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Keith Millea
03-17-2010, 01:24 AM
Great interview with Charles Bowden

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/16/charles_bowden_on_the_war_next


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We turn now to Mexico, where spiraling drug violence appears to have hit US officials for the first time. In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, a US consular employee and her husband were shot dead on Saturday while driving in their SUV. Their one-year-old baby was found unharmed in the back seat. In a separate incident nearby, the husband of a Mexican employee at the US consulate was shot dead. The shootings are believed to be the first deadly attacks on US officials and their families by Mexico’s powerful drug organizations.

The State Department has authorized government employees at six US consulates in northern Mexico to send their family members out of the area because of concerns about rising drug-related violence. The FBI, meanwhile, has sent a team of agents to investigate the killings.

AMY GOODMAN: Overall, nearly fifty people died over the weekend in Mexico in drug-gang violence, the latest victims of a conflict that’s killed nearly 19,000 people since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. The US has backed Calderon with hundreds of millions of dollars on military training and equipment. But critics say the increased militarization of the so-called drug war will only lead to more deaths.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by Charles Bowden. a reporter who has extensively covered the drug violence in Mexico, author of the forthcoming book Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. His latest article for High Country News is “The War Next Door”, available at hcn.org (http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.4/the-war-next-door). Charles Bowden joins us now on the phone from Las Cruces, New Mexico, just across the border from Ciudad Juárez.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Charles Bowden. What happened this weekend?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, thank you. It’s my pleasure.

What happened is what happens every weekend: death. What is different, or was the reason you’re calling me, is because US citizens were killed, who worked for the consulate.

It’s impossible to see this as, one, an accident or ignore that it’s a provocation. The actual thing to compare it to is the abduction of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in February 1985 from in front of the US consulate in Guadalajara, in which he was then tortured for thirty hours, slaughtered and secretly buried, and caused an explosion in the US government. Now, you have to ask yourself, given that experience, why anybody in the drug business would want to repeat it. And I don’t have an answer to that, nor do I know why these people were killed or who killed them.

What I do know is that on Friday twelve people were slaughtered in Juárez, and nobody in the US paid any attention. What I do know is, on Saturday, there were eleven people slaughtered; three of them worked for the embassy. What I do know is, on Sunday, there were eight slaughtered, that Juárez is the most violent city in the world. It’s breaking down for various reasons.

What our response will be, I suspect, is more of the same. We’ll try and shore up the Mexican military, which has been killing people in the city busily for a year now. There’s hundreds of official complaints filed with the human rights office in the government. And we will announce our rededication to the war on drugs, which has imprisoned—created the largest prison population in the world in our own country.

I think that what your listeners should realize is the President of Mexico has said repeatedly that there’s no part of Mexico he doesn’t control. We have proof positive of his claim today. He’s arriving in Juárez for a visit. When he arrives is a secret. Where he goes is a secret. Who he sees is now a secret. That’s how much control he has over his own country.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And President Obama, he denounced what he called the brutal murders of these people in Juárez. And what is the role of the US in all of this? They have funded the so-called war on drugs in Mexico to the tune of more than a billion dollars. Where does this money go? And what is the role of the Mexican military in all of this?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, where the money goes is mainly, if you look into it, we’re selling them our hardware. This is part of our beloved military-industrial complex. That’s what they get for the money. But the Mexico military has historically been involved in drugs, I mean, going back decades. This is no secret. They were supervising Rancho Bufalo in Chihuahua, a huge marijuana plantation in the ’70s.

What we’re doing is what the—you know, we have three policies that affect Mexico. One, we have the free trade agreement, which has bankrupted small farmers in the country and destroyed small industry in the country. Two, we have an immigration policy which means a Mexican would have to live 150 years to get a visa to move to the United States, which has unleashed the largest human migration on earth. And three, we have our war on drugs, which over the course of forty years has made drugs in our country of higher quality more available and enriched a bunch of criminals in Mexico and the United States. That’s our policy.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And can you paint a picture of Ciudad Juárez? How has it changed over the years?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, you know, what’s changed is—this is simple. Twenty-seven percent of the houses in the city are abandoned. That’s 116,000 units. This is in a city where people live in cardboard boxes sometimes. Ten thousand businesses have given up and closed in the last year. Thirty to sixty thousand people from Juárez, mainly the rich, have moved across the river to El Paso for safety, including the mayor of Juárez, who likes to bunk in El Paso. And the publisher of the newspaper there lives in El Paso. Somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 people simply left the city. A lot of the problem is economic, not simply violence. At least 100,000 jobs in the border factories have vanished during this recession because of the competition from Asia. There’s 500 to 900 gangs there, estimates vary.

