The Event Barges In: The Horror of Modern Violence and the Erosion of the Social Pact at Mexico’s Northern Border

Receipt: November 15, 2022

Acceptance: December 14, 2022


In the last two decades the border region in the north of the country, Ciudad Juárez in particular, has faced a landscape dominated by various types of violence tied not only to the presence of drug trafficking and organized crime but also to that generated by the punitive intervention on the part of the Mexican state. In this sense, rethinking the explanatory frameworks in relation to theoretical-methodological approaches has constituted one of the key tasks in contexts where, in the words of Rossana Reguillo, fear takes possession of a present in crisis and as an expression of a collapsed landscape.

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the event barges in: the horror of modern violence and the erosion of the social pact at mexico's northern border

In the last two decades the border region in the north of the country, Ciudad Juárez in particular, has faced a landscape dominated by various types of violence tied not only to the presence of drug trafficking and organized crime but also to that generated by the punitive intervention on the part of the Mexican state. In this sense, rethinking the explanatory frameworks in relation to theoretical-methodological approaches has constituted one of the key tasks in contexts where, in the words of Rossana Reguillo, fear takes possession of a present in crisis and as an expression of a collapsed landscape.

Keywords: events, horror, violence, collective action, Ciudad Juárez.

Starting point

This edition of Encartes brings us a fascinating and must-read work by our academic Rossana Reguillo, not only because of the convulsive times we have been living in our country in recent years, but also because of the urgent call to a sleepy academy in which critical and creative thinking is essential to contribute to the understanding of what is happening. Manifestations of violence that have shaken the daily life of a growing number of the population, added to an incapable or completely overcome State that, in several of its areas, has been complicit in the humanitarian crisis resulting from phenomena such as overflowing migration, drug trafficking, femicides, disappearances or forced displacements, among others.

This essay presents a series of lines of reading on the impact of Rossana Reguillo's work in the approach to the phenomenon of violence and the production of horror in the northern border of Mexico. As the author has rightly pointed out, we can no longer think of horror as an excess, but as a central expression of the violence that marks the trajectories of life. For more than a decade, as a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, one of my central concerns has been to understand how various forms of violence are articulated around the daily experience of the young inhabitants of this border city. In this sense, categories such as sociality of protection, subjectivities of risk, dissident subjectivities, among others, have been fundamental,1 that have marked the initial development of my approaches to the study of youth cultures in this region.

The article "Essays on the abyss: politics of the gaze, violence, technopolitics", which opens the "Coloquios interdisciplinarios" section of Encartes brings us closer to a complex trajectory of thought in which Reguillo (2021) has insisted on the need to narrate and name the discomforts and horrors, symptoms of the civilizational collapse of modernity. At the end of the last century, phenomena such as feminicide began to account for the crisis produced by an economic model based on the expropriation of life as a condition for the increase of transnational capital; in the two decades of the present century, we have faced a scenario in which barbarism and the monstrous have constituted two marks of the abyss in which we are unable to observe, despite the counter-articulations that seek to dissent the established order, a horizon of certainty that allows us to think that an alternative is possible.

This essay gives an account of how the theoretical-methodological observations have been articulated, which, in general, have privileged three premises that, in my opinion, are of utmost relevance in the work of research in the field of sociocultural studies.2 In the first place, it has been emphasized in various academic spaces that "theoretical robustness with empirical solvency" is fundamental in research work., as a scaffolding that gives solidity to our explanatory approaches. In addition, Rossana Reguillo, faithful to her creative and rigorous capacity, situates what she has called "the epistemology of the sword of augury",3 that is, to see beyond the obvious. And, thirdly, the use of "metaphorical language" as an analytical resource to strengthen the theoretical scaffolding used by the researcher to understand the phenomena presented to him.4 These three premises are relevant and constitute a starting point in the committed exercise of scientific research in the face of a landscape of "atrocity and collapse", as two expressions of contemporary violence.5

Today's violence, today's violence, today's violence, today's violence, today's violence, today's violence, today's violence

The northern border region, particularly the state of Chihuahua, has historically faced diverse expressions of violence linked to phenomena such as the so-called "dirty war" waged by the Mexican government against peasants and students in the 1970s, murders in public streets linked to the beginning of the presence of drug trafficking with the power that the Juarez Cartel began to develop in the eighties, as well as femicide as a brutal expression against women's bodies with the first cases at the end of the nineties.6 Looking at a broader horizon allows us to see how the violence we face in the northern border region of the country is linked to historical processes in which the structural conditions of violence constitute an arduous and necessary task of reflection.

