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Apr-21-2010 18:00printcomments

The Mexican History and Geography Gap

Juarenses are a tough lot, and many people are hunkering down and doing all they can to survive in and improve a place they call home.

Mexican Policia
Mexican Policia

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - Mexico and the border are once again big news. Stories fill the press about Michele Obama and Hilary Clinton traveling south of the border to show their support for an embattled government. Report after report comes in about the latest atrocities in the so-called narco-war.

Journalists rush to the border to check on the “spill-over” violence which, contrary to the assertions of Arizona Senator John McCain and others who contend the US’ southern border is “out of control,” has yet to materialize in a systematic way.

If my 6th grade geography lessons serve me, it would appear the violence McCain refers to is on the other side of the border line in a country called Mexico. Indeed, given the level of violence in places like Ciudad Juarez and Reynosa, it is quite noteworthy how El Paso and other places on the US side of the border are actually far less violent than many communities in the interior of the US. Is anyone proposing to send troops to Albuquerque or Oakland?

For the scary border, though, narratives are constructed, framed and then massaged into the popular consciousness. In this way, policies are shaped, sold to the public and charged to the deficit-wracked public till.

Lately, a story which has received wide exposure is the Associated Press’ piece about Chapo Guzman gaining the upper-hand over the Juarez Cartel in the battle over Ciudad Juarez. Although the story was based on an anonymous source, it was picked up by numerous news outlets and repeated as fact in recent days.

Since the story is shrouded in secrecy, it is almost impossible to judge whether or not it is accurate. How many times have Mexican and US authorities proclaimed the death of the Tijuana cartel? Like Tijuana, however, events on the ground strongly suggest the violence in Ciudad Juarez is far from over. Scores of people have been killed in the city this month alone, including 14 just yesterday, and nobody really knows when or if the slaughter will subside.

Last week, NPR correspondent Ted Robbins reported on the US Border Patrol training Mexican police in Nogales. The report covered a vital issue and raised key questions, but it lacked historical depth. Robbins did not mention how US military, FBI, state and local police departments and other law enforcement agencies have long trained Mexican cops - in the thousands. This has been going on for decades. The specific skills imparted include interview/interrogation techniques, hostage taking negotiations, crime scene investigations and counter-terrorism.

A good follow-up piece might examine how many of the nearly 3400 complaints filed against Mexican soldiers with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission since 2007 involve personnel trained by the US. A new story might look at how many of the 15,000 ex-soldiers detained during the so-called drug war, according to Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan, were trained by the US.

Will the latest round of training produce better behaved graduates?

All over the US airwaves and press these days, Tucson author Charles Bowden is a big source for Ciudad Juarez and Mexico news. Bowden provides valuable insights to a largely oblivious US public about the systemic roots and socio-economic context of the crisis raging south of the border, but he also makes some curious statements that deserve further scrutiny and comment.

For example, while speaking on Pacifica Radio this month, Bowden claimed it was difficult to find cocaine in Juarez in 1995, “because the cartels kept a lid on it.” Really? Anyone who knows the city might conclude that Bowden had arrived during a particularly bad dry spell. Cocaine has been readily available in Ciudad Juarez for decades, drug war notwithstanding.

Bowden is also quoted as saying that when he arrived in Ciudad Juarez back in the 1990s he thought he had landed in hell, but later realized it was the border city’s “Golden Age,” considering today’s slaughterhouse. Given Bowden’s experience, one must assume he was being facetious.

For scores of young women who were systematically kidnapped, raped and murdered during the 1990s, the era was anything but the Golden Age. Nor was it the Golden Age for hundreds of families which, to this day, do not know what happened to relatives, both men and women, whisked away by armed commandos and never to be seen again.

Such episodes and the government failure to curb them helped set the stage for the current mayhem.

Prone to the melodramatic, Bowden keeps repeating that “Ciudad Juarez is dying.” His declaration grabs the attention of radio listeners or television viewers, but is it true? While observers will agree that Ciudad Juarez has been battered, bludgeoned and bloodied, it is quite another thing to say the city is dying.

Juarenses are a tough lot, and many people are hunkering down and doing all they can to survive in and improve a place they call home.

I am thinking of the residents of Villas de Salvarcar, scene of the gruesome youth massacre last January, who are organizing a new community library, kitchen and music center for children. I am thinking of the annual Christmas Posada for the children of Lomas de Poleo. I am thinking of the young people who stood on the streets on a recent day collecting for the Red Cross. I am thinking of the young actor with the “Love Juarez” t-shirt who told director Miguel Sabido he wanted his city back.

From the numerous Juarenses who have fled to neighboring El Paso but are sticking close to home, one can observe how many people are making a long-term wager on the home base. And despite the exodus, more than one million people remain in the city.

This is not to pick on Bowden, whose contributions are duly noted, or other reporters for that matter. It’s just a reminder that is imperative for all journalists, this writer included, to scratch beyond the surface, dig into history and thoroughly probe the underbelly of the beast, so to speak.