So what you have is you have—and then you lay on top of it 10,000 federal troops and federal police agents all marauding. You have a city where no one goes out at night; where small businesses all pay extortion; where 20,000 cars were officially stolen last year; where 2,600-plus people were officially murdered last year; where nobody keeps track of the people who have been kidnapped and never come back; where nobody counts the people buried in secret burying grounds, and they, in an unseemly way, claw out of the earth from time to time. You’ve got a disaster. And you have a million people, too poor to leave, imprisoned in it. And they’re going to be the people that the Mexican army and the Mexican police will make sure the President never meets today when he descends on Juárez for his sort of official visit. That’s the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Bowden, Hillary Clinton said last March, “We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States and that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States.” What is your response?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, to start with, it’s—drugs are sold in the United States because we have customers. But Hillary Clinton doesn’t think American citizens can consume substances she doesn’t approve of.

As far as the guns, that’s an open question. What you’re referring to is an ATF report which tracked guns that have been seized in Mexico. In that report, somewhere between 20 and 40 percent came from the US. The reason we don’t know where the others came from is the Mexican army, who has seized them, won’t let ATF agents examine them. Now, what you have to understand is, in a six-year period, out of an army of 250,000, about 150,000 deserted. I suspect some of the boys and girls who fled the Mexican army took guns with them. But if you shut down every gun shop in the United States, criminals in Mexico would still be armed.

So what we’re facing is a failed drug policy, but we can never admit that. That’s a sacred cause here. We’re a twelve-pack nation that won’t let anybody have a joint.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In your latest article in High Country News, you write, “There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs.” Explain what you mean by that.

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, certainly. We’re spending $30 to $40 billion a year on narcotics officers in this country. Every state in the union, if you get out of the house and drive, is now studded with little prisons, some private. They’re all dependent on the—on laws outlawing drugs. The income from drugs in Mexico exceeds all other sources of foreign currency, except possibly oil, and that’s debatable. In other words, if President Calderon succeeded in his claimed goal of eradicating the drug industry in Mexico, Mexico would collapse in a minute. That’s what I mean.

I mean, why don’t we face the fact that drugs are like alcohol? They’re part of our culture now. They’re not going away. If we want to make them illegal, we can continue to live the way we have: imprisoning our own people, creating a police state, having prisons everywhere. But no matter what we do, they’re going to be in the neighborhood, just as they are.

There was an interesting government study released a while ago that said 232 American cities now have the presence of Mexican drug organizations. Well, look, I’m a little older, possibly, than some of your listeners, but if you bought a joint in 1975, it wasn’t coming from Finland or some place. They’ve always been here. It’s a market. All we’ve got to decide is whether it’s legal or illegal. That’s it. It’s like gambling. It’s got a life of its own.

But we are destroying, or helping to destroy, a country next door by our policies. Although there are many explanations for the problems in Mexico, and most of them lie with Mexicans, but certainly our economic policy, NAFTA, our drug policies, the war on drugs, and our militarization of the country have proven to be nothing but a disaster for the Mexican people.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Bowden, how does this relate to the hundreds of women who have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua over the last, oh, fifteen years? We’re talking nearly 500 or more.

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, we’re talking nearly 500 in a fifteen-year period in a city that had a million and a half. Here’s how it relates. Essentially, none of those crimes have never been solved. During that same period, 95—between 90 and 95 percent of the murders have been males. None of those crimes have been solved. Last year, of those 2,600-plus murders in Juárez, there were thirty arrests. Not solutions, just arrests. The way they figure in is, if you’re a Mexican citizen, anybody can kill you, and nothing’s going to happen to them. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a man or a woman, that their justice system is broken. I can understand, because of the sort of cause célèbre quality while people are focused on the dead women, but I think we ought to focus on the dead human beings. This city kills people, and nothing happens to the killers.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue to follow this. Charles Bowden, thank you for joining us. His latest piece, “The War Next Door.” His forthcoming book, Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, speaking to us from Las Cruces, New Mexico, just near Ciudad Juárez on the other side of the border.

