Charlie Minn, director, "The New Juarez"
Related Story: Film Documents Renewal Of Ciudad Juarez
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Even at the height of drug cartel violence in Tijuana five years ago it was Ciudad Juárez south of El Paso Texas that was the most dangerous city in Mexico in in fact became the murder capital of the world as drug gangs massacred and bump each other along with the rest of the population. But now there's been a dramatic reduction in drug murders intensity, enough so that a documentary about the change is called the new Warriors. It is the latest film by director Charlie Minn and it debuts in San Diego this Friday. Charlie Minn, welcome to the program.
CHARLIE MINN: Hi, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is the final film in a trilogy of films you made about Ciudad Juárez. You were on this talkshow talking about the first one called eight murders a day. Remind us about the conditions in Ciudad Juárez when you made the first film.
CHARLIE MINN: In 2010 is when the hyper violence reached its maximum. With 3111 murders in 2010 which exceeds the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 had roughly 2900 murders an incredibly 2300 feet away in El Paso Texas and five murders, you have the safest city in the United States bordering the murder capital in the world. The most popular theory is that two drug cartels are fighting over the turf space the Sinaloa cartel let by Chapo Guzmán and the (inaudible) group these two groups were battling for territory because USA was supplying Mexico with firearms and $30-$50 billion in cash which is the annual number. So, this is clearly a shared problem. President Obama has said repeatedly the US and Mexican governments are both to blame in my opinion.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The Mexican government maintains that nine out of every 10 victims of the drug war were associated with the drug cartels. Is that theTrue of the murders in war as?
CHARLIE MINN: 95% of the murders in Mexico are not investigated the leads us to three questions who is being killed by whom and why? I often refer to the whole tragedy is the ghost were. Very nebulous. ~People who truly know what is going on are the frontline direct participants. What I do know is that we have just 15,000 Mexicans slaughtered in 2012 due to the drug war. 16,000 the year before that. The government came out last year and said the murder is due to the cartel war is down 5%. Which is nothing to celebrate. We still have an alarming number of Mexican people being slaughtered.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Get your film the new war is just to give context to the film you have to show people what it was before you show them what it is now. And, describe for us some of those scenes, some of them are heart wrenching, you see people badly wounded in a bombing and you see other people absolutely grief stricken over the loss of their relatives.
CHARLIE MINN: This is a really emotional war. This will shatter your heart, children being murdered. I consider this the greatest human rights disaster in the world today. And I still quite can comprehend the numbers. I don't know how you can get around 120,000 dead since the drug cartel war began for the country of Mexico.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I have seen a much lower number, where'd you get the number from?
CHARLIE MINN: The government came out with the stats it was 100,000 right around the summertime and you can add a number 20,000 roughly for the country since then, so it is about 120,000 people I would say the US media has been lying to the public. For the people on to create a stink over this. This tragedy in Mexico is double the casualties in Syria. And my heart bleeds for the innocent Mexican people who never asked for this war. The poor Mexican families being picked on. Half of Mexico live in poverty and unfortunately a lot of them have become victims. Unfortunately participants to the war as well. It's not too difficult to bribe a Mexican when you're living in poverty.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, we here in San Diego when we think back a few years ago to the really bad days in Tijuana when the drug war was really raging in Tijuana you know, there were times when gunfights just developed as people were walking and trying to do their business, kids were trying to go to school and there would be a gunfight that people had to take cover behind cars and it was a really wild, bedtime, but we have seen a big turnaround in Tijuana it's not like that anymore and your film tells us it's not like that really in Ciudad Juárez anymore so how is the city different now?
CHARLIE MINN: I believe that Chapo won the war he's the biggest record in the world that means there are less people to kill. The Sinaloa cartel seems to win every turf battle. They won the war, they went out or is cartel and Lenin yeah unfortunately it took five years and 12,000 funerals to do it in wars. Our us got through the last five years I have no idea the devastation left behind can never be measured. But that is the reason why there are less killings in or assigned because Chapo won the war. The second reason is because the federal army and police are out of the city and those other two groups presently flippy cultural on December 11 22,006 he brought the federal army and police and trouble spots in Mexico. The first places Michoacan where called erroneous from and unfortunately wherever the groups went particularly the Army there was a sudden explosion of Mexican people being murdered. So the two groups were not there to protect the citizens they were joining organized crime and taking advantage of innocent Mexican people because they know that they are not armed. You are not allowed to own a him come in Mexico. The army has lost 3000 soldiers since the war began the country has lost over 100,000 people there is something wrong with the math.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you saying that there is an unintended consequence of the federal police, the federal army being called in because I remember when called around, he wanted to wage war against the drug lords and bring in the federal Army to wage the war and is that the unintended consequence of what happened?
