Monday, March 23, 2009

Ni una muerta mas en Juarez

Fernando Romero

The Part About "La Violencia"

An all-out war against drug cartels has raged in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico since January 2008. The drug warfare has pitted the powerful drug cartels present in Northern Mexico and the armed troops trickling into the city located on the U.S. - Mexico border across El Paso, Texas. According to reports by the Associated Press, the death toll has already reached over 2,000 as of March 2009. The dead include members of drug cartels, soldiers, law enforcement personnel and innocent men, women and children.

In the midst of la violencia propagated by the dueling sides, the narcos and the federales, the city of Juarez remains a harvesting ground for a phenomenon almost two decades in the sow. In between daily executions, shootings and kidnappings, a familiar terror looms in the city. Girls and women are still disappearing at an alarming rate and their bodies continue to turn up in waste grounds and ditches of Ciudad Juarez. The victims tend to be young women, usually teenagers, but sometimes even younger, most of working-class background who were either students or maquiladora factory workers.

No human rights crisis in Mexico has moved world public opinion more than the rapes and murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez. According to Amnesty International, over the past 16 years, approximately 600 women have been brutally murdered in Ciudad. Juarez, while scores are still missing and remain unaccounted for. As of this March, Women’s History Month, six women have been killed in Ciudad Juarez.

According to an article published at the end of last year by newspaper La Jornada, the current volatile and hostile situation in the city claimed the highest number of murdered women in 2008 at 86. The article cited that 2008 surpassed 2002 when 42 women were murdered. 2007 is third on the list with 32. The autopsy reports all showed indicators similar to previous cases stemming to 1993, which read that at least a third of the victims suffered some form of sexual assault. Within the same timeframe, between January 2008 and March 2009, at least 18 girls and women have gone missing.

Maria Luisa Garcia Andrade, co-director of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, a non-profit organization based in Ciudad Juarez said the recent disappearances are reminiscent of past years. Garcia Andrade’s sister, Lilia Alejandra, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2001. The case was never solved. Organizations like Nuestras Hijas de Regreso, and others, work to prevent and denounce the femicides in Juarez, as well as ending gender violence.

Via a phone interview, Garcia Andrade said in Spanish the current disappearances of women have taken a turn for the worse.

"Women disappeared and, unfortunately, soon after that we would find them dead because they had been brutally murdered," Garcia Andrade said. "Unfortunately, now they are disappearing, but we don't know what's happening to them. We don't know if they are alive or dead."

Amnesty International field organizer, Julissa Gomez said the violence has escalated since Mexican President Vicente Calderon declared an all-out war with the drug cartels in January 2008. She added that the situation of violence has impelled a surge in multi-faceted aggression affecting all the inhabitants of Ciudad Juarez, but that gender-based violence remains rife and prevalent.

"The violence has definitely escalated since the drug wars began," she said. "But you still see the same patterns on female murder victims. Still, they tend to be young, working-class, maquiladora workers."

The Part About the Murders

The girl’s body turned up in the Campestre Virreyes district of Ciudad Juarez. A 13-year old girl from working-class background was found beaten, raped and strangled to death. "Alma Chavira Farel – stuck and strangled, violated by two," read the description on the website No Angel Came. The website provides articles, activist links and stories of the departed women in Ciudad Juarez. The account happened in 1993. January 23rd 1993. From then on, the killings of women began to be counted. But it’s likely there had been other deaths before her. Perhaps for the sake of convenience, maybe because she was the first to be killed in 1993, she heads the list. Although surely there were other girls and women who died in 1992. Other girls and women who didn’t make it onto the list or were never found, who were buried in unmarked graves in the desert or whose ashes were scattered in the middle of the night, when not even the person scattering them knew where he was.

On Feb. 14, 2001, V-Day, 17 year-old Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade disappeared. A maquiladora worker and mother of two. Lilia Alejandra was last seen after her shift at a maquila walking toward the unlit area of waste ground that she had to cross every night to reach the bus stop. When she did not come home that night her mother knew something had happened to her and reported her missing the next morning. Four days later some people living near a waste ground in Juarez called the police to report that they could see a naked young woman being raped and beaten by two men in a nearby parked car. No police car was dispatched. Following a second call, a patrol car was sent but did not arrive for over an hour, by which time the parked car was gone. Police made no investigation into the attack, the identity of the victim, or the inadequate response time. Lilia Alejandra’s body was found in the waste ground where the attack occurred only two days later, showing grotesque evidence of physical and sexual assault. The forensic report concluded that Lilia Alejandra had been held captive for at least five days before she was strangled to death a day and a half prior to the discovery of her body.

On March 10, 2008, two days after International Women's Day, Paulina Elizabeth Lujan, disappeared and was later found raped and murdered in the same manner as more than two dozen other young women.

The idiosyncrasies in the murders and investigation teeter on the absurd. In November 2001, skeletal remains of eight women were found in a vacant lot 300 yards from the Association of Maquiladoras headquarters, a group representing most of the city's U.S.-owned export assembly plants. In this case, only the body of Claudia Ivette Gonzalez, 20 years old was identified. There was no investigation into the maquiladoras.