Keith Millea
03-21-2010, 07:19 PM
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/21-3
Published on Sunday, March 21, 2010 by the Denver Post (http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_14710023#ixzz0ipReCdeo) The War Next Door

by Charles Bowden

The man on the television screen wears a long black veil. His voice is penetrating, his hands are strong with thick fingers. He is telling of his work, killing people for money, a trade he pursued with some success for 20 years. Watching the film with rapt attention is a fugitive from Mexico who now lives in the United States.
The reason he left is simple: He had to pay a $30,000 ransom for his year-old son, on top of the $3,000 a month he was paying for simple protection.

I don't ask whom he was paying because he probably does not know. People with guns, maybe drug people or simple criminals, maybe the police or the army. He knows of others who failed to pay and then died.
He stares at the screen and says, "I know him. He's a state policeman."
The man on the screen was recruited by the drug industry in Ciudad Juarez and sent to the state police academy, where he got around $150 a month as a student and around $1,000 a month from the drug industry as their sponsored law-enforcement person. He was also trained by the FBI in Tucson and headed an anti-kidnapping squad in Juarez.
And he also kidnapped people, almost all of whom died once their families were drained of money.

I helped make this film, and the man knows this. He is mesmerized. And he is angry at me, because I know such a man, someone like the killers who took his son and sold him back for some money.
If the press reports this sort of thing, it is framed as part of a war on drugs that must be won. These stories are fables at best. There is no serious war on drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has 225,000 employees and a budget of $42 billion, part of which is aimed at making America safe from Mexico and Mexicans. Narcotics officers in the U.S. cost at least $40 billion a year. The world's largest prison industry would collapse without the intake of drug convicts and, in recent years, of illegal Mexican migrants. And around the republic, there are big new federal courthouses rising that would be cobwebbed without the steady flow from drug busts and the Mexican poor coming north.

The border now is a bundle of issues: drugs, terrorists, violence spilling across, illegal immigrants, free-trade economists insisting on open borders, humanitarians calling for no more deaths. On the ground, this hardly matters. The giant wall being slowly built across the southern flank of the U.S. hardly matters. In the Altar Valley south of Tucson, the wall was barely in place before gates were cut.
What is happening is natural. And like some natural things, deadly.
* * *
The Mexican border functions as a drum that both the left and the right like to thump. For the left, it means imperialism. They decry the death of migrants, the newly built wall and the tens of thousands of armed agents patrolling the line. The right sees the border as the only thing separating us from the disintegration of our national security. They decry migrants (illegal invaders), violence spilling over the border and, in certain zany moments, see Islamic terrorists crossing the desert and leaving a litter of prayer rugs.

The drug industry is the second-largest source of foreign currency in Mexico, just behind oil. It earns somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion a year. It also creates enormous numbers of jobs in the U.S.: We spend billions a year on narcs, maintain the world's largest prison industry, and have about 20,000 agents on the border who feed off drug importation. The rehab industry is also a source of a large number of jobs. Many county and local police departments now get fat off of RICO suits based on drug offenses.

The official line of the U.S. government, one most recently voiced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that drug consumers in the United States are responsible for drug murders in Mexico. Only someone who is drugged could believe this claim. The sole source of the enormous amount of money in the drug business and the accompanying violence is the U.S. prohibition of drug use by its citizens. Since President Richard Nixon proclaimed the war on drugs 40 years ago, there have been two notable accomplishments: Drugs are cheaper than ever, and they are of much higher quality.

The left seeks open borders and protests the 500 or so migrant deaths per year - a rather low fatality rate, considering that at least a half-million Mexicans move illegally across the border each year. But the left seldom if ever mentions the slaughter in Mexico during the last three years that has left 17,000 citizens dead, a killing of Mexicans by Mexicans. The right constantly speaks of fortifying the border, as if this could stop a human tide lashed northward by misery. And, of course, the right promotes draconian drug laws even though the failure of such laws is increasingly apparent.

