This is a documentary about the encroachment of the “narcotics culture” and the way it has pervaded not only all of Mexico, but, specifically, the city of Juarez.
This writer has actually been to Juarez a couple of times, right before the awful drug wars began. We were taking a youth mission trip with college age (the first time) and high school age (the second time). We were partnering with a church organization in Juarez, to help build a Sunday school classroom for a local church. We stayed in the church fellowship hall and were served meals by the members of the congregation. It was a lovely opportunity for fellowship and cross-cultural interchange. One evening, a couple of our Senior High girls thoughtlessly left the church compound and walked down the street to the local 7-11 to buy Slurpees. Our hosts fussed at them about the danger of walking by themselves on the city streets, though the girls seemed not to understand why it was such a big deal. They do that in the U.S. all the time.
Ah, but Juarez is not the United States. In fact, it is no longer the Juarez it used to be either, even six or seven years ago. Since 2006, there have been more than 60,000 murders in Juarez; one for every waking hour. In fact, in the time it takes to watch the film, there will be a couple more.
The police are completely overwhelmed. Those few who quietly try to do their jobs are bribed to look the other way, and if they won’t, then they’re in grievous personal danger and so are their families. They have to wear ski masks when they investigate a crime scene, in order to disguise their own identity from the bystanders. One harrowing security camera video shows a bunch of prison guards just walking away and handing their guns to the prisoners, who, in turn, go in and shoot rival prisoners. It took authorities an entire day just to restore order inside the prison.
They show a little boy outside the border fence, saying that he wishes the murders would stop. He’s standing beside his little brother. Next, we see footage of more bodies in the streets, many of them very young. Some were innocent bystanders, some were ambushed and some were just caught in the crossfire. The major drug cartels are struggling for control of the multi-billion dollar industry of transporting drugs to the United States. Yes, we represent most of the demand for the product, so we have some culpability in this, as well. But in a sad and frightening commentary on contemporary Mexico, the “narco culture,” instead of everyone rising up against it, has instead become a kind of fad. Kids want to dress up like hombres in the drug gangs. The “banditos” are regarded with an inexplicable romance, like Bonnie and Clyde, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Robin Hood. The fact that they’re outlaws adds to their mystique. They can do anything they want in the “movimiento alterado” (the alternative movement). The rich fear them and everybody else stays out of their way. There’s a kind of “narco rap” that’s becoming extremely popular, despite attempts by some in the “mainstream” culture to suppress the music that seems to embrace violence (it didn’t work with hip-hop, either). And yes, all the same arguments could be made about promoting negative images of women, also, except the footage shows the young women at the concerts, mouthing the words to the songs and dancing to the music.
At the end, a law enforcement officer who is still honest, and still on the job, talks about how many of his co-workers have been killed and how he longs to be across the border in El Paso and live in a place where he and his family can finally live in peace. It’s the dream of the peaceable kingdom, which those of us who are Christians can certainly understand. But as it is, he says, “The youth have lost their values and now idolize the devil.” Yes, this is a movie about how it’s all gone to hell in a hand-basket, literally in our own backyard. And everybody just looks the other way.RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.