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"8 Murders a Day" Documents Tragic Violence In Juarez, Mexico

Poster for the documentary "8 Murders A Day".
Poster for the documentary "8 Murders A Day".
"8 Murders a Day" Documents Tragic Violence In Juarez, Mexico
In 2010, there were 3,111 murders in the city of Juarez, Mexico. The city of 1.5 million has become one of the most violent cities in the world. We speak to filmmaker Charlie Minn about his documentary "8 Murders a Day," which chronicles the drug-related violence in Juarez.

"8 Murders a Day" opens this Friday, April 8 at the AMC Palm Promenade 24.

In 2010, there were 3,111 murders in the city of Juarez, Mexico. The city of 1.5 million has become one of the most violent cities in the world. We speak to filmmaker Charlie Minn about his documentary "8 Murders a Day," which chronicles the drug-related violence in Juarez.



Charlie Minn, producer and director of "8 Murders a Day"

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Former Mexican president Vicente Fox tells us why he wants the U.S. to legalize drug use. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, Vicente Fox has always been known for his sweeping opinions and his charismatic personal style. Now out of office, he's on a speaking tour, giving his assessment his [CHECK AUDIO] what the U.S. can do to stop the illegal drug trade. And then we'll hear more about the terrible toll drug violence is taking on Mexico. We'll meet the director of a documentary by Charlie Minn about Ciudad Juarez. The film is called eight murders a day of that's all ahead this hour on These Days. First the news. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox is on a speaking tour pointing out as what he sees as mistakes made by the present Mexican government, and advocating a radical change in U.S. drug laws. President Vicente Fox will be on our program, he's scheduled to be on, and will be on later this hour. But whether the issue in Mexico is legalizing drugs or facing the drug criminals with armed force, one thing is sure. The violence is destroying the lives of people throughout Mexico, and nowhere is that more evident than in Ciudad Juarez, south of El Paso Texas. Last year alone there were more than 300 murders in Juarez, and the body count has not stopped. One American documentary film maker was appalled not only by the horrendous violence, but by the relatively limited news coverage given to the murders in Juarez of he's made a film about the crisis in the 73, roots called eight murders a day. I'd like to welcome my guest, director Charlie min. And thanks for coming in.

MINN: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: No, we're inviting our listeners to join this conversation. Is enough attention being given to the drug cartel wars in Mexico, and can America help do anything to help stop the violence? Give us a call with your questions and comments of our number here is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Now, Charlie your film, eight murders a day, it's gonna open in San Diego County tomorrow. But you're from New York. So I'm wondering what inspired you to make a film about the violence in Juarez?

MINN: I had made a film called the nightmare in Las Cruces, which is about the fourth coldest case [CHECK AUDIO] in Las Cruces and shot seven people in the back of the head. And that case is unsolved, so while I was making that film, Las Cruces New Mexico is only 45 minutes from Juarez. I started researching the body count and was just shocked at the barbaric ways of Juarez, and started researching it, and I needed about a year to research it fully, because this is a very emotional and complicated topic. And then timely in the fall of 2010, I was ready to shoot the film, October and November. And the film of released in February. I'm proud to say that the film has done very well at the box office.


CAVANAUGH: Now, I'm wondering, did you -- you must say in making this film, at least personally trace some of the history of the violence in Juarez. When did this drug cartel violence really start to pick up?

MINN: January of 2008. And the government's explanation is because the Sinaloa cartel led by El Chapo Guzman, and the Juarez cartel led by Vicente Galleo Fuentes split. They were working together, and then January of 2008, they submit, and then this turf battle began for the Juarez drug empire. And in 2007 the city of Juarez was relatively a safe place. It averaged less than one murder a day. And then all of a sudden, in 2008, that number went up to 1600, about five times, maybe more than five times of then in 2009, it went up to 2600, and then last year, 3100. Which is more than 911. Think with that. This year, they're actually down by a body count, maybe 1, 1 and a half, which is no reason to celebrate. I mean, this thing has been so bad for so long now, especially in the last thee years plus, and just there's been 41 murders in the last four nights in Juarez. So just when you think it's starting to showdown, all of a sudden As massacre happens, and that average goes back up 15.

CAVANAUGH: 41 nights in the last four nights in Juarez?