The border is 1,900 miles long. If two people slipped through each mile in a 24-hour period, that would amount to 3,800 people a day. That adds up to 1.3 million people a year. Or consider this: One bridge from Juarez to El Paso handles 600,000 semi-trucks a year. One semi with a freight load of 24 tons could probably tote enough heroin to satisfy the U.S. market for a year. Add to the mix the inevitable corruption of the police agencies: A few months ago, a Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona was busted for running dope in his official car for $500 a load.
* * *
Almost certainly, the drug industry and illegal migration are the two most successful anti-poverty initiatives in history. The drug industry has poured tens of billions of dollars annually into the hands of ill-educated and largely poor people. Illegal migration has taken people who were lucky to earn $5 a day and instantly given them jobs that pay 10 or 20 times that much. It has also financed the remittances, over $20 billion shipped from immigrants in the U.S. back into the homes of Mexico's poor each year. No government can match these achievements.

But the good times are going to end. Obviously, the terrain of the U.S. can only sustain a finite number of people. So eventually migration - both legal and illegal - will be curtailed by draconian national ID laws. As for the drug industry, the money depends on two variables: that drugs remain illegal, and that domestic suppliers (meaning the licit pharmaceutical industry) refrain from launching competing products. Without the earnings of the drug industry, the Mexican economy would collapse.

But several things will persist. The environment in the United States will continue to be wrecked as more and more people flee the failure of the global economy. Violence will flourish as human numbers increase and incomes sink. And the police state in the United States will metastasize as citizens seek magical solutions to concrete problems.
But here is the bottom line: The world is rushing in, and we can hardly alter that fact if we continue to believe fantasies. Open borders: a fantasy. The war on drugs: a fantasy. Walling out migrants: a fantasy. Being protected by a police state: a fantasy.

The man sitting on the couch watching the Mexican killer speak is beyond such fantasies. He is here illegally (as is the killer, for that matter) and he is surviving. His old life has ended and he knows it. But then the killer's old life has ended, too; there is a contract on his head for $250,000 because he offended his superior in the drug industry.

In one weekend in early January, more than 40 people were murdered in Juarez, a city once hailed as the poster child of free trade, the city with the lowest unemployment rate in Mexico. Such slaughter usually goes unnoticed in the U.S. press. Should it actually come to the attention of our newspapers, it simply will be written off as part of a cartel war. This is a fiction. Almost all the dead are poor people, not drug-enriched grandees. And though we give Mexico half a billion dollars a year to encourage its army to fight drug merchants, this alleged war has a curious feature: Almost no soldiers ever die. For example, in Juarez, over 4,200 citizens have been slain in two years. In the same period, with 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers in town, the military has suffered three dead.
* * *
Living on the border can cripple a person's emotional range. I grow more numb with each passing day. I find myself staring dazed at photographs, like a recent set from Juarez of two men burned alive. But that is minor compared to what is happening to the Mexican people as their world collapses around them.

One night I get a call from a friend in Juarez. He says a man just put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. He wants me to call his wife if he turns up dead and explain what happened. I hang up and go back to reading a book. That is what the numbness feels like.
There is a painting on the wall in the house. In the painting, a nude woman reclines. The artist lives in a small town near the border, a place plagued by murder and unrest. He painted it in one night, as his mother was dying of cancer.
The painting haunts me. At first, I see nothing but brown forms. Then the naked woman. Then I see that the sky above her is filled with faces. So is her nude body. I see, at the same instant, a naked woman and a writhing mass of demons.

That is my border.

The one in plain view that my government says it cannot see.

© 2010 Denver Post

Jan Klimkowski
03-21-2010, 07:33 PM
If the press reports this sort of thing, it is framed as part of a war on drugs that must be won. These stories are fables at best. There is no serious war on drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has 225,000 employees and a budget of $42 billion, part of which is aimed at making America safe from Mexico and Mexicans. Narcotics officers in the U.S. cost at least $40 billion a year. The world's largest prison industry would collapse without the intake of drug convicts and, in recent years, of illegal Mexican migrants. And around the republic, there are big new federal courthouses rising that would be cobwebbed without the steady flow from drug busts and the Mexican poor coming north.

