The term Maquila, or Maquiladora, comes from a time when Mexico was a colony of Spain. The term referred to the price the Spanish paid the native Mexicans for processing grain. Over the years, the term has come to describe the American industries that outsource piecework -- mostly for the manufacture of clothing -- for cheaper labor in Mexican border-towns like ciudad Juarez. Blue Jeans, cheap jackets, dresses and other cut-rate garments are pieced together cheaply and quickly by the Maquildora culture.
This was one of the dubious fruits of the North American Free Trade Agreement. American companies no longer had to pay union labor, or even a minimum wage by outsourcing these jobs. At the same time, NAFTA made impoverished Mexicans mere tenants in their own country.
NAFTA had its many critics in the U.S. in the early '90s before it was signed into law -- on the face of things it seemed to be good news for Mexico: Jobs! -- never mind that it was little more than indoor stoop labor and virtually guaranteed the worker more of the same poverty. For Mexico, economically, NAFTA was like switching seats on the Titanic.
Still, young women came in droves from Central America and South Mexico to get jobs as seamstresses.
It was shortly after the implementation of NAFTA that the murders of women around Juarez began -- I don't mean to infer that one thing has anything to do with the other -- it is just an odd circumstance of fate, economics and misjudged opportunity.
Since 1993, some 500 young women have been murdered in and around Juarez. At least, 500 is the number the Mexican government will admit to -- many others, including human rights groups, say that this number is low. . by thousands.
The intrepid reporter Teresa Rodriguez, who made the documentary The Daughters of Juarez, has covered the murders for 15 years -- and it isn't as if there has not been a public outcry for a resolution in these crimes. Gregory Nava, the film director, and star Jennifer Lopez made a film in 2008 called Bordertown -- which came and went without much notice, even considering Lopez's considerable star power. In fact, I'm not sure it ever got a theatrical release. I caught it on cable and found it compelling enough to warrant real outrage.
So where is the outrage?
If 500 to 4,000 young American women were slaughtered in our country, I guaran-fucking-tee there would be enormous outrage. Hell -- how long did we hear about Natalee Holloway when she went missing and presumed dead in Aruba? And this was only ONE young American woman.
The cynic in me thinks that this is the case because it's happening to poor people. Young women with virtually NO political power in their own country. President Vicente Fox was particularly impotent in dealing with this massacre. A great many of these crimes were attributed to the Narco-Mafias, which are so prevalent in Mexico -- even the cops live in fear of them, because they are out-manned and out-gunned.
Still, why not turn the Army loose on these fuckers? On the Drug-mafias, the animal street-gangs like Los Rebeldes. When a group of criminals slaughters hundreds of your citizens -- women, who cannot defend themselves -- well then you hunt the fuckers down like mad-dogs and shoot them in the streets. And this is coming from a guy who is a rock-ribbed opponent of the death penalty.
The murders of these women is an act of war -- that it is a war within the borders of Mexico matters not a bit. Send your Army out and shoot the fuckers in the street.
Here's hoping that Mexico's new President Felipe Calderon has more guts than the pussy he replaced.
I know a young man from Juarez -- I met him at the University of Texas. Miguel Aragon is a marvelous young printmaker working on his graduate degree. Some of his images are of mangled carrion birds like crows and blackbirds. He told me once that Juarez was like the Wild West. Before NAFTA, it was more a way station for pot-mules and college kids partying from El Paso -- it IS a border-town after all. Once the Maquiladora culture became more firmly rooted, it became more violent and unpredictable, and subsequently poorer.
This is not the Mexico I know anymore -- the place I would go because the literature, painting and ferocious landscape spoke to me. As I re-read Roberto Bolao's 2666, a different country emerges: one with all of the bone-deep hatreds our own Republic was born of, one of theft, murder and the silent hopelessness of the ghosts of young women walking the desert.