MINN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. We're taking your calls, I'm wondering, do you think there is enough attention being given to the drug cartel wars in Mexico sore if you think there's anything America can do to stop the violence. Give us a call with are why questions and comments, 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. You say 95 percent of the murders in Juarez go uninvestigated. Why is that?

MINN: I would say the number one reason is corruption. I mean, the police and the military, they have been accused of killing people and I mean, why would you investigate yourself? And secondly, the Juarez police department, they just don't have the manpower to investigate all these murders. I mean, when you have eight dead Mexican people laying on the street with a hole in their head, just to investigate one murder takes a lot of work. Look what happened in San Diego this week between the freeway shooting on 163, the two U.S. citizens unfortunately at the Tijuana San Ysidro roadway border, port of entry, and then we had another one at the apple store. So that takes intense, intense investigating. So when you have a Juarez police department that's under paid, the conditions are horrible, I mean try investigating eight murders in one Kay.

CAVANAUGH: Especially and you're actually sort of afraid to find out who did it.

MINN: Right, if you voice your opinion and start naming names and start going down an avenue that the cartels don't want you to go down in, you might get killed. Literally, that day or the next day.

CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. My guest is director producer Charlie min, his new film is opening tomorrow here in San Diego, it's called eight murders a day, it's a documentary about the violence in Ciudad Juarez. Daniel's on the line from Clairemont, and good morning, Daniel, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, Maureen, for bringing the subject up. What's going on, it is very sad. And I questioned this to a friend the other day, why don't we know what's going on in Mexico? It's right across the street from us right across the fence is this other nation that we don't get much information at all about. Of the thing that bothers me so much is what we can do here in America is top using drugs. We stop using drugs and there's no longer a market. And then there's no need. The other thing we ought to be aware of is how much money do we put out to keep this going? I was doing a trolley count recently, and on that, riding the trolley, you wouldn't believe how many people come up from the border to go to our schools that we pay for that we pay for the trolley to bring them up, and they're involved in gangs and drugs. And they just move it up here, and it migrates up here for another condition of kind of like ape work place marketplace ethic.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get Charlie's reaction to some of your comments, Daniel, and thanks very much for the call.

MINN: I mean, that's the root of the problem. It's no secret that the United States is the largest consumer of illegal drugs. And if anyone out there is a U.S. citizen, and you're consuming an illegal drug, just remember that could be in exchange of a Mexican baby laying around with a hole in his head of it's as simple as that, people have to stop using drug us. I mean, I know it's easier said than done bump that's really the root of the whole problem. This is just as much a U.S. problem as a Mexican problem, is we're supplying all of the all the cash and all the weapons into Mexico for these illegal drugs.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Liz is calling from Escondido. Good morning, Liz. And welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Great, thank you. I wanted to put some -- a little bit of pressure on one of the statements the film maker made a little bit earlier about -- you had asked when the violence in Juarez starts.

MINN: Spiked.

NEW SPEAKER: And I think around 2008 are when the drugs wars really became apparent, but I want to know where you know, there have been murders of maquiadora workers, female workers to the point of femicide. And those are all really centered around Juarez, for him to say like it was a relatively safe place. I just wonder where those female murders fit within the drug, obviously. Violence and --

CAVANAUGH: Liz, let's address that. Because I know Charlie has some things to say about that.

DEFENDANT: Liz, first of all, thanks for ask calling in, the question Maureen asked me was when kid the violence really spike, I. I knew there was violence prior to June of 2008, obviously, we all know that for decades there's been a drug cartel problem, and yes the femicides first name into prominence, I want to say around 1993, when all these women started disappearing. I don't believe any of these cases have been solved. And that's why I've actually made this film, eight murders a day, because I felt just about every film made on war he said was on femicides. Yes, that's brutal and horrible and should get the attention it got. But I felt this was a war on people, men, women, babies children, that's why I made the movie, eight murders a day, but just to clarify the question I got was when did the violence spike. And that was January 2008, but obviously I was aware of the femicides and the violence prior to January 2008, but when consider in 2007, I believe it was less than -- I believe it was like 310 murders, that's less than one a day. That's still bad. There shouldn't be 310 murders a day of just 1.2 million for a year, but when you compare that to 30111 of last year, that's when I was talking about the spike.