A must read, the book Capitalismo gore: control económico, violencia y narcopoder, by Sayak Valencia (2010)7 allows us to understand how, in the recent context of Mexico's northern border, the unbridled, grotesque and spectacular use of violence, by those she calls "endriagos subjects", evidences the perversity of an economic model sustained in logics of consumption of vital environments, as well as the presence of necropowers that make the management of violent death profitable. In this sense, the necropolitics approach of the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe (2011) has meant a key route and of the social pact and how life submits to the power of death. As Sayak Valencia rightly points out:

Bodies conceived as exchange products that alter and break the logics of the production process of capital, since they subvert its terms by taking out of play the production phase of the commodity, replacing it with a commodity literally embodied by the body and human life, through predatory techniques of extreme violence (Valencia, 2010: 15).

To speak of the border is to place ourselves before an interstitial space in which historically there have operated extractive powers of life and the ecosystem associated with factors such as a highly profitable manufacturing industry for a neoliberal economic model, as well as the historical presence of drug trafficking and organized crime, which generate a perverse associative link with the Mexican State, thus accounting for the emergence of a paralegal logic (Reguillo, 2007). This category is relevant in the recent work of Necromachine (Reguillo, 2021) which, together with the concept of expressive violence, allows us to rethink the conceptual maps in the face of the horizon that afflicts us.

Paralegality, the bursting of the pacts

Given the scenario that challenges academics with urgent priority, we cannot lose sight of the fact that one of the common routes that has been propitiated, both in the space of academia and in the media, is the idea of a "fight" against a phenomenon labeled as organized crime. However, at this point lies one of the key concerns of the category of paralegalism used by Reguillo (2007) in the face of the collapse of institutions and the gestation of an order that is not yet, but is in the process of becoming, an order. Paralegality is an intermediate form that is being woven between the legal and the illegal, a binomial in frank crisis, "founds its own order, its own codes, its norms, and how it settles its conflicts" (Reguillo, 2021: 1).

In the specific case of the region comprising Ciudad Juarez, the police-military operations of the last three federal government administrations, in particular the Chihuahua-Juarez Joint Operation, are expressions of measures or agreements that on a binational scale have meant strategies for the implementation of a "strong hand" mainly towards the civilian population. An example of this was the Merida Initiative8 which constituted a flagrantly interventionist program in which, under the argument of "strategic assistance", the United States government invested an enormous amount of financial and operational resources to strengthen and provide tactical training to police forces and the army in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.9 The result was the de facto takeover of public security by military personnel trained in counterinsurgency strategies, who carried out operations characterized by systematic human rights violations.

In this context, Ciudad Juarez has been the forceful expression of three processes that denote the erosion of the social pact. An economic-social model based on a hyper-consumerist logic of (youth) bodies that establishes a separation between those who can be part of the selectivity criteria and those others who are increasingly forced to place themselves on the margins (Salazar, 2016). The sociocultural configuration of a "bulimic society", a term with which Reguillo refers to the current logics of exclusionary inclusion that characterize the late-capitalist economic and social model, devours the life of youth bodies and then casts them as inert banality that wanders in precariousness and lack. A context that accounts for a regime that, beyond exceptionality, has distinguished itself by the hardening of securitization policies and its various strategies around the use of terror and deliberative fear, as measures to erode and discourage citizen participation as an alternative to the violence that takes over everyday spaces.

The event bursts in.