CHARLIE MINN: If Calderon is honest, yes. But the biggest question for Calderon is did he lead a very clean pond party, or was he putting on the greatest acting job for six years. Only he knows that. A lot of people in Mexico believe that the government is involved with the cartels and Calderon was in on it. I guess we will never know. Calderon has since moved on to Harvard University where he's doing a one-year fellowship and a lot of people in Boston are upset by his presence. Calderon tried to get a job at UT Austin and finally UT Austin surrendered and said we are going to put up with the controversy so they decided not to take him in. Harvard University in Cambridge where Calderon went to school have accepted him and right now they're paying the consequences. He starts this week Harvard starts classes this week and already there's a big protest of him being there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Back to Juarez, and you do credit the new police chief in the new mayor with some of the reason that the city is not as violent as it used to be.
CHARLIE MINN: They're not as new as they were. Hector (inaudible) is his second term you are allowed to do that in Mexico, come back you serve three years you can leave and come back and that is what (inaudible) has done. So he will be out later this year but them a fascinating guy that I'm obsessed with this William S Perez the former police chief into one and she took on the Arellano Felix cartel into one, lowered the murder rate there, he was pardoned by Hector (inaudible) were is two years ago to precisely duplicate the success he had in Tijuana and he's done that. He survived five assassination attempts in Tijuana, two more in Ciudad Juárez. So the big question is how is he doing this challenging the cartels publicly lowering the murder rate and staying alive it's truly one of the most how a super cop, former military officer, how is he doing it?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When chief (Lazialo) was here in Tijuana, I remember two things from those conversations in that one was he worked really hard to get corrupt police side of the force and number two is that there were some complaints of human rights violations while he was police chief and you want to.
CHARLIE MINN: He's been dogged by human right's allegations even torture and murder, but unfortunately a Mexican cop being accused of these things is not uncommon. I look at it this way would you rather have a soft carpet there who's going to let everything go or would you rather have a man whose going to lay down the law and he's fired 800 police officers in Ciudad Juárez. He cut the sector is the city into six different units, he's attacked a downtown that he will not put up with anything. This is not your average guy walking down the street and he's a major angle in the movie I made amd which begins on Friday in Chula Vista, he is a major angle in the movie.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, you have the situation in war is changing greatly because you feel in your opinion one of the drug lords won the war and you have chief (Lazialo) the bringing his personality personality policy personality really to Ciudad Juárez to maintain law and order so what can we learn from what's going on in Ciudad Juárez? Does it translated onto the rest of Mexico to try to ease the drug violence and the rest of the country?
CHARLIE MINN: It's really hard to say because you don't know what to believe and believe in Mexico. Things coming out of Mexico you have to take with a severe grain of salt. This drug war goes in cycles. Right now Baja California, their violence is down, but the drugs have simply shifted east and south into other parts of Mexico. Ciudad Juárez winter really bad. For five years and now it is in Monterey. Mexico's richest city is going through a cartel war, but (inaudible), Durango, Michoacan, Tamaulipas, all of the states are being affected and the spillover is soft and to other parts of Mexico people have it wrong they say the spillovers going north to the US but let me ask a question and murders have been in the US in the last year where you can point to the US citizen dying and saying this was Mexican drug cartel related, you can probably count them on one hand.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I agree with you.
CHARLIE MINN: The spillover is not here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Since the crackdown that was initiated by Felipe Calderon is being pointed to by many as the reason that Mexico descended into a drug cartel war are there any new policies coming up from the new president Enrico Pena Nieto to craft any new drug policies?