CAVANAUGH: Sure. Absolutely. But let's take in some of what Liz was talking about, because you do say there's a lot of mystery about what is actually going on in Juarez. Is there a belief by some in the community that the killings are not all drug related.

MINN: Right. I don't believe they are all drug related. We talked about the lack of investigation earlier. I mean, how do we know exactly what these murders are all about? How can we pinpoint this? Basically which this is what's happening in a nutshell. Every day on the average, you have about 7 or 8 dead Mexican people laying on the street. People. There are hardly any investigations and there are hardly any arrests. And this thing is going on every single day. I just summed up Juarez in the last 3 year plus in literally 15 seconds. That's precisely what is going on right now. That's how sad it is.

CAVANAUGH: Is and so let me just take one more second on this. If it's not Saul drug cartel related, what could possibly be going on in this city?

MINN: A lot of gang members, a lot of gang members who the to be the next El Chapo Guzman or the next Vicente Galleo Fuentes. They're referred to as neenies, these are teenagers that have no job, they don't go to school and they're desperate and your not educated and you're not fed, you're gonna go out and do something you probably shouldn't do.

CAVANAUGH: I'm talking with Charlie Minn, he's the director of the new film eight murders a day. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Maria is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Maria, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning.


NEW SPEAKER: My question was is, are we, you know, going to intervene, we as the United States? And basically my fear this, you know, we're -- there's San Diego and El Paso, what's the likely that, you know, all those -- all that won't pure into San Diego or El Paso? And if it does, how can we have an intervene now before it does happen?

CAVANAUGH: Right. I think you got two questions there, Maria. And let's address them. Tijuana of course -- and continues to have a problem of murders and violence from drug cartels. It seems to have spiked about a year and a half ago, and so far it's still too high, but it seems not as high as it was. Why is there a difference do you think between what's going on in Tijuana, and what's going on in Ciudad Juarez?

MINN: Well, I would say a lot of the drugs shifted from Baja California to chihuahua. And a lot of that is because of the influence of El Chapo Guzman. The most notorious Mexican drug lord. There's a $5 million reward out to get this machine. [CHECK AUDIO] that's a very centralized location, that's the most critical smuggling route for these directing cartels. So I would say those are the two main reasons why the violence is a lot more in Juarez than Tijuana, but with that said, Tijuana, I think their on annual count is in the seven hundreds. Which I mean, Juarez would take that in a heart beat. Right now, Juarez is on the verge of another year of almost 300 murders. And the fact that this is so overlooked is just absolutely incredible to me.

CAVANAUGH: One of the reasons people say that Tijuana's problem with drug related murders decreased in recent times is because of police chief Julian Leyzaola, and now chief Leyzaola has moved from Tijuana to Juarez. Do you think that that's going to make a difference? Do you buy into the idea that his approach to quelling this violence was the key reason that Tijuana's body count went down?

MINN: Well, yeah, Hector Movilla, are the new mayor of Juarez, who by the way is rumored to be working with the Juarez cartel, that's how bad the situation is, brought on, you said, Julian recently, and thee already got a death threat on the second day of the job. And he was actually the other day accused of human rights abuse. I think his influence will be just slight. This is gonna take a colossal effort by a lot of people to write the ship, if you will, and I don't think one man can do that. And I give Mr. [CHECK AUDIO] obviously the most dangerous job in the world. He was accused of human rights abuse here in San Diego. And then all of a sudden, just within a month, he's being accused of that in Juarez, in connection with four people who disappeared. Right now, there's no link between Julian to those disappearances, but do I believe one man can solve it? Absolutely not. Could he have a slight impact? Sure. But I'm afraid for the man's life. The Juarez police department, it's no secret that most of the Juarez police department is corrupt, and that they commit murder.

CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Lori is culling from Clairemont. Good morning, Lori and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. I lived near Ensenada in the mid90s, and this was a cartel that was a start up, they tried to cut into some of the drug trade. And basically an entire family was assassinated. Almost 20 people were assassinated in one incident. And people kept asking me if I was afraid to continue living there, and I said no, this is it business. They try to intrude onto the cartel's business. And I never felt targeted, I never felt at risk. But that's not the case now. Now they have more guns issue hyper power weapons, and these cartels are fighting among themselves, and many of my friends and family who used to live in Mexico no longer will for the reasons you said. This is out of control, and the destabilization of the cartels has really created this very, very terrible situation.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. And would you like to respond?

