The Femicide in Ciudad Juárez
By Dr. Olga Magdalena Lazín
The women of Mexico have been subject to many crimes and tribulations, and as they are victims of suffering and brutality, they still remain in the same condition as before the femicide started a decade ago.
The region most of the crimes against women take place is Ciudad Juárez, and border towns. To enlighten others on this tragic scene, in Mexico is not only a necessity but also a duty on the part of witnesses, audiences, and onlookers. To allow these sorts of crimes to occur without punishment, the Mexican government has passed their permission and tolerance over the situation in a very nonchalant manner. The government, police force, drug dealers, and aggressors against women have prominently displayed their power in the past decade.1 By manipulating the media and officialities, the border elites, are hiding and burning testimony (cadavers and clothes) of the victims.
There are over 300 young women killed within the past 3 years only. Furthermore, the complete abomination and spread of false information by the media, in an effort to cover-up, contributes to the scandal in Mexico. This is abhorrent in many ways, and presently it is exemplified through different sources and documentaries like Seniorita Extraviada.
Lourdes Portillo, a Mexican born Chicana, is a filmmaker who has documented the horrors and crimes of the city of Juarez in her documentary, “Senorita Extraviada”.
Not only has her film made her subject to many threats from Mexicans in power, from attorneys to the police force, but has put her family and life at risk, for uncovering the truth so vividly. The documentary Seniorita Extraviada has women’s perspective and objective, which differs from her male counterparts. She aims to show audiences that these things are not a far away 200 years ago problem, but occurring today and now. It is about the hundreds of kidnappings, rapes, and murders of young women in Juarez, Mexico. People started noticing young women disappearing and found dead, without being served any justice. In many of the cases, the women get no help from the police force, the only supposed “legitimate” source of order and justice. In fact, many times, the police force discourages them from going out and seeking their missing family members, who are thought to be dead. By doing so, the government and police are disintegrating the system of justice and order in Mexican society, by disregarding these serious issues. The police themselves are a source of the manipulation and cause this cycle to occur over and over again.
It is quite obvious and very disturbing to know these kinds of terror occur, and so frequently. The documentary showed many women, children and young teenagers being the target of attack. Even sacrificial acts of ritual and harm to the bodies became apparent. 13 women were found in the city of Juarez, in the same conditions: dismembered. Their hands were tied, they had cuts in their abdomens, and inverted V signs on their lower backs.
This form of torture is not only inhumane and unjust, but ironically, it is being permitted and tolerated by the Mexican government, who claim to be doing everything they can. The police thought they had caught the terrorist behind the crimes, and had an Egyptian man by the name of Sharif in custody. The investigation the police managed to handle was not only inefficient and very slow, that in the period of time more killings and bodies turned up so that the interrogations would occur and suspects would be taken in. Ultimately, the police detained 8 people as the investigation went on. The “Rebels Gang” was locked up but the brutal murders continued and by this time 81 young women had been reported dead. This goes to show the inefficiency and inadequacy of the police’s agenda, and actual effort towards finding these murderers. In a comparison, if this ever occurred in the United States, there would not only be a huge outbreak of investigations and squad teams looking for the victims and their attackers, but a great deal of things would be done to make sure the acts of terror would stop. It is very unlikely that the government will step up to the plate like the US, or other nations, far enough, to make a significant change and effect on this seemingly hopeless situation. Yet, it is not hopeless. There is much hope among Mexican people that a savoir will arise from within the government to save them, so that they could be free within their own country and homeland. It is very unfortunate that young women who have to take the bus to go to work at 6 AM, find themselves threatened and in danger constantly. What is even more unfortunate is that these girls and women, who don’t have a choice, and must provide the small money earnings to survive, are taken away from their families, and never brought back in any significant form of justice. Therefore, the judicial system of Mexico is faulty and lacking in its entirety.
