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Amexica: War Along the Borderline Hardcover – October 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
This engrossing travelogue traces the fraught Mexican-American border, where the collision of affluence and poverty is mediated by an ultraviolent narco-traficante culture. Vulliamy (Seasons in Hell) journeys from Tijuana, where the ruthless Arellano Félix Organization cartel battles rivals, to the Atlantic coast, where the even more ruthless Zetas cartel, armed with grenades and rocket launchers, battles the Mexican army and besieges whole cities. In the middle is Juárez, the world's most violent town, an anarchy of contending cartels, street gangs, and their police and military allies, where massacres, beheadings, and grisly sex murders are routine. Vulliamy's border isn't all drugs and killings; it's also narco-corrida songs that celebrate drugs and killings, the American gun industry that feeds off drug money and enables the killings, and a presiding quasi-Catholic cult of Santíssima Muerte (holiest death). The author's take isn't entirely coherent. Sometimes the border is the problem, an artificial rupture that provokes turf battles over prime smuggling sites; sometimes, presented less persuasively, the lawless border is just a symptom of global capitalism, like the desperate illegal immigrants and exploited maquiladora workers (in foreign-owned low-wage factories along the border) he profiles. Although not especially deep, Vulliamy's is a vivid, disturbing dispatch from a very wild frontier.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Journalist Vulliamy has long reported on life along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, writing about international trucking, sweatshop factories, and illegal immigration. In this compelling book, he brings together the economic and cultural factors that have led to escalating violence along the border in territory that seems not to be under the control of either government. Traveling the frontier from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico, he interviewed drug dealers, law enforcers, and ordinary citizens caught in the gory violence and material excess surrounding narco-trafficking. Glorified in narcocorrido music and American film, drug traffickers are now involved in smuggling illegal immigrants, charging taxes to coyotes and ransom to families of immigrants kidnapped once they cross the border. He chronicles startling violence from a “soupmaker” who dissolves dead bodies in lye and acid to young traffickers who worship a culture of death that combines Catholicism and pre-Columbian faiths. Vulliamy examines the tough Arizona anti-immigration law and other immigration policies that are only now beginning to recognize that narco-trafficking can no longer be seen as the problem and responsibility of Mexico alone. --Vanessa Bush
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It is part social traveloque, part keen observation, part critical attempt to understand complex issues, part interviews and reflection, part documentation of systemic corruption and public executions, mutilations, barbarism, decline and hope. It is mostly superior jopurnmalism: crisply written and extremely informative. Current drug policies have created atrocity and this erodes what we used to call "civilization", replacing it with fear and silence. War is more than a metaphor and like all work that attempts to address this, it deserves the attention and serious reflection that is sadly mission from the nightly news. There are compelling issues and findings on all of the border cities and a damning critique of the simplifications that define conventional wisdom.
A fine bibliography guides the reader to serious work being done on the borderlands. If you can only read one book on these issues, this should be the one. Perhaps, someday a Mexican journalist or scholar will actually be free enough to write the sequal and those north of the border will awaken from the illusion that military technology and hardware, fences, and ideology can ever solve more problems than they create and magnify. We owe that to the children who live on the border who, after all, ought to shock us into being more responsible than we currently are. People who live there already know that. It is the rest of us who need to do our homework as it is our fantasies and priorities that govern their realities, and thus reveal our supreme ignorance of what lies behind the famed "invisible hand" of classical economics gone global: a black sun. This secular version of the Antichrist emerges when a society looses its moorings and the social fabric unravels. Shadow is confused for substance, and crude materialism for something of value. Fear trumps reason. Silence trumps inquiry and myths are reified, compounding ignorance. Not many journalists, hoever, are often mistaken for philosophers and scholars--additions reasons to read this vital book.
Sadly, it was just an idea: this book reads like a first draft dashed off in an airport or Starbucks. It is
virtually unreadable. The old axiom applies: easy writing makes for wretched reading.
To give you an idea of how the book is set up, Vulliamy starts at the western end of the border in the Tijuana/San Diego area, and works his way east. During his journey, he meets and interviews people on both sides of the border to get their perspectives on the impact the drug war has had on their lives, and what the region known as "Amexica" means to them. He talks to American law enforcement, Mexican drug addicts and priests, businessmen and the unemployed...you name it. His chapter on Ciudad Juárez does an amazing job of capturing the chaos and hopelessness of the city - how no one knows anymore who's doing the killing, the rise in local drug addiction, the shockingly severe shortage of schools, the daily abandonment of children by parents who work in the maquiladoras, and the few souls who still hold out some hope.
The author's journey doesn't have a formal structure, but that's one of the things I liked about it. He does arrange his stories as he travels from west to east, but the stories themselves are so incredibly engrossing that you just can't wait to see who he meets next, and what his or her story is going to be. It's at times eye-opening, funny, sad, shocking, and heart-wrenching. If you're looking for a source for an academic research piece, this isn't it. However, if you want to learn more about the drug war from the personal perspectives of people on the ground on both sides of the border and from all walks of life, this book is for you.