflected in the novel: In contrast with this ever-growing mass of bodies and silent suffering, every once in a while the really upper class gets hit by the same troubles of the commonly abused, as was the case of (for example)2008’s kidnapping and murder of some guy named Fernando Marti, son of the owner of a sport’s good’s empire. Needless to say the media was having a very busy and productive season reporting the case, and all of the sudden, even if kidnappings had been happening on the background for some time, a spontaneous manifestation of about 3000 people all dressed in white went to the streets demanding peace and filling our Zocalo.
    That’s all I wanted to say I guess, just keep in mind that both Bolaño and the common man on the streets talk about these issues not to mud our own homeland, for we have great virtues that in the face of these events will remain mute, and all words and demonstrations are but the drowning man’s kicks, to have some sort of clear conscience to which we cannot hope to arrive.

  • Comment from David Winn

    Just wanted to second Michael’s thanks for organizing the group read, and for the impassioned post about the situation in Juarez. In addition to the consciousness raising about the feminicidios, the political economy of the maquiladoras, and the drug war, I’m really enjoying the close readings all the commentators are doing. It’s something lacking in most mainstream commentary on the novel.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LisaKenney and Mark Pritchard, antoniomarcos. antoniomarcos said: RT @mattbucher: Death in Ciudad Juárez. #2666 I'm convinced that the deaths in Juárez contain the secret of the universe. […]

  • Comment from Maria Bustillos

    Love this post, Matt. Best one we’ve had yet.

  • Comment from Eric

    Matt, I’d like to add my thanks as well. Even though I’ve finished the book, I routinely check in to see what others have seen, and thier thoughts. And, on the topic of the femicides and violence, I am truly appalled at my ignorance prior to reading this book…happening right now, not so far away, and I was clueless.

  • […] manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life.  Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives, 2666, and Chile by […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Social Widgets powered by