A particular case in 1997 that was raised in the film was that of Sagrario Gonzales, who was targeted through photographs at the maquiladora. This is how their predators would find them and chose them. By being tricked into their loop, the photographers would say “pose for me” or “model for me.” These pictures would be passed on to the vicious murderers and predators, which would then look through the photos, and choose their prey. This is vividly reflected as she was attacked one day after leaving work early at 3:45PM, because her schedule had changed, leaving her unprotected. Even after her disappearance, little was done to find her. Her killer wasn’t found even after two years.
Another disturbing case was a woman police officer trying to rape a married woman who came to the police station to get help to find her missing daughter. They all know what goes on from within, and in their defense the police officer said that all women are the same to them, married or not, they care not. It is despicable and horrific, how these crimes go unpunished. But who is to punish them, if they are being perpetuated by the sergeants and protectors of the law? This is a big question in the scheme of things. Women have been hunted, tracked down, murdered, raped, brutalized, and the criminal masterminds have gone unpunished. The city of Juarez is known to be the location with the most crime, especially against women. A hundred seventy two women were reported killed, and it grew to two hundred until the FBI intervened. It reflects how colossal the events were, and how it is to this day diminishing whatever credibility or order the society/ government holds.
In fact, in the first few years after the abductions and murders began, “the ‘dignitaries/authorities’ displayed placed open blame towards the women and their families in their public statements. On more than one occasion the women themselves were blamed for their own abduction or murder because of the way they dressed or because they worked in bars at night.”
It is clearly unfair to blame the victims, certainly unjust, and ill intentioned from its core. There are many factors responsible for this and its contribution to Mexico’s state is fatal: the trafficking of narcotics, prostitution, the police force, bus drivers, serial killers across the border. They all spread this demise of the female race in particular, not to say that men are also victim and subject to this genocide. This problem involves authority that is the highest up and that is why it continues. Organized crime has also risen in Mexico and has been driven down into underground cliques. Hence, there is no justice whatsoever. There are even photos that have been found showing men in the pictures committing these crimes of raping and burning women’s bodies, and all the while they are laughing and smiling. The complete loss of limits and boundaries in this way marks complete inhumane specie. There are lots of predators at play and the police are totally involved. The media has advertised false information that is given to them by the police, who have been caught burning evidence, switching clothes on bodies, and leaving innocent civilians at risk, stuck in the middle of this tragic cycle. It is no wonder that it is called the “devil’s cult.” These acts by the police force and media are illegal in nature, and illicit wide attention. Groups like “Voices without an Echo” have formed to raise awareness and precaution among society.
The situation in this border town of Mexico can be seen as a war against women, with data and statistics to prove it. In short, “young women with no power in society, whose deaths have no political cost for the local authorities” have been victims of attack. From 1993 to 2006, there were the most deaths.
The art of disinformation that is perpetuated and collaborated from within these elitists in control, has brought this system to survive, and it is a harsh reality. To facilitate the situation, and help bring justice to Mexico, its cities, and civilians, there must be some intervention by nations of integrity, people of authority that hold any credibility, and those who cling to a moral code. This has been called for more than a decade. It is time that these allegations and cases be taken seriously and paid attention to, to avoid at all costs the genocide of women. According to information received by Amnesty International, “in the last 10 years approximately 370 women have been murdered of which at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to death.” These attacks must be taken heed, and the perpetrators brought to justice, if there should be any hope for the survival of a decent common livelihood.
Over the years, the pressure brought to bear by the families and non-governmental organizations and their calls for the crimes to be clarified have succeeded in attracting national and international attention. Proof of this was the visit and subsequent report on the situation of women in Juarez by the Special Reporter on the Rights of Women from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. As a result of the national and international interest in the cases of the women from Juarez and Chihuahua, the authorities have been forced to moderate their responses before public opinion on the issue, although they continue to insist on treating each crime in isolation and deny that the abductions and murders of the women and girls in question share common gender-based characteristics. The failure on the part of the authorities to take action to investigate these crimes, whether through indifference, lack of will, negligence or inability, has been blatant over the last ten years. Amnesty International has documented unjustifiable delays in the initial investigations, the period when there is a greater chance of finding the woman alive and identifying those responsible, and a failure to follow up evidence and witness statements which could be crucial. In other cases, the forensic examinations carried out have been inadequate, with contradictory and incorrect information being given to families about the identity of bodies, thereby causing further distress to them and disrupting their grieving process. Other irregularities include the falsification of evidence and even the alleged use of torture by officers from the Chihuahua State Judicial Police, in order to obtain information and confessions of guilt.