MINN: Yeah, I mean, I think today innocent people getting caught in the cross fire. One of the reasons why I made this film was to stick up for the innocent Mexican people who need a voice. Their desperate cries need to be heard, and they have been horribly overlooked and ignored. So I agree with the caller. Many parts of Mexico are going through some problems right now, and you could be the nicest person in the world and not have anything to do with the cartels, you live an honest law abiding life, but you could be caught at the wrong place, wrong time. What the cartels are doing now is just shooting up -- Juarez averages a massacre a month. Think about that. [CHECK AUDIO] I compare Juarez right now to the DC sniper about ten years ago, where at any given moment, you could get shot in the head. Doesn't matter who you, where you're at, what time of day. I've never seen so many brazen afternoon and daylight attacks for a city. Sometimes the crimes that you see, you notice right away, this is broad daylight, this is not exactly at night.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Charlie we've heard a lot about the crack down that president Felipe Calder n has made in getting the army involved in trying to quell the violence between the drug cartels. Is that making no impact in Juarez?

MINN: It's been arguably the most -- the worst decision in the country's history was when he declared war on the drug cartels and he brought the army in. I mean, that's proven to be costly, it was misplaced, it was misplanned. And believe a lot of Mexican people are sick of Felipe Calder n [CHECK AUDIO].

CAVANAUGH: Director and producer of a new documentary called eight murders a day. About the situation in Juarez, south of El Paso Texas. That documentary is opening tomorrow at the AMC palm promenade in Otay Mesa. And we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I'd like to take another call now. Which line should I go to? David on line two, calling from Vista. Good morning, David, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I just wanted to comment on the situation. A couple -- I've heard that here in Mexico. And they didn't take it. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes that they ever made, not taking it.

CAVANAUGH: Not taking what, David? David, not taking what?

NEW SPEAKER: That disciplinary action by making it a law, the death penalty.



CAVANAUGH: All right, thank you. So there's no death penalty in Mexico. Is that one of the reasons that there's this violence do you happen there?

MINN: I mean, I think the major reason right now in -- heme just speak for Juarez, specifically, is that you'll get away with it. It's a bullet ridden free for all. That's one of the major factors why there's so much crime in Juarez, because you know that you're not gonna go to jail for it. Forget about death peptide. You're not even gonna go to jail.

CAVANAUGH: You know, a lot of our callers have mentioned the fact that they too are rather amazed at the fact that there's seemingly not more attention given to what's going on in Ciudad Juarez, in Baja California. This war between the drug cartels in Mexico. Is there a feeling in Mexico that the United States is not paying attention to this?

MINN: Yes, yes. I believe Mexico needs more of an active approach from the White House. It's amazing to me how Obama has yawned at the situation. There's no Sea of waters separating us from Mexico, and yet his interests are in the Middle East, and now Libya. And every time Obama and Calder n meet, which has only been five times, I get so excited for that meeting, maybe something big could happen. But the last meeting, again, turned out to be superfluous, nothing came out of it, and it just made me sick.

CAVANAUGH: Let's say besides the United States giving up all illegal drug use, which problematic in itself, the why, what could the United States do? I mean, IF troops went down and let's say occupied Ciudad Juarez, I don't think a lot of Mexican people would be very happy with that.

MINN: Well, it's either that or you watch the whole city go down. Something had to be done to answer the cries of the innocent Mexican people who are being caught in the crossfire, and who have paid an undeserved big price for this escalating violence. People have talked about -- do you close the border? I don't think you can do that, it's 2000 miles line. USA and Mexico still do a lot of trade. So that would be economic disaster between the two countries. So many things have been -- you know, we just talked about legalizing drugs. I know Mr. Fox is a big proponent of that.

CAVANAUGH: Vicente Fox, yes.