(snip)

The official line of the U.S. government, one most recently voiced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that drug consumers in the United States are responsible for drug murders in Mexico. Only someone who is drugged could believe this claim. The sole source of the enormous amount of money in the drug business and the accompanying violence is the U.S. prohibition of drug use by its citizens. Since President Richard Nixon proclaimed the war on drugs 40 years ago, there have been two notable accomplishments: Drugs are cheaper than ever, and they are of much higher quality.

(snip)

But several things will persist. The environment in the United States will continue to be wrecked as more and more people flee the failure of the global economy. Violence will flourish as human numbers increase and incomes sink. And the police state in the United States will metastasize as citizens seek magical solutions to concrete problems.
But here is the bottom line: The world is rushing in, and we can hardly alter that fact if we continue to believe fantasies. Open borders: a fantasy. The war on drugs: a fantasy. Walling out migrants: a fantasy. Being protected by a police state: a fantasy.

(snip)

In one weekend in early January, more than 40 people were murdered in Juarez, a city once hailed as the poster child of free trade, the city with the lowest unemployment rate in Mexico. Such slaughter usually goes unnoticed in the U.S. press. Should it actually come to the attention of our newspapers, it simply will be written off as part of a cartel war. This is a fiction. Almost all the dead are poor people, not drug-enriched grandees. And though we give Mexico half a billion dollars a year to encourage its army to fight drug merchants, this alleged war has a curious feature: Almost no soldiers ever die. For example, in Juarez, over 4,200 citizens have been slain in two years. In the same period, with 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers in town, the military has suffered three dead.
* * *
Living on the border can cripple a person's emotional range. I grow more numb with each passing day. I find myself staring dazed at photographs, like a recent set from Juarez of two men burned alive. But that is minor compared to what is happening to the Mexican people as their world collapses around them.



Keith - thank you for posting these two articles.

Charles Bowden's observations have the unmistakable ring of authentic, honest, committed journalism.

These are modern Dostoyevskyan Notes from Underground.

It would be good to imagine some redemption exists, distant perhaps, but there, flickering, in the setting sun of the horizon.

I cannot be so optimistic.

Keith Millea
03-21-2010, 07:46 PM
I cannot be so optimistic.

I think optimism should be added to the indangered species list......

Yes,they are great articles.

Peter Presland
03-25-2010, 09:58 AM
This seems as good a thread as any to post this piece by Dmitry Orlov (http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2010/03/bullets-from-drug-war.html)

Bullets Fly from the Drugs War:

[One-year update: I posted this a year ago. Right now, the Secretary of State, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other American top brass are in Mexico City trying to spin this. Let's see if any of what I said a year ago needs to be revisited.]


The US has lost the "War on Drugs"
The losing side is usually not the one to decide when a fight is over or how it ends
Unlike other recent defeats, this lost war is a defeat followed by an invasion
Mexico is the natural staging area for the invasion (inconvenient though it is for the Mexicans)
New franchises are being set up to service the North American drug market (which is the biggest in the world)
The CIA has to eat, and all they know how to do competently is run guns and drugs and control thugs; they get a seat at the table
The narcs have to eat too, and all they are trained to do is deal (with) drugs; they get a seat at the table too
As the federales grow weak in the US and Mexico, the battle lines will advance north of the border, leaving Mexico a quiet and largely intact backwater
This is an inter-US conflict, because Americans are the most avid consumers, sellers, and prosecutors of drugs
Life in the USA gives everyone a pain that is for many people simply not survivable without drugs: either alcohol, pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs
Illegal drugs are far more cost-effective than either pharma or alcohol — government-licensed industries which are either excessively lucrative or taxed heavily
As Americans give up hope, they will need to self-medicate in ever-larger numbers
They will be far more able financially to afford illegal drugs than either pharma or alcohol.
Illegal drugs (and moonshine) are two very large post-collapse enrepreneurial opportunities within the fUSA/???? [Orlov 2005 (http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dtxqwqr_20dc52sm)]
This is no longer a war against drugs; it is now a contest between alternative drug distribution systems
One alternative is a centralized, paramilitary organization run by CIA remnants, former military, and former police
Another alternative is ethnic mafias, which will diversify into many other kinds of trade.
The third, nautrally most cost-effective alternative will be provided by informal, local distribution networks based on barter, which will be all that is left once the dust settles
The downside of all this is that it will be hard to find anyone sober enough to operate a light switch
The upside to that is that the national electrical grid goes away, so there will be very little demand for competent light switch operators

