The most dangerous city on earth

A new book by a Spanish journalist chronicles life and death in Ciudad Juárez

For the last 14 years, Spanish journalist Judith Torrea has been living and working in Ciudad Juárez. She has witnessed the Mexican-US border city's descent into a living nightmare - more than 8,000 people have been killed there since Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war in 2008 on the mafias fighting for control of the drugs trade.

Her experiences - documented on her blog, juarezenlasombra.blogspot.com, which won the 2010 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism - now form the basis of her new book, Juárez en la sombra (or, Juárez in the shadow).

As many as 26 or 27 corpses are discovered each day in Juárez - the largest city in Chihuahua state - and Mexican authorities say that most of the fatalities are linked to drug-trafficking. But Torrea argues that this is not always the case.

She is critical of a recent pact on news coverage of the drug-related mayhem, signed by 50 Mexican media groups, saying it was an agreement to "not report" on drug trafficking and violence "because they say organized crime shouldn't get any publicity."

"When the Mexican authorities say nothing is happening and that the only people dying are drug traffickers, and you realize that's not true, that an entire city is dying, as a journalist you feel you ought to tell those stories," the reporter, a former correspondent for a Spanish news agency in Texas, says. "Death has become more democratic: everyone's in danger."

"I see dead bodies every day. It's not a problem of perception. It's a problem of more than 8,300 people killed in Ciudad Juárez in these four years since the so-called war on drug trafficking began," Torrea adds.

Some 35,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón militarized the struggle against the cartels, shortly after taking office in December 2006.

After leaving New York, where she reported on the world of entertainment for the Spanish-language edition of People magazine, Torrea took up residence in "Juaritos," her pet name for the city she fell in love with 15 years ago.

"I discovered the joy of living, which still exists in Juárez despite the constant death, and it fascinated me. It was a love I'd never felt before... not even for a man," said the reporter, whose blog is a finalist in three categories of German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle's prestigious Best of the Blogs prizes.

"A lot of people want to leave but they don't have the money. People are starving. The companies have gone. There's no work," Torrea says of life in Juárez.

Torrea insists she does not live in fear - "The only thing I'm afraid of in life is not doing what I feel I should do" - although she recognizes the danger. She is even considering buying a house in the city: "They're much cheaper now."

"When I see I'm facing a great deal of danger or that they're coming after me, I'm not going to stay. And I'm prepared for that day," Torrea concludes.

Judith Torrea at the presentation of her book, Juárez en la sombra.
Judith Torrea at the presentation of her book, Juárez en la sombra.CARLOS ROSILLO
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