Monday, August 17, 2015

Limpieza Social

Molly Molloy and Julian Cardona attended the screening of Kingdom of Shadows in El Paso Friday night. Both were Chuck Bowden's friends, confidants and co-conspirators.

Julian was there when I first met Chuck in the flesh and traveled with us to Piedritas, Coahuila. Chuck was on a mission, first to see if I was real, and then if that panned out, to write a story for GQ magazine. Long story short: he determined that I was real, that my story checked out. And despite his best effort, he could not write a story about me they were interested in publishing. Not quite the meterosexual stereotype....

Julian was the principal photographer for Chuck's brilliant compilation and essay, Juarez: the laboratory of our future, Chuck's first effort in book form to bring light to the ongoing wreck that Juarez had become as a result of globalization. Julian became Chuck's go-to-guy and sounding board for all things Mexico, as well as his guide and protector when he traveled the country.

Molly is a librarian and also teaches Latin American studies at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. She has dedicated much time to documenting the ongoing violence in Mexico and Latin America through what she calls the Frontera list, sent out via email to a substantial number of subscribers, myself included. I met Molly during the pre-publication days of Contrabando in 2003 or 4. Molly was Chuck's wife, though I'm not sure either would confess to that. She was also his closest confidant. 

Both Molly and Julian worked side by side with Chuck on Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields. Molly attended the interviews that became the book, El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, which she co-wrote with Chuck.

All of this say: these people have credentials, serious credentials.

I called Molly from my garden yesterday to get her reaction to the film. The film, she enjoyed, the question and answer session afterward: not so much.

You have to understand Murder City to know why.

In 2007 or 8, at the height of the killings in Juarez, Chuck decided to see who it was that was getting killed. He set to the ambitious task, along with Julian and Molly, of documenting all the murders in Juarez for a year. All of them. 

He lasted less than six months before total exhaustion, desperation and despair overcame and overwhelmed him.

The results of those investigations revealed inconvenient facts. Most of the victims had no connections to the cartels at any appreciable level. Almost no cops lost their lives, unless it was a rival cop that killed them. And the number of cops that were killed was a very low percentage of the total.

Many of the killings made no sense when an attempt to reconcile them with the narrative that they were the result of a turf war between rival cartels. That is not to say that war wasn't ongoing, just that most of the victims had no apparent connections to the cartels in any significant way.

About that time, I learned from a trusted source that a deal had been cut between the Sinaloa cartel and unspecified government insiders. It went something like this. We (the cartel) will assist you in efforts to kill, capture, eliminate rival groups, such as the Zetas. We pledge not to prey on legitimate businesses. We will not prey on migrants, nor will we bother Mexican citizens returning remittances to friends and family. We will not sell our products (drugs) domestically, unlike these other upstart groups....

Now to the part that stretches credulity.

Domestic use had become so rampant and ingrained in Mexico that it could not be stopped. Demand was too great.

Until those selling small scale or using drugs were assassinated in the most spectacular and awful of ways.

Like in drug rehab centers.

In houses, neighborhoods.

Young folks, mostly.

Limpieza social. Social cleansing.

It's a story both Molly and Julian know well. A story that can't be told.

A story that when told falls on deaf ears. Illicits denial, then anger, and sometimes, even retribution.

So, while most walk off satisfied with the official explanation, people like Molly and Julian walk off dejected.

Understandably so.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Approaching jubilee: The wait is over

As we approach the end of the shmita and the beginning of the New Year according to the Hebrew calendar, the cloud that has hung over my head for the last year seems to have lifted.

A few prophets with a track record justifying merit predict dire events. I have been in a state of mourning for my people, my country and the world at large. Damn near paralyzed by it. Why mourn after the loss; it’s when the patient is ill that the pain is so intense.

But now that the event draws near, it’s time for action.

To get off the ass and do something. Even if the seed I plant is to be harvested by another or my life is to be lost in the fray.

I got a late start on a fall garden. We had a wet spring, but now have gone over a month with no measurable rain. Temperatures have been hovering around the 100 degree mark; the forecast now calls for ten consecutive days of heat approaching 106 degrees. It was late getting here, but it is here.

For whatever reason, I don’t function well when all is well. Comfort kills. During times of chaos, when a bad choice means loss of life and or severe consequences, well, then, it’s easier to pay attention and stay engaged.

I was made for this day.

For those with ears, the season is at hand.

Wake up.

Do something.