books: The Fight To Save Juarez – Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War

The Fight To Save Juarez cover
The Fight To Save Juarez cover
[New Books]

Gulf Drug Cartels And Small Town Life In Cuidad Juarez

The Fight To Save Juarez – Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War

by Ricardo C. Ainslie, University of Texas Press, hardcover with dust jacket, first edition, 2013, $25 (332p),

review by Bob Yunger

Let’s start with a bit of text from the page for The Fight To Save Juarez on the University of Texas website:

Presenting a range of viewpoints that spans from high-level Mexican and U.S. officials to ordinary narcos and family members of victims, this portrait of Mexico’s bloodiest city offers a gripping, firsthand perspective on the drug war that has claimed close to 60,000 lives since 2007.

The author of this book is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, and this fact alone makes it worth reading. Reading it is something I am in the midst of right now as we go to print with this issue you now hold, dear readers, so – full disclosure – I have not finished it yet. But I did attend the fascinating talk entitled “Tequila Talk: Lessons from Mexico’s Drug War: Can Peña Nieto Change Course?” (there was free food and bottles Jose Cuervo sipping tequila!) which Ainslie presented on August 1 at UCSD in the Malamud Room, in the Institute of the Americas. Real choice timing, too. Only days before the talk were headlines on the news agencies that Mexican Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar and an aide were killed when the assailants opened fire on his vehicle. This was assumed to be in retaliation to the capture by the Mexican Marines of the head of the Zetas drug cartel. So against this backdrop Ainslie spoke of his historical account about a war that is not only current and ongoing but, as citizens of San Diego, this city is sometimes considered within the front lines of. Ricardo Ainslie opened his talk with a bold, declarative statement. He corrected the woman who introduced him, who I think was Chandler Martin, who had said he was a Mexican citizen.

“I am a native of Mexico City,” said the pale skinned, grey haired, bearded psychoanalyst professor. But, he added, “I am a U.S. citizen and a Mexican citizen,” he said, and that he still has family in Mexico that he is of course concerned for the welfare of. “That’s part of my motivation.”

He then jumped into the meat of the talk, describing the key shifts in U.S. policy that affected the level of violence in the escalating drug war.

Number one: in 1980 the U.S. changes maritime law that allows it to interdict boats Columbia to Florida and the Eastern seaboard. This positions Mexico as a key player and a funnel with its overland routes.

Two: then the U.S. closes the border, starting in the early 1990’s with Operation Hold The Line and then followed by the post 9-11 environment. This set up Juarez as a perfect example to understand the shift because the cartels began using Mexican nationals and U.S. citizens who could cross the border as “mules” to smuggle drugs into the States, paying them, said Ainslie, “half in money and half in product.”

Ainslie describes the recent Presidential administration of Felipe Calderón as pretty much throwing up its hands, saying, in effect, “We had no choice.” There were regions – Tamaulipas, Chihuahua … 6 or 7 states – that the Federal government was losing control on.

In Cuidad Juarez, the municipal police was completely under the control of the Juarez cartel. The Federal police were too few. The Army is larger but has no training in police work, how to conduct law enforcement investigations, etcetera. The tension built up. You can’t let things remain the way they are but you also can not let your law enforcement, in this case the Army, violate people’s rights. In Cuidad Juarez there grew to the point of daily executions on the street as different gangs vied for control of the smuggling route, the local market, or settled any petty disputes at the point of a gun. “Out of 11,000 executions, maybe 200 were processed in 6 years,” said Ainslie.
The figure presented was 11,182 murders in the years 2007 to 2012.

The dozen cartel kingpins could be removed by the Calderon government yet business continued unabated. Now, the Zetas’ organization have morphed into regional diversification. “Extortion and human trafficking are the main sources of income now,” said Ainslie. “This is the missing piece of the puzzle, the under-reported part.”

He cites one example: “A 70-year-old woman has to pay an extortion tax to walk safely to her bus and then to come home safely from her job at the maquiladoras without her house being robbed. This is totally new. 10 years ago this was not the case. (Now) if you buy a drug in Austin, the people you buy from are an affiliate of the Gulf Cartel, la Familia Michoacan. 20% of the Mexican Army were deployed in Juarez at the height of the drug war… But the Sinaloa cartel won,” said Ainslie.

There’s no one thing that is true. They’re all true. ~Ernest Hemmingway (inscription at the front of The Fight To Save Juarez)

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