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“A Much Sorrier Place”

Art (partial) Frida Kahlo's  Hope, Stay Strong (1946)

Art (partial) Frida Kahlo’s Hope, Stay Strong (1946)

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“A Much Sorrier Place”

“To fight evil,” wrote Octavio Paz, “is to fight ourselves.”

Let’s pause here, because this is where one of the colleagues that I often consult for my columns became puzzled and frustrated by what I had written.

My editors at PopMatters are outstanding, particularly adept at spotting a poorly-constructed foundation for an argument. But I also cover my back on all of my projects through the employ of my own editor, Miss L, who not only knows Strunk and White and the Chicago Manual of Style better than I do, but she also possesses the ability to deconstruct my own thinking before I embarrass myself in print (In the interest of full disclosure, she also lives with me, which gives her unique access to my thought processes, for better and worse).

When I read Miss L the first 1,000 words (sans the précis which, presumably, you have already explored) she stared into the distance thoughtfully and instead of proclaiming that it was very good and encouraging me to move forward, she said, “You lost me somewhere.”

Once again I read aloud the last three paragraphs, beginning with the Bolano and Joyce comparison and ending with the “If you’re gonna kill ‘em, why not hurt them too?” premise.

“Are you saying that religion breeds murderers?”

“Not exactly, but if I was, history would back my play with the Crusades and the Spanish occupation of Mexico; the latter was all about the Jesuit evangelization of the native tribes.”

Miss L rose from sofa to grab two more bottles of cold San Lucas Cerveza from the fridge. “I still don’t see the connection between God and the murders of the factory girls in Juarez and the drug killings.”

“Over 8,000 people were killed in the Mexican drug wars in 2008,” I said, “and over 10,000 have been murdered in the narco wars overall since Felipe Calderon became President at the end of 2006. 10,000 lives violently ended in almost three years of free-for-all mayhem. Listen to this—”

She handed me a bottle of beer and I reached for the May 2009 issue of Harper’s on the bookshelf behind my armchair. I flipped through the glossy magazine pages until I found Charles Bowden’s chilling article, The Sicario: A Juarez Hit Man Speaks.

cover art


Jack Kerouac

(Penguin (reprint); US: Jun 1992)

Bowden, a writer based in Tucson, Arizona, is obsessed with the murders of the young women in Juarez, Mexico. Bowden has published two books on the topic and he has reported on what he terms “the slaughter of the city” for various periodicals since 1995, “when murder in Juarez ran at two or three hundred a year, until 2008, when 1,607 people were killed.”

“And that is only the official tally,” Bowden writes in The Sicario, “no one really keeps track of those who are taken and never heard from again.”

“This kind of shit happens every damn day in Mexico,” I tell Miss L. “It’s a holocaust, as Bolano points out more than once in 2666 – in fact, he hammers readers over the head with it at times. If America’s border states were experiencing this level of gruesome brutality – people being boiled alive in vats of acid, for God’s sake – you would hear a hue and cry from the public like you’ve never heard before. But in Mexico—” I shrugged my shoulders.

Miss L settled back into the sofa with her beer. “It’s not everyone in Mexico who is condoning this,” she insisted. “The mothers of the dead girls in Juarez certainly don’t condone it. The poor and the weak don’t condone it, and they are the majority of the population of Mexico.”

I could not argue with her there: according to the Financial Times, the top 30 percent of income earners in Mexico account for 55 percent of income.

“I don’t think it would be fair for you to imply that there is apathy at the heart of the collective consciousness in Mexico,” Miss L continued. “What may be at play here is mass psychosis at the oligarchy level, that top 30 percent where all the power rests, the church, the state, the industrialists—”

“And the narcotics cartels,” I added. “It’s the great disparity between the rich and the poor in Mexico, according to Bowden’s article in Harper’s, that has created the cartels and their hit men.”

“So what you’re seeing is the shadow side of Mexico’s culture,” Miss L suggested, “a culture that otherwise looks to the Catholic church for social control.”

But where has the Catholic Church and its social controls been hiding while the faithful continue to attend services on Sunday morning and slit the throat of their neighbor the next afternoon?

In the 4 October 2009 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, Sara Miller Llana writes about the slaying of Father Hernandez Benitez on 13 June 2009, the first known church casualty of the drug wars (“Mexico’s Drug War: Priests Speak Out”). Llana writes:

In many ways, priests are brought into drug violence the same way the rest of the country is: Their neighbors are traffickers, and they face the consequences of speaking out or knowing too much. But priests’ leadership in the country’s small communities means they see and hear more than average citizens – things that could make them targets in Mexico’s increasingly brutal drug violence. Now they are forming a more unified voice: at a semiannual bishops’ meeting in November, insecurity and violence – for the first time – are slated to be the main topics of discussion.

“The church’s voice, with respect to organized crime, has been very timid,” says Victor Ramos Cortes, a religion expert at the University of Guadalajara. “They have spent most of their time on moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, or homosexuality, and much less on narco-violence. Hopefully this (meeting) can open up the dialogue.”

In other words, abortion, same-sex relationships, and the right to choose how and when one dies are hot button issues for the bishops of Mexico, but the wholesale slaughter of human beings doesn’t get their attention until one of their own catches a bullet.

“To fight evil,” wrote Octavio Paz, “is to fight ourselves.”

Rodger Jacobs has won multiple awards and grants for his work as a journalist, documentary writer and producer, screenwriter, playwright, magazine editor, true crime writer, book critic, columnist, and live event producer. He provided the preface and original inspiration for Jack London: San Francisco Stories (Sydney Samizdat Press) in 2010.

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