Three moments of the convulsed landscape

In his text "Memories, performativity and catastrophe: interrupted city", Reguillo warns us that "every event establishes its own rules of reading and configures its own public space" (2006: 95). And, as such, two logics or trajectories come into tension in the event: on the one hand, a historical rationality associated with a structural articulation of long duration and, on the other, a communicative rationality that refers to the different ways and means of representing and naming the event. On the first point, in the last 15 years in Ciudad Juarez and a large part of the border region we have faced an overwhelming increase of diverse forms of violence that overwhelm the life trajectories of a large part of the population, which cannot be separated from larger structuring processes. The predatory extractivism of an economic, political and social model, which consumes the vital energies of individuals, has been the hallmark of a scenario in which the value of life is measured by the logic of consumption and profitability. The violence we have faced: murders, disappearances, torture, forced displacements, kidnappings, femicides, among others, find their breeding ground thanks to a model in which precarious and violently discarded life is its crudest and most necessary expression. In this line, let us recall three events that in the last decade have shaped the mark of horror and barbarism faced by the population living in the border region of Ciudad Juarez:

Alvarado Espinoza Family

In March 2008, the federal government and the state of Chihuahua implemented the Chihuahua-Juarez Joint Operation, as a result of the implementation of the militarization policy promoted by the Calderon administration (Salazar, 2020). In a matter of days, the northern region of the state, mainly Ciudad Juarez, was literally taken over by more than eight thousand military troops from the grouping gafes (special forces), who took over public security surveillance tasks. As the months passed, there was an exponential increase in the number of cases of torture, forced disappearance, forced displacement, arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial executions in the region. Evidence of this was the Alvarado Espinoza case, which occurred in December 2009, when three members of the family were forcibly removed from their homes by elements of the Mexican Army in the rural town of Buenaventura. It was one of the emblematic cases of recent forced disappearances in the country, as it directly involved elements of the Ministry of National Defense assigned to the Chihuahua-Juarez Joint Operation.10

Villas de Salvárcar

In January 2010, the Chihuahua-Juarez Joint Operation was showing its failure due to the growing number of murders and forced disappearances, among other human rights violations caused by the police-military operations. In a popular neighborhood in the southeast of the city, between industrial complexes and vacant lots, a group of young people between 16 and 22 years old, most of them high school seniors, were having a party at the home of one of them. In a matter of minutes, a group of about 20 heavily armed men, with tactical and operational capacity, closed the exit of the two roads near the house, got out of the vehicles and started shooting at anyone who crossed their path. As a result of the massacre, 15 young people were killed and others wounded. The event, which to date has not been clearly explained by the authorities, showed not only the failure of the public security strategy implemented, but also the complicity of the Mexican State, since, as months went by and the operation "Fast and Furious" was made public by the national and international press, it became known that the weapons used that night were brought into the country under the auspices of Mexican and U.S. security agencies (Salazar and Curiel, 2012).

El Navajo Creek

At the end of 2011, in a dirt road located in the region known as Valle de Juarez, the skeletal remains of several bodies were found which, after being analyzed by forensic specialists, were determined to be the remains of young women reported missing by their families in the downtown area of Ciudad Juarez between 2008 and 2011. After several weeks of searching, at least 11 bodies were identified and analyzed by several criminologists supported by civil society organizations, who stated that the young women had arrived alive, showed signs of violence and were executed and their bodies abandoned in that area. On April 14, 2015 began what was called by the local and international press "The trial of the century", in which the Prosecutor's Office for Attention to Women Victims of Gender-Related Crimes in the state of Chihuahua sustained the hypothesis that between 2009 and 2012 the detainees procured, induced, facilitated, promoted, recruited, kept, captured, offered and transferred young women, several of them minors, who were sexually exploited and forced to sell drugs in the downtown area of the city, mainly in the building known as Hotel Verde. After months, they were deprived of their lives and their remains were abandoned in the area known as Arroyo El Navajo (Salazar, 2021).

Although in other moments I have addressed in depth the relationship of these events with respect to the production of subjectivities at the limit (Salazar, 2016), as well as the configuration of spaces of what we have called the sociality of the resguardo (Salazar and Curiel, 2012), what is interesting is to highlight how the event that bursts into everyday life is an expression of what Reguillo (2021) has forcefully named as "the atrocious". But, in an opposite sense, the atrocious has resulted in a presence of what he has called as the "counter-machine"; that is, ways of producing a collective presence that, in the face of the perverse production of lives at the limit of the necromachine, articulate actions to unveil the experience of horror embodied in bodies. They are ways of dissenting the hegemonic pact that dominates the social imaginary, absorbed by fear and uncertainty, thus restoring meaning through recognition and the demand for justice.