3 that resonated particularly with me:


The CIA has to eat, and all they know how to do competently is run guns and drugs and control thugs; they get a seat at the table



Life in the USA (same here in the UK) gives everyone a pain that is for many people simply not survivable without drugs: either alcohol, pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs
This is no longer a war against drugs; it is now a contest between alternative drug distribution systems.

And the final 2 to lighten the gloom - droll asides at which he excels:


The downside of all this is that it will be hard to find anyone sober enough to operate a light switch
The upside to that is that the national electrical grid goes away, so there will be very little demand for competent light switch operators

Our Dmitry is one astute observer of his adopted country.

Jan Klimkowski
03-25-2010, 07:09 PM
Peter- I agree on the astuteness, which is also evident here:


One alternative is a centralized, paramilitary organization run by CIA remnants, former military, and former police
Another alternative is ethnic mafias, which will diversify into many other kinds of trade.
The third, naturally most cost-effective alternative will be provided by informal, local distribution networks based on barter, which will be all that is left once the dust settles

The following amused me, given that the UK has just announced a "cider tax", perhaps a prelude to a "War on Cider", and a global "War on Alcohol" (aka creating legally enforced "minimum prices on alcohol" or Prohibition Mk 2):


As Americans give up hope, they will need to self-medicate in ever-larger numbers
They will be far more able financially to afford illegal drugs than either pharma or alcohol.

Austin Kelley
04-03-2010, 12:10 PM
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/31/bowden.ciudad.juarez.cartels/

U.S.-Mexico 'war on drugs' a failure

By Charles Bowden, Special to CNN
April 2, 2010


Editor's note: Charles Bowden is the author of 11 books, including "Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder and Family"; "Juárez: The Laboratory of our Future"; "Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing" and his latest, "Murder City," about Ciudad Juarez. He is a contributing editor of Esquire and writes for newspapers and magazines such as Harper's and The New York Times Book Review.


Tucson, Arizona (CNN) -- Last week during the day, some kids in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were playing soccer in a park when a car slowed down, guys got out and executed a 13-year-old boy. And then they drove away, unmolested in a city with 11,000 army and police officers.

The Mexican government repeatedly states that 90 percent of the deaths in the current drug war are of people who are dirty; that is, criminals involved in the drug business. The killings of reporters and of innocent women, men and children continually belie that statement.

The child was not a cartel member in disguise. Nor were the 15 high school kids killed at a party in a small house in a poor barrio. Their parents had made them hold the celebration of a sports victory at home because it was too dangerous to be out in the city.

I went to Juarez in June of 1995 and never seem to escape the pull of the place. The city then was controlled by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, then the head of the Juarez cartel. Drug Enforcement Agency intelligence told me he was raking in $250 million a week.

American factories were erupting out of the ground in the wake of the passage of NAFTA. Huge districts of shacks made out of stolen pallets and cardboard boxes were growing faster than the city could map. These shacks were filled with people working full time in those American-owned factories.

Murders ran around 250 a year and sometimes the cartel left bodies on the street wrapped in yellow ribbon. Carrillo ran the city and yet his name never appeared in the newspapers nor was mentioned on radio and television.
I thought I'd stumbled into hell.

Now the city is dying. About 5,000 people have been slaughtered in Ciudad Juarez in 27 months. It is a destroyed city where 25 percent of the houses are abandoned and 40 percent of the businesses have closed. There were 2,600 murders last year and killings are going on at a faster clip this year.

At night, no one is on the streets.

I realize that I was a fool in 1995. I had not stumbled into hell. That was the golden age.

