The Fight to Save Juárez:
Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War

This is ... a deeply reported, razor smart, up-close account of the Great Drug War. This book is absolutely courageous in its fairness and search for answers. Ricardo Ainslie’s story has room for both angels and demons. He finds noble characters struggling under incredible strain — and threat of death — to do the right thing, to try to save Ciudad Juárez from itself. And he finds evil, and the corruption and incompetence that lets the bad bury the good. If you want to begin to understand the violence and chaos that has laid siege to our neighbor’s house, this is the book.
— William Booth, The Washington Post Bureau Chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean

I went to Ciudad Juárez to try to understand what was taking place behind the headlines of cartel executions and other acts of horrific brutality. At the time, caught in the grips of two drug cartels fighting for control of the city, Juárez was the most violent city in the Americas and perhaps the world.  In The Fight to Save Juárez, I delve into the heart of Mexico’s bloodiest city through the lives of four people who experienced the drug war from very different perspectives—Mayor José Reyes Ferriz, a mid-level cartel player’s mistress, a human rights activist, and a photojournalist. I also interviewed top Mexican government strategists, including members of then Mexican president Felipe Calderón’s security cabinet, as well as individuals within U.S. law enforcement. The dual perspective of life on the ground amidst Mexico’s drug war violence and the perspectives of officials who developed Mexico’s response, creates a powerful, intimate portrait of an embattled city, its people, and the efforts to rescue Juárez from the abyss.  It also helps us understand the “big picture” regarding what is taking place in Mexico, even as the violence has moved to other parts of this embattled country.

This story is important for numerous reasons.  For one, it is directly tied to America’s failed war on drugs -- it is common knowledge that it is American drug consumption that is driving the turf battles between Mexican drug cartels. In addition, the two countries have deep cultural and geographic ties, given that they share a 2,000-mile border. Finally, Mexico is America’s second most important trading partner (second only to Canada when it comes to buying American products). Whatever the outcome of Mexico’s national crisis, it will have lasting repercussions for both countries.



Ciudad Juárez


Beer with local journalists, 2011

Execution in Juárez during the city's most violent period.
Photograph by Ricardo Ainslie.

With Mexican Federal Police, 2011