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Book Review Charles Bowden "Down by the River" Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family

July 17, 2010 | Comments: 0 | Views: 140

No one much cares to confront the reality of the drug war. This reality gets very uncomfortable to most very quickly. Reactions in Mexico range from fatalistic acceptance and acquiescence to despair to "How can I make a buck off this thing?" Where are my pesos? To I had just better shut up and not think too hard about it, it's much safer that way. Explanations here in the United States start on the Left with. "Citizens need caring compassionate control from the government. We can't just let them run wild.", to the ravings of the right wing that has always been for repression of whatever sort at whatever time, fir whatever reason.

After 40 years of abject failure for the drug war the explanations and justifications grow increasingly more prosaic, tired, and ridiculous and I could go on. On the Right the authorities and the authoritarians insist that any war waged by an American Government can never be lost or abandoned. You have to keep drugs out of the hands, lungs, noses and brains of the people. Of course ignoring the fact that all the illegal drugs are widely available. And that prices keep going down. And ignoring the wars around the world that we are in the process of losing. Or have already essentially lost already. On the left if something isn't working we can fix it with some government program. Sometimes it does take a little tinkering and more billions and a new agency to get it right! So it goes on.

Charles Bowden weaves a narrative of three strands through his book Down By The River.

One is a very personal story of a family in El Paso that lost their son, the "good one, the golden boy". Bruno. The one in a large family that everyone loves. He was shot in El Paso, an innocent victim of trans-national border crime, a car-jacking...very rare at that time in the 1990's. Hundreds of cars were stolen and driven into Juarez. But car-jacking wasn't necessary. Alarm systems were primitive or non-existent. A late model car or truck could be hot wired in less than a minute. Or more likely something more sinister and pre-meditated occurred. The government of Mexico is famous for among other things it's almost total indifference to the plight of its citizens in legal trouble in foreign countries. The accused carjacker and killer was a penniless Mexican teenager. For whatever reason, this time Mexico leaps to the defense. The money pours in. While Bruno Jordan was unconnected to crime or narcotics there was a connection. His brother Phil. A high official in the DEA. He was involved in hundreds of cases. In the end the family's agony and search for justice comes to nothing.. This mirrors the experience of the people of Juarez and Mexico entire. A country where Justice is a joke and there is no hope of ever finding it. But revenge is another thing. Sometimes that can be found. Until the revenged come to take it back.

The other thread is the story of the Mexicans: The narcos, the cops, the narco-cops. The Cartel Bosses, the underlings, the people, the undercover cops, their world.

There are few heroes. Bowden himself might be one. He might dispute that. Perhaps some of the journalists and the people that survive along with some of their humanity are as close to heroes here as we will find. As Bowden says in the end the drug war destroys all. There are no winners.

Thread number three is the documentary. Like bursts from an AR-15 he documents incident after incident of cases that only went so high. Of the complicity of every Mexican President in the narcotic business of Mexico and the U.S. Of case after case that was quashed by American Attorney Generals and Justice Department higher-ups when it became too politically sensitive. Then would come "new and incorruptible agencies and leaders" in Mexico to gain more American support and money. The whole dog and pony show was always political. Always about more laws and more prisons and more money.

All built on a culture of snitches and betrayal and lies. Leading to torture, death, imprisonment, ruination of many lives, and now eight years later, the perhaps irrecoverable descent of Mexico into a failed Narco -Police State forever at war with itself. And the beat goes on and on.

There of course is the now familiar tale of a DEA bust of a drug courier, the call from the CIA, and the release of said courier and his product, because it is a "national security situation". The DEA agents try not to reach obvious conclusions, but whatever you say about them, they aren't dumb.

From Down By The River

Bowden writes: I'm drinking in my yard with a retired DEA agent, he spent years in Mexico, survived gun battles, then spent more years tracking the huge flows of money, night has fallen and he sits in the shadow sipping a Pacifico, the beer of Sinaoloa. He likes to talk at these moments but he never wants these conversations to go on record, because he explains to me repeatedly, because "they" can not be beaten. And this "they" he refers to is the CIA.

Bowden himself has said he held back on his conclusions out of respect to the Jordan family. The book is an eye-opener. Of course it's somewhat outdated because as horrible a situation as he paints only a decade ago, it is many times worse today.

These kind of books can be rated on a train wreck system...It becomes impossible to look away despite and because of the carnage that goes on and on and on.

I give it 6 locomotives and a thousand cars careening off the track falling down the mountainside upon the not so innocent village people of two countries.

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