Faced with a landscape that stuns, collective action on the margins

Violences mark bodies and anchor themselves in their daily experiences. They stun the sensorium -in Walter Benjamin's sense-, which becomes a landscape that momentarily leaves no action or response, making fear the dominant social articulator. However, in the face of the collapsed horizon, the irruption of those that the French philosopher Jacques Rancière called "those without a part" re-signifies the sense of the experience that can be lived mainly in the frontiers, where the machinery of the dominant economic model also denotes its own crisis. On this matter, the French philosopher Alain Badiou reminds us that "from a certain point of view, the subject does not come as a subject but on condition that there is an acontecimental rupture, and then an oriented work that constitutes it as a subject" (Badiou, 2017: 30). In tune, Reguillo raises not only the urgent need to name and evidence the collapsed landscape, but to give an indispensable turn from the academy to present the collective resistances in the face of the colonization of horror.

It is here where the presence of youth collectives has become relevant in recent years, among them a group of border women who have named themselves Batallones Femeninos, who have raised their voices to make visible one of the most atrocious expressions of violence against women, feminicide. Through hiphop, which has become a means of expression and visibility in the public space, they subvert the order established by the "necromachine". As Diana Silva Londoño (2017: 148) argues, several of the young women have found in hiphop an "act of transgression that recovers life as a political act from which they claim their voices and their bodies." Batallones Femeninos appears at a time when the crudest manifestations of misogynist violence, the phenomenon of femicide and its brutal expression in the bodies of young women murdered and abandoned in various parts of the city, are present in the life experience of a growing number of its inhabitants and, from the staging of an irreverent performativity, the collective generates spaces for encounter, critical reflection, denunciation and the construction of the common.11

In the same way, several graphic artists have taken to the walls of homes in different areas of the city to paint the faces of the missing and murdered young women; the generalized cry is for justice and "Not one more". Specifically, painting the "face" acquires relevance as a performative statement that is outside the cognitive horizon of the self, that is, it transcends it. The significant force is what makes the interpellation of the "face" as a speech act special. It succeeds in dethroning and questioning the nominative and accusative power by setting in motion a meaning that is situated outside the substantial self. In other words, the "face" of young women presents a pole or source of signification that is characterized by its capacity to question or make face to the powers of the self (Navarro, 2008), an "I" enthroned by the factual powers of the necromachine.


The event is an enclave of the past in the present that, in relation to the context of the experiential, acquires meaning, either as an idea of a possible future or, in opposition, is linked to the return of the monstrous. The violence that has shaken the region of Ciudad Juarez is not unrelated to the evident social, economic and political crisis that our country has been facing for the last two decades. Unfortunately, the outlook is not encouraging, especially because we are facing a State that has bet its presence by defending the hard-handed and contentious strategies inherent to the militarization of public security tasks (Salazar, 2020). Faced with this panorama, the exercise of the academy is not simple. It requires restoring a profound explanation in the face of convulsed realities, as well as assuming the commitment of an active participation in the academy, in clear solidarity with others who daily expose the atrocity of violence in their daily environments, with the objective of breaking its circuit of normalization. Collective actions that burst into the public space as an arena in dispute, in order to unveil the fractures and anchor alternatives. Silence is not an option, especially in a time when discouragement and hopelessness are the constant. "Taking the word", recalling Michel de Certeau, "certainly, the taking of the word has the form of a refusal, it is a protest [...] to attest to the negative [...] perhaps therein lies its greatness" (De Certeau, 1995: 40).


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Salazar Gutiérrez, Salvador (2016). Jóvenes, violencias y contexto fronterizo: la construcción sociocultural de la relación vida-muerte en colectivos juveniles, Ciudad Juárez, México. México: Colofón.

— (2020). “(Des)militarización y violencia política: desaparición forzada en el norte de México”. Chihuahua Hoy, vol. xviii, pp. 251-283.

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— y Martha Mónica Curiel García (2012). Ciudad abatida, antropologías de las fatalidades. Ciudad Juárez: uacj.

Silva Londoño, Diana Alejandra (2017). “Somos las vivas de Juárez: hip-hop femenino en Ciudad Juárez”. Revista Mexicana de Sociología, vol. 79, núm. 1, México, pp. 147-174.

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Salvador Salazar Gutierrez D. in Scientific-Social Studies from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (iteso). Professor-researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. Member of the National System of Researchers (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores) level ii. His line of research deals with topics such as youth cultures, subjectivities and violence in the northern border of Mexico.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.