Nov 3, 2008

Aaron Tovo's book review of The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women

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By Aaron Tovo

Amnesty International- Seattle, Washington


(2007/Seattle) - The information in this book blew me away! As an Amnesty International activist I have known about the hundreds of unsolved murders in Juarez for a few years now, and I have been under the impression that no one knew what was behind the femicides.

This book makes it perfectly clear that powerful people on both sides of the border know what's going on and that many of those power-brokers south of the border are directly responsible. This book is especially commendable because of the attention and honor it pays to the families of the victims and the toll all of the trauma on citizens of the border region.

A simplified version of this book's explanation of the Juarez femicides is that the Colombian drug cartel forged an agreement with some of the most powerful people in Mexico, and that in exchange for money the Mexicans would grant the cartel and its allies total impunity in the state of Chihuahua. This grim agreement gave the power to kill, kidnap and torture to a mix of sadists, misogynists, serial killers and multi-millionaires.

The cartel recruited many of its operatives from the Mexican army when the Cold War ended, which brings up another important point in this book. These operatives were trained to kidnap, torture, and kill leftists and other political dissidents, and had no use for these awful skills when the Cold War ended (and with it Mexico's "Dirty War" against political dissidents). This made them ripe for recruitment by the cartels for whom they applied all of the same twisted techniques of their trade (like throwing people out of airplanes). The book also notes that the government was easily corrupted by the cartel largely because Mexico's political and justice institutions were so badly weakened by three decades of the Dirty War.

This Dirty War was covertly encouraged and supported by the USA as part of its Cold War strategy. It's a horrifying example of what the intelligence community refers to as 'blowback.' The amount and specificity of information make this the best single source of information on this issue that I have encountered.

Valdez names names and cites her sources to the extent that is possible. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to begin to understand this issue, and especially to journalists, human rights activists and researchers who are working on this issue.

This book isn't for everyone. I contains graphic descriptions of victims' horrific acts of violence. This is not done gratuitously as the victims' bodies have given forensics experts important clues that Valdez uses to unravel some of the mysteries. And, some people might not take to the journalistic writing style of Valdez, a journalist for the El Paso Times, because it doesn't always flow the way a good novelist might tell a story. Some times information is thrown in for factual completeness that kind of breaks the rhythm of the narrative. For these reasons, I recommend this book more for someone who wants to learn about the Juarez femicides than for someone who is looking for an entertaining story. //////////