Saturday, December 02, 2006


I consider myself to be fairly well-informed when it comes to news matters. I keep up with breaking news on, and I supplement that with occasional magazines in the store that catch my eye. Usually I pick up magazines that offer additional coverage of a news story or someone who wants to offer a different take on what is actually going on.

After all, I am a writer. I need to know more about what’s going on – or at least think I do – than most people. To me, the world is an immensely interesting place. I rely on books, movies, and fact-based DVDs like this one to keep me on top of my game.

I even check out the BBC websites and other internationals news sites to see what’s going on in other parts of the world. Still, no matter how hard you try, there’s simply too much going on to keep abreast of it all.

It doesn’t help when a story is casually brushed under the rug and kept out of the news.

That’s what’s been going on down in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican town that has grown large enough to straddle the border between Texas and Mexico. “This city kills people,” says Charles Bowden, author Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future.

The figures vary, but most experts and political activists agree that over 400 young Mexican women have been kidnapped, raped, murdered, and tossed out into the desert in the last 13 years. In addition to that, over 4000 more people have gone missing in that same time period, and most – if not all – of those are presumed murdered as well.

Steev Hise ( describes himself as a cultural artist. He claims to focus on the “appropriation and recontextualization of pre-existing cultural artifacts in other words, making new art from the old.”

After watching his work in On The Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez, I think he’s more of a journalist than he might perhaps realize or want to own up to. His portrayal of the problem in that city is at once matter-of-fact and moving. His investigation into the causes is extremely well thought out and presented in a manner that is easy to understand. Even if the subject matter is so hard to take.

I live in Oklahoma, which practically puts this problem in my backyard, yet I hadn’t heard about it other than an episode of “Criminal Minds” last year that didn’t lay out as many facts as Hise’s DVD does. Expect to hear more as Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas star in Bordertown when it releases at the theaters.

Hise interviews several people during the 58-minute documentary, and all of them are a combination of passionate and jaded. They know this story intimately, and it still moves them, but you can tell they’re just tired of telling it and watching as it falls on deaf ears. They know, but they wish everyone else knew too.

The first problem in Ciudad Juarez is the abject poverty. Many United States manufacturing corporations have built plants there, but most employees make less than $4 a day. But that’s more than the $1.90 a day earned by most employees. When you see the footage of the streets, you can tell poverty has a stranglehold on the city and is grinding it back down into the dust.

That problem is immediately coupled with neglect. Too many people don’t want to get involved. No true investigation has been done because too many of those in official positions don’t want to know what’s really going on. Mexican police don’t start acting until 72 hours have passed after paperwork has been filed about a missing person. In 2004, Special Prosecutor Maria Lopez Urbina filed charges against 81 policemen for being negligent or incompetent.

As a result, when pressured, Mexican police have started prosecuting the first man they can find who was associated with the murdered woman. Usually it’s the husband or a family member. Many of these men are innocent of the charges, but they’re tortured into a confession. Fearful for their own freedom, many choose not to get involved.

Corruption has always been a problem in Mexico, just as it’s been a problem in all countries where organized crime exists. Criminal enterprises are profitable, and there’s usually enough to pay off several people. Policemen don’t make enough money as policemen to support their families, so everyone knows they’ll be taking bribes somewhere down the road.

Migration is still another problem. With its proximity to the United States, many people flood into Ciudad Juarez with the hopes of working at US plants or crossing the border illegally and finding work there. Many of those interviewed bring out the fact that women get hired for those jobs more than men do (because they come from a culture where women are trained from birth to be docile), creating a disparity between the sexes that causes any number of problems in the home. This increases the incidence of domestic violence.

The DVD brings out the fact that Free Trade (North American Free Trade Agreement) causes friction and Mexico is totally unprotected. Globalization has hurt many smaller nations, and I can see where that’s starting to hit home in the United States now as jobs are outsourced and benefits fade away. Mexico, once a country that was known for corn harvests, now imports, a move that put over a million independent farmers out of business.

In addition to putting together a presentation about an important problem that simply isn’t getting enough attention, Hise has produced a moving body of work. His camera becomes our eyes, and he triggers the questions we have as we learn more about the murders and the conditions that exist in Ciudad Juarez.

I certainly got more than I’d intended when I asked to review this DVD. It’s something that’s going to stay with me for a long time, and probably something I’m going to write about again.
In the meantime, read up on the problem. You’ll find that women’s rights are largely ignored in many African countries, too, which is why the United Nations is putting embargoes against them. But the scary part is that eventually this kind of treatment isn’t going to be localized in certain parts of the world, but be a global phenomenon. And one that isn’t limited to region, race, or religion.

1 comment:

Katie said...

this is just scary. something should be done. I don't know what but something.