January 11, 2014 -- This documentary film opens with grim scenes of blood and death, and it doesn't get any better after that. Richi Soto, crime scene investigator in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, explains, “Juárez has always been a dangerous city. In 2007, we processed 320 murders. Then the drug war arrived in our city. In 2008 we processed 1,623 homicides. In 2009, there were 2,754 murders. 3,622 were murdered in 2010. In El Paso, Texas, right across the river, there were five murders that same year, making it the safest city in the United States.”
Children discuss the AK-47 machine gun and other guns used in murders in their neighborhood. Terrible crimes, murders, decapitations, dismemberment of bodies, which serve as a warning to rival drug cartels and police, are commonplace in Juárez. What once was a thriving economy in Juárez has ground to a halt. The normal economy of sales and manufacturing has now changed to a drug economy. If business people don't pay protection money, their businesses are burned down.
Ciudad Juárez, has long been a key distribution point for transporting illegal substances, starting with alcohol during prohibition, and then drugs, into the U.S. The bloody conflict intensified when the Juárez Cartel began fighting for control of the city with its former partner, the Sinaloa Cartel.
The film isn't just about the terrible conditions in Juárez, however, it is also about the drug culture. One of the film's main characters is Edger Quintero of Los Angeles, California. He is a narcocorrido (drug ballads) singer, part of a large sub-culture of outlaw musicians who glamorize the narcotic gangland culture in both Mexico and the United States. Narcocorrido music sounds jaunty and upbeat. Much of it is influenced by polka music from German immigrants into Mexico, but the lyrics are full of violence and death.
Quintero is a musician with a criminal past. He is trying to get ahead in the music business so he can support his growing family. In order to do that, he feels he needs to travel to Mexico to get more authentic drug war material for his lyrics. His wife and children are undstandably concerned about this idea, but he goes anyway. He travels to Culiacán, Sinaloa, home of the Sinaloa drug cartel, one of the world's most powerful criminal organizations. He hangs out with men who are casually packing up close to a $100,000 worth of methamphetamines around a dining room table.
In one of the film's stranger segments, Quintero travels to an opulent necropolis, a city of the dead, where drug lords have built huge monuments to themselves. Some of these elaborate mausoleums are equipped with bulletproof glass. This underscores the danger in drug trafficking. There is also danger in narcocorrido music, just like there is in American “Gangsta rap,” hip-hop and other music genres. Numerous narcocorrido musicians have been murdered in recent years.
Sandra Rodriguez, a journalist for the El Diario newspaper (winner of a 2011 Knight International investigative journalism award) said that only three percent of drug war homicides, on average, are ever fully investigated, and none of them result in convictions or punishment. There has been an increased emphasis on crime investigation science (and the facilities shown in the film appear very modern and well-equipped) the clues developed in these scientific investigations never seem to go anywhere. Journalism is another of the many dangerous occupation in Mexico's drug war battlefields.
In a drug economy like the one in Juárez, corruption is the rule, rather than the exception, and signs of corruption are everywhere, including law enforcement and the court system. A group of Mexican drug traffickers and corrupt Juárez and Chihuahua state police officers, called La Línea, is said to work as the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel. There are references to the government's military intervention, under President Felipe Calderón, in the drug war in 2006 being a catalyst for more violence, but this movie does not provide an analysis of the situation, or its history. It documents what was happening at the time it was made from the point of view of people living in Juárez and elsewhere on the front lines of the drug war. This film rates a B.
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