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Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition

Interview with Ricardo Ainslie

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War
Moderator: Alfredo Corchado

Ricardo Ainslie frequented Juárez during its most violent years, as war between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels raged and soaked the city in blood. In his new book, The Fight to Save Juárez (UT Press), Ainslie writes an empathic account that captures the complexity, horror, and humanity of a community descended into chaos. Below is a transcript of a Q&A with the Current last week. See him talk about his book this weekend.  1-1:45 p.m., RHR Lecture Hall, Navarro Campus.

Interview with Ricardo Ainslie
By Michael Barajas

Why focus on Juárez? You write that you hadn't spent much time in the city, and didn't start regularly visiting until after the drug war.

I'm from Mexico. I was born and raised in Mexico City. So I've always kept an eye on what was going on in Mexico. I was finishing up another project when the violence got pretty heavy in Nuevo Laredo. And I made an initial trip there, but during that time – that would have been the fall of 2008 – it became clear to me that the drug war was moving to Juárez. The violence had started to increase in Juárez and it was just clear that Juárez was going to be the next focal point for the drug war, and I wanted to go there and try to understand what was taking place, try to make sense of it. Obviously by then there was a lot of violence all over the country. But I think what erupted in Juárez was in a league of its own.
There still hasn't been a comparable city visited by this much violence. At this point there's over 11,000 people killed between January 2007 and the end of 2012. That's more than Americans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined over 10 years. This has been one city.
I do want to say I visited Juárez once before this book, actually in 2007. And at the time, war hadn't really started. They had a record number of killings in the city that year, but when I was there that one visit for a conference there was no sense that Juárez was on the verge of becoming this sort of national catastrophe.

You paint a picture of a ravaged city. What made Juárez this way?

What happened is that there had been a kind of understanding for the better part of a decade between the cartels that they each had their own sort of areas of control and they had a sort of gentleman's agreement they could move their product through different corridors. That understanding began to unravel a couple of years before the war erupted in Juárez. The key thing that happened in Juárez is the Sinaloa cartel decided to take over that route, that plaza. The Juárez cartel had, in the ’90s, become the most powerful cartel in all of Mexico. Many of the cartel leaders lived in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. And it was kind of a peaceful kingdom prior to this war breaking out.
But what had happened is there had been a change of leadership in the Juárez cartel. Vincent Carrillo Fuentes had taken over from his brother, who had died. And this man is kind of an irascible, erratic guy. A violent guy. He didn't honor agreements with the other cartels. So there was a falling out. I think Sinaloa thought the Juárez cartel was weakened. So they made a move on the city. They came in and really spent some time doing intelligence work in Juárez in 2007. They start kidnapping Juárez cartel people, torturing them, and getting information. Then in 2008 they basically declared war by placing a narcomanta, a drug cartel message, at the monument for fallen police in Juárez. And that was a very strategic and thought-out move because it was well known and thoroughly established that the Juárez municipal police were basically the armed wing of the Juárez cartel. And that message basically identified by name five police who had been killed in the prior year – one of them had been killed just four days prior – and the list of another 17 police who were going be the next target if the police didn't start cooperating with the Sinaloa cartel. And so that was actually the declaration of war in Juárez. What ensued was this sort of terrible unraveling.

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