Vintage (2010), 368 pages
Chapters Bookstore – €3
Amexica: War Along the Borderline at times reads like a Cormac McCarthy novel. The border between the USA and Mexico, despite attempts to fence it off, has always been a mixed zone. For most people the mixing is of the innocent kind, to travel to jobs, to go shopping, to meet family and friends. However for others the border provides an opportunity for meeting the demand for illegal goods on both sides of the border. Put simply drugs flow north and weapons flow south. Caught in the middle are the people trafficked north and the citizens of the respective borderland areas. In recent years the Mexican narco-wars have changed the region, especially on the Mexican side, into one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Vulliamy’s interviews portray a complex series of problems exacerbated by massive drug-fuelled corruption on the Mexican side and a failure to control the massive amount of weapons flowing from the USA into the hands of Mexican drug gangs. It is estimated that the drug trade is worth an astonishing $323 billion a year. A key part of Amexica is the economic “developments” that have encouraged the spread of low paid jobs on the Mexican side of the border assembling goods for the US market. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has resulted in the loss of US jobs while creating a population of poorly treated sweatshop workers in factories near the border. The workers are so disposable that hundreds of female workers have been killed in the region since the early 1990s. The factory owners, the police, and the State have all failed to create a safe environment for Mexican workers. Is the Amexica portrayed by Vulliamy an extremely violent anachronism in Mexican history or a vision of a future where people are seen as even less valuable than the disposable goods they produce? In some ways the business models being employed by the drug gangs are mirrored by the methods used by legal sweatshop businesses with a similar disregard for the human costs of their actions. Building walls and fences between people is generally a sign of failure. Instead of trying to solve the root cause of the problem a fence is a sticking plaster placed across a gushing artery. Until the reasons why US citizens consume large amounts of illegal narcotics and the reasons why many Mexicans head north in search of a better life are addressed then emotions of greed and desire will always overcome any fence.
The Guardian archive of Vulliamy’s newspaper articles