Despite the personal investment he has made in this film, Bowden doesn’t hold out hope it will affect the drug wars along the U.S.-Mexico border. “I’ve wasted a lot of my life on what you would call the drug world,” he said wryly. “It’s kind of like Vietnam: number one, nobody wins; number two, the people are dying for nothing. They are dying because of the prohibition in the United States. The drugs are more available now and of a higher quality than when I started writing about it in the 1980s. There are now more narcs than there have ever been on Earth. There are now more convicts than there have ever been in the history of our country. I can’t say I’ve accomplished much.”
The writer is reconciled to this futility because he’s committed to documentation, a habit he developed while working toward a doctorate in history. Bowden dropped out of the doctoral program to begin reporting in the late 1970s. “I believe in creating records,” he said. “With Juárez, I ran into something that was bloody, murderous, huge, and being ignored.”
These days, Bowden is trying to write about something other than Juárez. An ardent student of ecology, he is fascinated by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. He traveled recently from his Las Cruces home to the Arkansas River delta for an upcoming National Geographic story on the region.
Bowden hopes that this is his last year to report on the drug war. This spring he published Dreamland — a book with illustrator Alice Briggs that blended explicit, graphic images and raucous, behind-the-scenes accounts of life in Juárez. Bowden considers it his “exit interview” from covering the borderlands drug trade. “The violence in Mexico has reached such a magnitude that the mainstream press is starting to pay far more attention than they have in the past,” he said. “Now I can retire, sit on a rock, and write about birds and the mysteries of life.”