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Cover of Juarez book: man climbing over border fence

Juarez 4: Juarezland {format} {format} 5:13 Scott Carrier

Tourists and natives get caught up the drug trade.

Broadcast: Jul 12 2004 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Juarez: City on the Edge Subjects: International, Hispanic, Entertainment, Travel

Profile: Nightlife in Juarez, Mexico

July 12, 2004 from Day to Day

MADELEINE BRAND, host: And now from gay marriage to gaiety and fun in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez. In our continuing series on the town just across the border from El Paso, Texas, we focus today on the part of Juarez that most Americans see: tourist Juarez, as cheap tchotchkes, poorly carved chess sets and bars, lots and lots of bars. They pull money in from American kids who head across the border for a good time. Here's Scott Carrier.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

There's a part of Juarez that's like a theme park, Juarezland. It's the part where you come across the bridge onto a street of bars and pharmacies, Avenida Benito Juarez(ph). Friday night, 10 PM, the street is packed with cars, lots of lights. The sidewalks are full of teen-agers from El Paso.

How come you guys come here to Juarez?

Unidentified Boy #1: Cheap to drink. And I'm not 21. I'm too old for Juarez, but too young for America. So I'm in, like, the strange...

Unidentified Girl #1: Limbo!

Unidentified Boy #1: Yeah, limbo. I'm in limbo.

Unidentified Girl #1: My parents drank here 30 years ago. So I'll tell you that much.

Unidentified Boy #2: And sometimes before we come, we pregame it over in El Paso, in the United States, you know, try to get a little beer before we leave, because beer sometimes--for us, being high school kids, you know, and sometimes college kids, especially in college, you have little money. So it's a good way to, like, save some money, come have a good time with a bunch of your friends. The atmosphere is great. It's a little risky, but it's worth it.

CARRIER: What's risky? What's the risk?

Unidentified Boy #2: What's the risk?


Unidentified Boy #2: Oh, sometimes you can get really trashed and do some stupid stuff. So--and here, the penalty is really harsh, and there's a lot of corruption over here. So...

CARRIER: How about drugs?

Unidentified Boy #2: Drugs? You're about two minutes from anything you want right now, in any direction.

Unidentified Boy #1: Am I incriminating myself?

Unidentified Boy #2: Speed. You can get any kind of pill you want.

Unidentified Boy #1: Five bundles for 30 bucks.

Unidentified Boy #2: And that's about it. And LSD, acid--I prefer the acid being sold around these parts.

Unidentified Boy #1: It's just once you're drunk--like, I don't know--it's quite the appeal.

CARRIER: One of the rides here in Juarezland is called Mexican jail; another's called the disappeared. People who go on that one never come back. Tickets are a bargain. It's estimated that $200 million of drugs are moved from Juarez into El Paso every week. That's $10 billion a year passing over the bridge. The drugs here on the street in Juarezland are a small fraction of this. It's like what falls off the trucks. Everything else is consumed in the land of the free.

Mr. CHARLES BOWDEN (Author, "Down by the River"): One of the things people refuse to face when the they talk about the drug problem is drugs make people feel good. And so your drugs aren't going to go away.

CARRIER: That's Charles Bowden(ph), author of "Down by the River," a no-nonsense book about the history of the drug trade between Juarez, Mexico, and the United States.

Mr. BOWDEN: What happened was in the 1980s, Colombian cocaine began to use Mexico as a springboard to come in the United States. The Mexicans took it over because they've very nationalistic. And suddenly, there was this explosion of money in Mexico at the very time Mexico itself was going bankrupt after the banking crisis of '81, '82. And since that time, Mexico has absolutely depended on the 30 or $40 billion a year that illicit narcotics earn it. That is the only thing holding the republic of Mexico together.

And it's this 800-pound gorilla that the United States and Mexico cannot acknowledge. We have to pretend we're going to win the war on drugs when we know if we actually won it, everybody in Mexico would move north; the country would collapse. Mexico has to pretend it's fighting the war on drugs when it knows if it actually exterminated the drug world, it would collapse. And so nothing really happens except skirmishes in this war on drugs; people get killed, people go to prison. But in every American city, drugs have never been more plentiful and they have never been cheaper than today. I think if we could increase the drug budget enough, drugs would be free, 'cause every year we've increased the budget, they've gotten cheaper in my city.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

CARRIER: Back in Juarezland, the kids on the Avenida have some parting advice before they go into a bar.

Unidentified Girl #1: It's so bad.

CARRIER: What is?

Unidentified Girl #1: Cocaine. It's bad. Don't do it.

Unidentified Boy #3: You mean it's good, it's good.

Unidentified Girl #1: No, it's horrible.

Unidentified Girl #2: Uh-uh.

Unidentified Girl #1: No, it's horrible. Don't every do it. It's horrible.

CARRIER: This is Scott Carrier.

BRAND: Our series on Juarez comes to us from For more on Juarez and the whole series, you can go to our Web site, The series concludes next week with a look at the victims of violence in Juarez and some of the penalties for speaking out.

Unidentified Woman: (Through Translator) The 30th of April, they hit me when I was downtown. I came out of the offices of the Commission for the Protection of Human Rights and they pushed me and I landed against the wall.

BRAND: Scott Carrier on Juarez one last time, next week.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.