-Kent Paterson Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Joe April 22, 2010 7:34 pm (Pacific time)

Why America is still the best. 1 We have better Chinese and Mexican food than China and Mexico. 2 We invented rednecks, thus saving Jeff Foxworthy from spending a lifetime as a manager at a Big Lots in Osage Beach, Mo. 3 Our colleges are the best (excluding, of course, the electoral one). 4 Elvis Presley’s hips and Dolly Parton’s – well, you get the point. 5 What other country re-enacts its Civil War? 6 The San Fernando Valley: It produces not only the largest amount of porn in the world, but is also the inspiration for the “Sweet Valley High” series. 7 If you’re funny and Canadian, you move here. 8 Oprah Winfrey controls our thoughts and we don’t seem to mind a bit. 9 Old people have their own state (Florida). 10 ZZ Top’s “Legs” music video. 11 As long as you return them when you’re done, it’s perfectly OK to rent cars, DVDs and wombs. 12 We’ve got access to two oceans instead of just one. 13 If you get caught sneaking out with a boy, you get grounded (not stoned to death). 14 Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t make any sense anywhere else. 15 Stuart Smalley is a U.S. senator Now that’s a worthwhile daily affirmation. 16 No matter how dumb we may be getting, we’re still smart enough not to see “The Love Guru.” 17 White Castle Chicken Rings: like a donut, but with chicken. 18 California legalizes gay weddings, and somehow Sulu from “Star Trek” becomes the most adorable homosexual old man on the planet. 19 Thanks to “Grand Theft Auto,” we can finally beat up people from New Jersey without having to go to New Jersey. 20 At least when we host the Olympics, no one calls them “the genocide Olympics.” 21 We make Angelina Jolie leave the country, every single time she has a new baby. 22 Not only did we create “Beverly Hills, 90210,” we created the “90210” sequel. 23 Crazy people have their own state (Florida). 24 Yes, we pollute more than any other country, but without our pollution, there would be no “Wall-E.” 25 Presidential term limits. Thank God for those

Vic April 22, 2010 4:53 pm (Pacific time)

Bill, I live in Mexico, but nowhere near the border. We live in a Mexican town and are treated wonderfully and feel absolutely safe. I know people here from El Salvador, Guatemala and Chile that seem to be treated as good as anyone else. I am sure that border towns are a much different story. I agree with anonymous..legalize drugs and save a lot of money and headaches. Prohibition never works..never. And by the worlds biggest economy, do you mean the country with the largest debt? That would be the US hands down. I dont call that much of an economy.

Anonymous April 22, 2010 2:03 pm (Pacific time)

legalize drugs, and this all goes away...since drugs can be found on most any street corner anyway, it would not make a difference in the U.S. with the exception of being able to tax it and use the money for drug abuse education and rehab clinics.

Bill Griffith April 22, 2010 9:12 am (Pacific time)

Vic did you know that Phoenix, Arizona, leads the world in kidnapping? It is based on illegals. Are you familiar with how many Americans have been killed in America by all illegals in the last year and what the trend has been in the last 20 years, not just from drug runners? How many Americans have gone down to, for example Mexico, and killed citizens there? Regardless of our current economic situation (and we have a well documented history of up and down business cycles), there is a growing crisis on our border with Mexico, and a growing crisis of an illegal crime wave within our country. To demand that our borders be secured (talk to a border jumper who crosses into Mexico from the south and see how they are treated by Mexicans) is what all soverign countries do. Approximately 80% of Americans want the border secured and laws on the books enforced. Even before immigration reform is addressed we need to secure all of our borders, along with making E-verify mandatory, with jail for those who willfully higher illegals. The incredible high homicide rate in Mexico (one of the highest in the world, and that is before the latest drug cartel clashes) is spreading here and killing Americans. People can try to say otherwise, but the majority of Americans (nearly 80%) want something done now. If we are a failed society, then why do people come here. By the way do you know who the world's biggest economy is?

Vic April 22, 2010 6:25 am (Pacific time)

Thank you for this article ! When attempting to villify a nation of people in order to feel better about one's own shortcomings, failures and hypocricies, reporting like this is not welcome. America is hitting the skids and even though AIPAC, our crooked politicians, the Rep/Dem war machine, the "cost-plus" "defense" contractors and Wall Street are costing us much much more than "the Mexicans" could ever hope to...lets blame them because ...well they arent "Americans". And lets not get into GE,(who made billions last year and paid ZERO taxes) Magnavox, Westinghouse, and the myriad of so-called American businesses that have moved from American cities across the border where they can produce the same goods at an average wage of $2.32 per hour. Lets not go there, right? One of the signs of a failed society is an obsessive need to blame OTHERS for the works good for politicians and allows the real perps to continue with the looting/business as usual. Thanks again, Kent.

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