The creation in 1998 of the Special Prosecutor's Office for the Investigation of Murders of Women, also failed to live up to the expectation that there would be a radical change in the actions of the state authorities to stamp out such crimes. So far, despite the fact that the institution has had seven different directors, there has been no significant improvement in the coordination and systematizing of investigations in order to put an end to the abductions and murders. For instance, the father of Maria Isabel Nava reported his daughter missing to the Special Prosecutor's Office on January 4th, 2000. However, according to him, instead of taking immediate action, the Special Prosecutor said to him, "It's only Tuesday" and insinuated that his daughter had gone off with her boyfriend.
The father replied indignantly, "Are we going to wait until she turns up dead?" His fears were justified.
The body of Maria Isabel Nava was found 23 days later. According to the autopsy, she had apparently been held in captivity for two weeks before being killed.
The situation is made worse by the failure, time and again, to keep the families informed of developments, causing deep distrust of the judicial apparatus and politicians. Furthermore, demands that a formal criminal investigation, preliminary investigation, be immediately opened from the first day on which a woman is reported missing in order to determine whether a criminal offence such as unlawful detention or kidnapping has been committed, have been ignored. According to the authorities, such a request is not appropriate because they claim that the cases of women reported missing are investigated in the same way and with the same degree of urgency as if a formal investigation had been opened. However, in the Mexican justice system, a formal criminal investigation offers better guarantees and forces the State to justify its actions. In the absence of a criminal investigation, the family has no right to justice and is dependent on the good will of the authorities dealing with the case.
In Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, the ineffectiveness of the investigations have prompted the relatives and friends of the victim themselves, fearing that something bad may have happened to their daughter or sister, to organize searches throughout the city. Responsibility for gathering evidence also falls on them. The Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua cases display many of the features, which undermine the credibility of the Mexican justice system and foster impunity. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for a profound structural reform of the justice system to be undertaken in order for its investigative procedures and capabilities to be able to provide full access to justice for the victims and a fair trial for the accused by ensuring that all their rights are guaranteed. The inability of the state authorities to address these violent offenses against women also means that Mexico is in breach of international conventions to which it is a party, including standards that are specifically aimed at eliminating violence against women.
The toll of maltreatment of women and young ladies is exemplified throughout the film, Seniorita Extraviada. It is apparent that the suffering, pain, and unwarranted and unprecedented loss experienced by these women are abundant and tremendous. The source for this injustice has been thoroughly examined; its result, and possible solutions have been depicted. The unfortunate seclusion of Latin American women from men in Mexico has been triggered by many factors, which include but are not limited to violence, aggression, stereotypes, money, and the fight for power. With particular examination of sources and research in different spheres of influence that account for this disparity between Chicano women and men, the consequential result of this humanitarian crisis has been conveyed. It is not wholly a matter of the supremacy of Mexican elitists, yet that does tie into effect as well. The Mexican elites have cleverly manipulated the system and order, removing any balance and stability that may have existed, and created an “art of disinformation.” as Lourdes Portillo shows in her documentary.
1 See the case of Lidia Cacho, author of a book that exposed pedofiliacs in power.
Alarcon, Norma. Chicana Critical Issues. Los Angeles.
Cockcroft, James. Intellectual Precursors of the Mexican Revolution 1900-1913. University of Texas Press: 1968.
Ikas, Karin Rosa. Chicana Ways. Los Angeles.
Sanders, Sol. Mexico Chaos on Our Doorstep. Maryland: Madison Books, 1986.
Wilkie, James. Elitelore. Los Angeles: Latin American Center, 1973.