MINN: Can we do something similar to Egypt in Mexico, where the citizens March? There have been more protests lately, especially now in Mexico City because of the poet who was murdered. And so many options have been thrown out there, but each option has to be weighed and calculated in a very intense way. I believe if the Juarez citizens went out and marched right now, the consequences could be catastrophic. What Egypt did was heroic, three weeks of courage in Cairo, I can't believe, only 300 deaths as a result of that. And if themed in Mexico, God forgive, I couldn't even give you the body count of what that could possibly be, if there was a country revolt.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking with Charlie Minn who has just directed the documentary, 8 Murders a Day, and Rich is calling us from Encinitas. Good morning, rich, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. I'd just like to take exception to the description earlier, and mention briefly just a minute ago about the fact that American drug use is the cause of this problem. Which I don't dispute, but I dispute that the solution should not be to simply wish that Americans would less drugs, but rather to decriminalize the use of drugs in the United States, not just in Mexico. And thereby remove the drivers that are causing this huge amount of carnage in Mexico. And I'd appreciate the -- Mr. Minn's comments on that possibility.

CAVANAUGH: Certainly.

MINN: You mean -- I'm sorry, legalizing drugs?

CAVANAUGH: And decriminalizing them, basically.

MINN: Well, every time I speak to classes, universities, I always ask the question about legalizes drugs. And it's split. Auto-50-50. It's a very hot debate. I was initial leave against it totally, but now I'm more open to it than ever before. My problem right now with legalizing drugs irk mean, you want a lot of the worlds walking around high. I mean, do you want children taking cocaine and marijuana when they're 12 years old? Do you want someone just coming out -- that's the part that I just can't imagine and sense. So I mean it's a great debate, obviously Vicente Fox is all for it, and Charles boden, who is an expert on the Juarez topic, he's written books like murder city and down by the river. He's all for legalizing drugs, so it's a great debate. When you think about Mexico, and you think about not only is there the drug cartel war that you've documented. But of course there's this ongoing problem about illegal immigration, and I'm wondering looking for a fix in the United States , what is Mexico doing to fix this problem of drug cartels -- is it incapable of -- is it your suspect that the government there, is incapable about doing anything substantial about fixing this problem.

MINN: Well, here's the [CHECK AUDIO] many people believe the Mexican government is business partners with the drug cartels, that they're actually working together. Because the drug cartels generate so much money. And Mexico needs that money right now. So let's say they're not working together. I read in a recent article of how somehow the cartels and the government have to start negotiating here. What can we do to quell the violence? So again, depending on who you talk to and what you believe, is the government in business with the cartels? There's rumors that Calder n's wife as well as related to El Chapo Guzman or another high ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel. Because of the corruption, this whole thing gets blurred. We just don't know who to believe, we don't know who's who, who's involved in what, who's got their fingerprints here and there. It's such of a blurry situation that experts can't pinpoint.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Exactly. Well, we are going to be speaking with Vicente Fox after this conversation with you, Charlie Minn. I wonder finally, what is it that you would like people to take away from your film.

MINN: Well, I'm trying to raise as much awareness as possible. I'm trying to had the people know that this is the greatest human rights disaster in the world today of it's the most overlooked crisis in our world today. It shocks me that more news and more attention hasn't been given to this. I mean, again, we had more deaths last year in Juarez than we had in 911. I'm here to provoke emotion, I'm here to provoke possible reactions, and maybe even something where people say enough is enough. In people start complaining issue if they start -- I mean we're in an age of twitter and all that, if people really start raising the pressure, the White House will hear about it. And right now, they have yawned at the situation. I don't know -- I'm not quite sure why. It's not high on Obama's priority list. But this situation has to be quelled before it quiets even worse. The drug cartels have infiltrated into the United States. They've set up in 300 U.S. cities. So the caller before talked about their fear of spilling over. It's already spilled over. And the spill over has already gone south as well. It's not just in Juarez, it's in all of these other states as well, like Guerrero, it's all over Mexico so much it's a big problem.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know, Charlie, that your documentary, eight murders a day, opens tomorrow April 8th at the AMC palm promenade 24 in Otay Mesa. And once again, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MINN: You're welcome.

CAVANAUGH: I want to advise everyone who wanted to get in on this conversation, please go online looks Days. Coming up, we'll speak with form upper Mexican president, Vicente Fox, as These Days continues here on KPBS.