But one constant remains: No matter how many die in Juarez, no matter how low the pay in the American factories, the U.S. government insists the War on Drugs is being won and that NAFTA is a big success.

The Mexican War on Drugs is not lost: it never seriously began. The drug industry is an essential prop under a faltering Mexican economy and has been so for more than 20 years, since the peso crisis of the early 1980s. The money flows into the hands of countless government officials, into the banking industry and into many investments in Mexico.

More people die each day as the government of President Felipe Calderon uses the Mexican army and the federal police to try to get the illegal drug industry under control. Calderon was elected by a razor-thin margin and followed the custom of Mexican presidents by immediately making a show of force. But he badly underestimated the power of the drug industry.

The profits are estimated by many analysts to be between $30 billion and $50 billion a year, although it's notoriously difficult to track. But it is not a piddling sum in a country where oil is the official highest earner of foreign currency and supplies 40 percent of the federal budget. But the oil is running out. Calderon has publicly stated that the oil fields will be gone in 10 years or less.

The next big earner is human flesh, the millions of Mexicans who have fled the economic doom of their nation and send more than $20 billion a year home from the United States. But the recession and job losses in the U.S. have cut into that source.

Tourism ranks third in legitimate sources of money for Mexico, but in a nation where heads keep getting lopped off, tourism isn't thriving.

The illegal drug industry in Mexico employs hundreds of thousands of people. No one knows the payroll, but certainly it includes many people in the army, the 3,500 separate police forces and the government from top to bottom.

It's difficult to make a living wage legitimately here. The pay varies, but in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent cities on Earth, the starting salary in the 400 foreign-owned factories, mainly American, is about 40 bucks a week.

There are 500 to 900 street gangs. No one can live on the pay offered by these factories. In a country with 50 percent of the population living in poverty, the turnover in these plants runs from 100 to 200 percent a year.

No one can live long in a gang -- but for a while, a kid can live well and feel that his life is a dream of money and power.

The U.S. approach to the killings in Mexico never looks at an economic reason, just as the consequences of our free trade treaty (NAFTA) are never brought up.

The effects wrought by NAFTA launched one of the largest human migrations in the world as poor Mexicans fled collapsing industry and agriculture.

Border Patrol statistics show that the number of Mexicans entering the U.S. illegally skyrocketed within two years of the passage of NAFTA.

We also never question our four-decades-old War on Drugs, which has produced cheaper drugs of higher quality at lower prices in thousands of U.S. cities and towns. It has helped create one of the largest prison populations in the world. If our drug policy were a ship, it would be called the Titanic.


If our drug policy were a ship, it would be called the Titanic.

--Charles Bowden

Anyone who questions the propaganda of the U.S. government on the violence in Mexico, on our War on Drugs or on our free trade agreement is told to come up with a solution, some silver bullet that instantly slays the dragon. But our policies over the decades have created a disaster, and it will take years to reverse the damage these acts of government have inflicted.

The time to start is now. Let's address the true and lethal nature of Mexico's war on drugs -- one we are in part bankrolling under the Merida Initiative to the tune of half a billion dollars per year, often tossed into the murderous hands of many in the Mexican army.

We need to have a public discussion of the obvious: Legalize drugs or keep caging Americans for taking drugs -- unless of course they are booze, tobacco or happy pills from the doctor -- and keep financing the murders of Mexicans.

The first thing to do if we want to come clean about the slaughter in Mexico is start smelling the coffee. We share a 1,900-mile border. We share a history and people. At least 10 percent of the Mexican people now live in the United States as economic or political fugitives.

Recently, the secretaries of State, Homeland Security and Defense flew to Mexico City and promised the Mexican government we would continue exactly the same polices as in the past. I have been told I should be reasonable. I am. And I expect the same of my government. Building prisons and lending support to a murderous war on drugs must stop, and digging deep into the economics and politics behind the hellish state of affairs must begin.

It's a testament to the Mexican people that no matter how hard life is in Juarez, they seem to endure, raise families, smile and try to create a better future. As a Mexican friend told me, "I love Juarez, it is such a needy city."

It is poor and dangerous, a tapestry of one-story buildings. But once you know Juarez it haunts you no matter how you try to flee.