The Part About the Femicide

Femicide, a word that has been incorporated into the lexicon from the Spanish word feminicidio, or, femicidio, can be specifically attributed to the continuing reports of murders and disappearances of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez. The term refers to gender-based violence, and specifically to the systematic killing of women.

Femicide implicates brutal acts of violence. In Ciudad Juarez, the majority of femicide victims were tortured, raped, mutilated, cremated and even quartered. Femicide also implies a disregard for the welfare of all women by the State. Therefore it is considered "femicide" when concurrence of different factors are involved including; the criminal element, the silence of said crimes, disregard for human birth rights, as well as the negligence and complicity of the authorities in charge of preventing and eradicating these crimes.

The term is aptly attributed to the murder cases in Ciudad Juarez and also Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala, due in part that it’s believed authorities are not investigating the murders with diligence on the basis that it involves women.

In fact, the State’s response to the murder cases in Ciudad Juarez has been one of delays, denials, delusions, shoddy investigations and multi-layered exercises all muddled within the bureaucratic realm. Investigations were characterized with botched or even lack of investigation, loss or theft of key evidence and files and mistreatment of victim’s relatives.

The phenomenon and the dimension of the cases have caused worldwide attention, attracting human rights groups, activists and celebrities demanding authorities to stop the continuing femicide from happening and to demand justice for the murdered women and girls. Amnesty's Women's Human Rights campaign has long been active on the femicides in Ciudad Juarez. Its 2003 report "Mexico: Intolerable Killings," along with subsequent actions and activism, has played an important role in bringing attention to the lack of accountability in Ciudad Juarez and the mishandling of the murders by local law enforcement authorities.
Gomez said that Amnesty International has cited many human rights violations regarding the cases in Ciudad Juarez. She said that the lack of persecution of suspects, the rampant impunity; all encompass a disregard for the victims’ families and are all human rights violations.

"Impunity in Mexico has been a problem for many years," Gomez said. "There is a lack of judicial system. That leads to the detriment of human rights. There’s been evidence of investigations just falling apart. There is no justice there."

Authorities claim the femicides are a chapter from the past, but the recent disappearances and killings fit a familiar, sordid pattern. Garcia Andrade said, "Nothing has been resolved here. It’s not my organization that’s saying that. It’s all the murders which continue, that are saying that. It’s the impunity, that’s saying that."

Gomez said that life for women in Ciudad Juarez is dire. She said the societal problems that exist in Mexico and other parts of Latin America contribute to the reasons why femicide continues. She cited the patriarchal society, machismo, and victim-blaming, among other causes, for the continuing femicides.

"It’s a society that doesn’t seem to value women as much as men," Gomez said."This is a systematic problem."

Garcia Andrade uttered what seemed a sense indifference by authorities. "In the end, it’s only women who were murdered. And to top it off, they were poor. What importance does that have?"

The Part About Taking Action

Thanks to the efforts of the families of the victims and local women's organizations in Ciudad Juarez, coupled with international campaigning by the likes of Amnesty International and V-Day, things have begun to change. In 2004, amidst mass protests and rallies, the federal government of Mexico got involved.

Garcia Andrade said the problems in this issue need to be addressed to bring awareness at different levels in society.

Gomez said that Amnesty International’s main concern on the femicides in Juarez is to continue to bring awareness to the issue. Gomez said, "Our goal is to keep this issue in the focus of people’s mind and to not let it become a forgotten issue."

At Cal State University, Long Beach, an event dubbed, "Femicide in the Americas," is scheduled for Thursday, March 26. The event will be hosted by the Women’s Studies Student Association and will tackle femicide directly, addressing the femicides in Ciudad Juarez, Guatemala, Canada, and other parts of the region affected by the issue.

The event will include panel discussions, film screenings and keynote speaker, Lucia Muñoz from Mujeres Iniciando en las Americas. MIA’s mission is to increase public awareness in the U.S. of the femicide and maltreatment of women in Guatemala. Last semester, members of WSSA traveled to Guatemala as part of a delegation to end femicide in that country.

Gomez said that another goal sought by Amnesty International is to continue to pressure the governments of U.S. and Mexico to act. "We’re introducing a resolution to both the House and the Senate, in the hopes to set up a branch of government that will be purposely geared to set up programs in Juarez to combat this issue."

Gomez said Amnesty International will ask its members to call on Congress and push for the resolution bill. She said one of the things that students or the general population can do is to tell friends and keep the issue alive. She added that as U.S. residents, students can call delegates in Mexico and ask to appoint a special prosecutor at the federal level to combat and solve the femicides. Gomez said, "I encourage students to sign on with us, to the keep the issue relevant and focused on people’s mind."

Garcia Andrade said spreading awareness on the issue and educating the public are the best weapons to combat the current femicide in Ciudad Juarez.

The issue has been taken up as a feminist cause, but has trascended the realm of feminism. Amnesty International has recommended for people to get involved in this issue and write to proper authorities, Mexican authorities, Mexican Embassy highlighting concerns, publicize the case in local and national media and distribute details of this case to individuals or groups who may be interested and could potentially pose as allies in this issue. ¶

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