Q How you say War on Drugs ? A: Guerra contra el narcotráfico

9 Nov

Poster about Murdered Women in Juarez


The subject no one wants to talk about—no politicians, in any case— is the so called War on Drugs (which is , of course, evidence of its great intractability). And more specifically, the carnage taking place on Mexico’s northern border of which Ciudad Juaraez is Ground Zero. A place Labeled as at least the most dangerous city in this hemisphere, it has been the subject of a growing number of books and documentaries—Charles Bowden’s Murder City and a nearly 300 page section of Roberto Bolano’s 2666 enumerates the harrowing details of the unsolved murders of countless women. Also recently published, Sam Hawken’s The Dead Women of Juarez [Serpent’s Tail].

Now comes HBO’s FOUR documentary series WITNESS, of which the first is Juarez.Executive producer Michael Mann explains:

I think these stories are important to tell because, as our world evolves and change occurs more rapidly through globalization, we get a rapid stream of packets of information, but they’re cursory. By necessity their abbreviation reduces content to almost a statistical quality. Occasionally there’s a story, like Malala Yousafza, the girl shot in Pakistan, which can ignite a nation. Narrative film conveys with emotional impact the human experience … I believe what’s important about WITNESS is that these are rapid insertions into events which are happening right now. WITNESS takes us into the raw human experience. It has the ability to push us into empathy, imagining ourselves in a Libyan psychiatrist’s shoes, seeing the internecine conflict through the eyes of an older Tawergha man whose son has disappeared. When conflicts have a human face they sustain in memory.

Juarez directed by Davids Frankham delivers a potent array of information in less than a half hour. Using photo journalist Eros Hoagland (son of famed hot zone photographer John Hoagland— who was murdered in El Salvador in 1984) to both frame and capture the harrowing reality and no-bullshit writer Charles Bowden to deliver the deadly statistics and the Mexico’s rabbit hole politics, we get un varnished snapshots of both the lethal environment and toxic system that enables it. And through Hoagland we are introduced to the a view of photojournalism that eschews a “if it bleeds, it leads” news mentality.Hoagland points out,”“As a photographer, the first thing I do is not bust out the camera and start photographing but certainly to talk to people and get a sense of what the vibe is”. Hoagland elaborates:

Eros Hoagland in Juarez

Juarez was just one of many places I was photographing that had to do with the Mexican border. It was a logical place to go to make pictures because it’s one of the most violent cities in the world, which fit in well with a broader reportage I was doing about the border itself – not just the drug-trafficking and murder, but about the whole scene there. Juarez was very important, but I don’t believe it was so important all by itself. That’s one of the problems I had with the overall coverage of the drug war: People would just go to Juarez and think, “I got it.” But it’s just one chapter of many. But it was a logical next step for me, and I’ve been there several times since WITNESS was filmed, learning more and more – and becoming more confused.


Next in HBO’s Witness series, Libya, premieres Monday November 12

Currently reading the Valley of Unknowing by Phillip Sington (Norton)

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