CHARLIE MINN: Like any politician especially early on it's a traditional rhetoric we will fight for security for the Mexican people so far I can't point to one decision he made so far he'll be took over December 1 so he is not only two months ago we have to be very careful about the PRI party, the government's cover 71 years before Vicente Foxx took over with the PAN in 2000, Calderon was also part of the PAN who took over in 2006 and now the PRI is back after a 12 year hiatus. 71 years they were ruling Mexico they negotiated deals with cartels, keep the corruption flowing and lowered the murder rate.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Want to let the listeners I'm speaking with Charlie Minn. He is the maker of a trilogy of documentaries about Ciudad Juárez, the latest one is called the new Warriors and it's opening in San Diego on Friday. Now, Charlie, you've been very critical of the Obama administration's response to drug violence in Mexico. What would you like to see the US do?
CHARLIE MINN: I hope you have enough time for my answer 41 colossal failure of the war on drugs has been another nightmare. Richard Nixon first declared it way back when. I still don't know what our policy is on the war on drugs. We are still the number one consumer of illegal drugs in the world have often said Mexicans die as we get high and that is no lie. Pot usage in the country is embarrassing, cocaine, meth is really coming more into play and action also the drugs are coming our way in the money and the cash are going south. Let's talk about the weapons. They're just not killing our country without the mass shootings, they are killing Mexico, 90% of the weapons being used in Mexico's drug war come from the United States. Look at operation fast and furious. How in the hell did the White House get away with that one? The failed policies on NAFTA, (inaudible), we can go on and on about how this is clearly a shared problem. Let's capitalize the word shared, shared problem, and I can tell Pres. Obama is so disconnected and out of touch with Mexico murders because the times it is brought up, which is where, by the way, he always says the same thing he never changes his answer, to me that shows a very simplistic reaction and approach to a tragedy. He has never visited Ciudad Juárez once and during the third presidential debate between him and Romney the focus was foreign policy and it was never brought up once, Gov. Romney's dad was from Chihuahua. I think the Mexican people would've really appreciated a mention but it was never brought up.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you say a shared problem. I want to get your feeling on two different things happening in the US right now, government officials are trying to tighten gun laws in the United States. The state seem to be moving toward legalizing drugs, away from the drug war. But those two efforts in some eventually help stabilize the situation in Mexico?
CHARLIE MINN: I think so. I think if we legalize marijuana in the USA would have an immediate impact. But then, the cartels are very smart people what is next, human trafficking which has really come into play. In terms of the weapons, of course. How are the weapons flowing through so easily? Do we have to question the border patrol, more and more reports are coming out of border patrol people being robbed. I've often asked myself the question how are the guns and cash moving through so easily along with the drugs? So yes your two points are well taken. That could certainly be at least a start.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, listening to you and Charlie it sounds of the drug violence in Mexico has also become a hot bed of a number of different conspiracy theories. How do you sort of walk through those theories to find out what is real?
CHARLIE MINN: You have to be very careful, do extensive research, talk to people and even then. I don't know if anyone is a true expert on this because it is such a vague war. 95% of the murders are not looked at so how does anyone have a firm grip on this to me thing I do know for sure is we have an awful lot of Mexican people being executed. That part we do know. But who are these people? One theory is that most of them are poor people because when you see a body on the ground they are not wearing a suit. These are poor people being picked on and a lot of the people are referred to as meanies, no work, no school, dangerous part of the war, and there's a lot of mid-level and low-level criminals are paying the price on this. I think the big people, the big drug lords, the people in the top 10 of the cartels are not being affected.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a new sense of hope in Ciudad Juárez now?
CHARLIE MINN: Yes not question about because of three factors we talked, trouble winning the war, Maceo leading to secure your there, jobs are up, We talked about the federal police and federal army being out of the city so, yes, in Ciudad Juárez we cannot say that about a lot of the other parts of Mexico.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Want to let everyone know the documentary the new Warriors will be shown at the rancher regal, Regal Rancho Del Ray Peterson Chula Vista it starts this Friday and it will run for at least a week. Once again, that is the regal Rancho Del Ray theaters in Chula Vista starting this Friday, February 1. I've been speaking with filmmaker Charlie Minh thank you very much.
CHARLIE MINN: Yeah, the website is the new Juarez.com. Thank you.