Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Time challenges the propaganda and the realities of the current relationship between the United States and Mexico, focusing on the more intimate connection between the border towns of El Paso and Juarez. Charles Bowden, who first brought attention to the story of the Juarez photographers in Harper's (December 1996), has written an uncompromising, piercing work that combines insightful and informed reporting with a poetic and wry style. His powerful text, integrated with brutal and revealing images by a group of unknown Mexican street photographers, takes on issues of NAFTA, immigration, gangs, corruption, drug trafficking, and poverty, uncovering a very different Mexico than generally depicted in the press and by the United States and Mexican governments.
Conditions in the impoverished colonias (urban settlements), work on maquiladora (foreign-owned factory) assembly lines, arrests and victims resulting from drug and gang violence, the hardships for women and children-- in short, everyday life in Juarez-- are all depicted here with an urgency and passion that could only grow from pure desperation. This group of guerrilla photographers, most of whom work for one of the daily newspapers in Juarez, earning the equivalent of only $50 to $100 per week (although the cost of living in Juarez is nearly that of El Paso), risk their lives daily with the photographs they take, alienating themselves from the local governments in both Juarez and El Paso, the police, the drug traffickers, and the gangs.
It is all too easy for the American media (and, consequently, the American public) to ignore the plight of the almost two million residents of a city seemingly so distant and foreign, yet the brutal irony is that many of these people-- our not-so-distant neighbors-- suffer directly from the effects of our "progress." Many Mexicans continue to work in subhuman conditions, with little hope of lifting themselves out of grinding poverty.
While Charles Bowden presents a riveting investigation of Juarez, its inhabitants, and its visual chroniclers, the renowned activist and writer Noam Chomsky offers in his introduction a bitingly critical account of NAFTA, suggesting its nullifying effect on democracy and the rights of both workers and consumers, and its underlying strategy for protecting the rich and powerful, and keeping everyone else in his or her place. In his afterword, the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano poses the question: Should the Third World really aspire to be more like the First World? His insider's look at contemporary North/South American relations reveals how the relationship between Juarez and El Paso can serve as a metaphor for U.S.-Latin American relations, and demonstrates the devastating toll United States policy and attitude knowingly take on human rights and the environment south of our border.