Juarez, Juarez, Juarez

Julián Cardona, a Mexican photojournalist from Ciudad Juarez, has become storied for his gritty yet haunting photos of drug-related violence and the effects of globalization in northern Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has been called both an artist and a storyteller, a skilled photographer who is giving Americans and Mexicans alike an inside view of what is like to actually live in a town that has also become storied for all the wrong reasons. Some of his latest work is featured in Vanity Fair.

“This was no voyeur trying to capture the grotesque. This was no circus. This was a photographer trying to convey what his landscape was like. These were photographs of home.” – Benjamin Alire Saenz, curator of the CUE Art Foundation, on Julián Cardona

Photos via Vanity Fair

Mexico and Violence


Mexico is a complicated place when it comes to a lot of things, especially violence. When I passed through security at the airport in New York on my way here, the security agent looked at my boarding pass and told me to “be careful.” When I entered New York back in April from Mexico City, the customs man asked me why in the world would “I want to go to such a dangerous place.” I tried to explain to both that Mexico City is actually not more dangerous than, say, New York or Washington, DC and that most of the violence is concentrated on the border, but my words went over their heads. To most Americans, Mexico equals violence, period.

But though most of us who have lived here know the difference between the drug-related violence and normal petty crime, there are always surprises. This past week’s armed attempted robbery of a major grocery store took place in the expatriate and rich-friendly neighborhood of La Condesa, a place I love to walk and bike around. A drug-related drive-by shooting in La Condesa and the assassination of a drug case witness in a Starbucks in the nearby neighborhood of Del Valle also occurred in recent months. A friend, Nick Casey, wrote about the case of two Americans arrested in a border city. They were allegedly tortured in a situation where they claim the Mexican military planted suitcases of marijuana in their truck and then fraudulently arrested them for it.

I suppose that the point is that the line between drug-related violence and petty crime seems to be quickly blurring. Though rich enclaves will always be the target of criminals, places once thought to be relatively safe are no longer relatively safe. Being foreign in Mexico is not a bulletproof vest from being taken advantage of by a corrupt military. And, sadly, there is still no end in sight.

Photo via The Wall Street Journal

Charles Bowden’s Mexico


American writer Charles Bowden has spent decades straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, writing gripping stories about the myriad of people caught in the bloody, messy drug trade, from hired drug cartel assassins to brave but scared Mexican journalists.

Now he’s back with yet another book on Mexico, this time on the murder capital Ciudad Juarez. Hear him talk on NPR about Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields here. Recently, three people associated with the U.S. consulate were murdered, while numerous young people have been killed as of late in cases of supposed mistaken identity.

5,000 people have been killed in Juarez in three years. Yet, as Bowden says, the deaths have frighteningly become “part of the ordinary noise of life.”

Photo via TIME

One Step Back for the Women of Juarez


Mexican women’s rights groups are in an uproar over the upcoming appointment of Arturo Chavez Chavez as the country’s new attorney general. They accuse him of covering up the potentially thousands of murders and disappearances of women factory workers in Ciudad Juarez while he was head prosecutor in the state of Chihuahua.

“Both the women’s and men’s murder investigations were characterized by indifference, irregularities, lost files and evidence, threats against victims’ family members, and no credible prosecutions, in spite of credible leads.” — from the linked article.

They have a minor victory so far: Chavez’s ratification to the office was postponed until next Monday. In the above photo, a woman protests outside of the Senate yesterday.

Photo via AFP/Getty

The Women of Juarez

The women of violent Mexican border city Ciudad Juarez have surfaced in the news after a long spell, this time because of a spate of disappearances of young, pretty women who may have been sold into sex slave rings. Nobody’s really cooperating in their investigations, especially not the police since they’re likely helping shuttle the girls off to their servitude.

How can else can you explain the still-unsolved murders and disappearances of some 4,000 women since 1993 — official figures say 400 but locals say the number is ten times that — and the fact that this crime wave doesn’t seem to be a priority of Mexico or the U.S.? Thousands of poor women, living in Mexico, working for U.S. companies, simply a blip on the radar of governments that don’t appear to give a damn.

Photo by Lina Pallotta

A Deadly Time to be a Journalist


Mexican journalists are dying at an alarming rate in Mexico — the country is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years. (That number has surely risen.) Many of the victims had reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it’s difficult to determine because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee said, only one had been solved. Some gunmen attacked specific journalists, and others entire newsrooms.

The war on journalists — both by thugs and police negligence — has changed the way most border publications do their work. Stories on drug casualties and corruption run with no bylines, and only the bare facts run without further investigation. A few brave teams based in Mexico City still travel up to the border to report on drug-related violence, but their trips are becoming less and less frequent. A friend told me that a team of photographers returned to Mexico City from a trip last year to Ciudad Juarez the very next day.

All of which makes this story by gifted writer Charles Bowden even more shocking. I always assumed drug cartels and corrupt police were Mexican journalists’ most viral enemies. Turns out, we need to add the Mexican army to that list, too.

And here, an earlier Human Rights Watch report on Mexican army torture allegations.

Photo via TIME

When Mexico Negotiates with Drug Lords


Roberto Orduña Cruz, on the left, is the former police chief of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s deadliest city, notably for women. Of the 6,000 people who have been killed in the past year due to the country’s escalating drug violence — where drug cartels battle each other for turf and silence rivals, cops, journalists and innocent civilians — a third has taken place in Ciudad Juarez.

Police have long been targeted. Some would say it’s part of the job, a very difficult one. But it appears they are now holding up a white flag.

Cruz stepped down this weekend after a cop and prison guard were killed. Criminal gangs had threatened to kill at least one police officer every two days until he quit. At least four other officers had already been murdered.

The resignation comes after Ciudad Juarez’s mayor insisted that they would not give in to the gangs’ demands. He now says they could not successfully protect their police force.

This move is very troubling: it is one of the first major times that the drug cartels have exerted control over the government of a major city — and probably not the last. Juarez’s police say they will replace Cruz in a few weeks, but for how long will that recruit last?