Movie Review: The New Juarez
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Charlie Minn’s new documentary, “The New Juárez,” says there were 320 murders in Juárez in 2007.
Then 1,607 in 2008. Then 2,657 in 2009.
Then 3,115 in 2010. Then 2,086 in 2011.
But in 2012, the year ended with fewer than 800 murders, Minn says.
This is still an obscene number that causes an intense amount of sadness and rage in Mexico and probably should be causing a lot more sadness and rage in the United States, a country with a whole lot of weapons that consumes a whole lot of drugs.
But it is also less than half of what the city endured the year before. What happened?
This is the question Minn addresses in his third and final movie on Juárez. His previous two, “Murder Capital of the World” (2012) and “8 Murders a Day” (2011) discussed how the city, located quite literally mere feet from the U.S. at the border with El Paso, got to this disturbing state.
And make no mistake: It is disturbing. The streets (and walls and cars) of Juárez still run red with blood. There is an especially jarring sequence wherein a hitman describes his employer’s war on the local police. A rival cartel member is killed, then dressed like a policeman, the body rigged with explosives. Cops, thinking they have found one of their own, surround the body. Boom. And it’s captured on camera. (To be brutally honest, “The New Juárez”is full of images that viewers simply may reject in light of recent events in Boston.)
Nevertheless, the city is in better shape than it has been of late. Minn credits a few people and situations for the turnaround. Not one of them is without controversy.
It helps (and one uses the word “helps” here as denuded of positive energy as possible) that one of the major drug cartels, Sinaloa, led by the increasingly legendary drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who may or may not have ties to the Mexican government, has largely won its war against the Juárez cartel.
The city has also become demilitarized and the Mexican Army presence in Juárez decreased. Under the orders of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, the army has occupied the city since 2009. Plenty of people, many of them average citizens, aren’t too wild about that. Minn also talks with Juárez mayor Héctor Murguía, who is convinced unemployment is the root of much of the evil.
But the most important figure might be Julián Leyzaola Pérez, the former police chief of Tijuana, now the Juárez police chief. Leyzaola is a tough guy, accused of torture by multiple people in the documentary. The accounts are graphic, involving 2-by-4s and beatings. This seems like business as usual for Leyzaola.
But Minn seems reluctant to judge Leyzaola, and you can’t blame him. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when drug cartels are hanging banners by the side of the highway, openly calling the police chief out by name, saying that they will kill one cop a day until the police back off the cartel, well, you can understand how extreme measures happen.
In the end, one stands with the average citizen of Juárez, the ones who are still traumatized by the violence and reluctant to believe that something resembling normalcy may return to this city. “The New Juárez” hopes for the best by reminding us of the worst.