Ciudad Juárez: the silencing of women’s voices

On March 8, International Women’s Day 2011, the voices of many prominent human rights defenders were absent from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Within the past 14 months, human rights campaigner Josefina Reyes, poet Susana Chávez and activist mother Marisela Escobedo all have been murdered, while Cipriana Jurado of the Worker Solidarity and Research Center (CISO) and Paula Flores have been forced to flee the city.

Eva Arce, another well-known women’s activist, has been the target of previous attacks and threats, and Malu Garcia, a founder of the anti-femicide organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (May Our Daughters Return Home), had her house set on fire last month.

Paula Flores, whose young daughter Sagrario Gonzalez was abducted and murdered in 1998, not only was a strong advocate for relatives of femicide victims, but a community organizer who worked to keep young people out of the cycle of crime and violence in the low-income Lomas de Poleo section of the border city.

“The murders of human rights activists show that public space can’t be used,” asserted Dr. Julia Monarrez Fragoso, researcher and director of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Ciudad Juárez. “You can’t raise your voice and those that do are ‘deserving’ of their deaths.”

Additionally, activists’ relatives have become targets, with vivid examples being the February killings of Elias and Magdalena Reyes, the brother and sister of Josefina Reyes, along with Elias’ wife Luisa Cornelas.

Interviewed on a Mexico City radio station last week, Marisela Reyes said a new threat received by her slain sister Magdalena’s son was the final straw, prompting the family to decide political asylum abroad was its only realistic option.

As a first step in the asylum process, more than 20 surviving members of the family then flew to Mexico City this past weekend. Prior to the mass departure, some Ciudad Juarez news sites published photos of the hotel where the family was staying under police protection.

Other stories later reported on an unusual demonstration of unnamed persons accusing Reyes family members of besmirching the reputation of local law enforcement; some anonymous comments published on the Internet accused the Reyes clan of links with organized crime.

In a press release, the Mexican federal attorney general’s office (PGR) said national authorities were collaborating with Chihuahua state law enforcement in investigating last month’s murders of Reyes family members. The PGR said all motives for the slayings were under consideration.

On Saturday, March 5, the Reyes family and their supporters ended a nearly month-old protest encampment outside the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s offices in Ciudad Juarez. Accompanied by Olga Reyes, several dozen activists then staged a demonstration outside the US Consulate against violence, militarization and US arms trafficking to Mexico.

Reyes said the protest was necessary because “people in many parts of Mexico and in other countries don’t know what’s happening in Chihuahua.” During the demonstration she wore a sash that read: “I am a Reyes Salazar and don’t want another member of my family murdered.” In total, six members of the family have been victims of homicide since 2008.

A spreading climate of terror was separately confirmed by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, which requested state protection March 6 for relatives of victims of the 2010 Villas de Salvarcar massacre of young people in Ciudad Juarez. The government human rights agency said protective measures were necessary to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of the families.

On a closely related note, the Las Cruces-based solidarity group Amigos de las Mujeres (Friends of Women) expressed grave concern about the “rash of assassinations and attacks on activists who are demanding justice” carried out by “unknown paramilitary organizations,” and called attention to a “disturbing pattern” in which entire families begin to receive threats that even escalate into more murders.

In a statement, Amigos de las Mujeres also sharply criticized the US federal government for its treatment of surviving members of Marisela Escobedo’s family. A Ciudad Juárez mother who tirelessly protested the murder of her daughter, Escobedo was gunned down in front of state government offices in Chihuahua City last December. Shortly afterward, her husband’s business was torched and her brother-in-law murdered.

Family members then sought refuge in the United States, but Marisela’s son Juan Manuel Frayre Escobedo and brother Hector Escobedo Ortiz remain locked up in an Otero County, New Mexico, immigration detention center.

The facility, Amigos de las Mujeres noted, was the subject of a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union that documented a host of abuses. The group urged its sympathizers to contact their Congressional representatives and lobby for the release of Marisela Escobedo’s relatives from the immigration prison.

For nearly a decade, Amigos de las Mujeres has worked in support of relatives of femicide victims in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. And like many advocates on both sides the border, group members have observed violence against women and their advocates in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua spiral upward with no let-up in sight.

According to a new report from COLEF, at least 1,192 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez since 1993, with 442 of the homicides occurring in the 12-year period from 1993 to 2005 when the city become known internationally for the crimes committed against women. Of the earlier victims, 58 remain unidentified, according to Dr. Julia Monarrez.

The lead researcher in the study, Monarrez has identified two main types of gender violence in the city: domestic and marital violence, and a second one marked by the serial murders of young, low-income women who are kidnapped, tortured and mutilated by groups of “powerful men.”

In recent years, a third variant of violence, connected to organized crime disputes, has added an “extra” deadly element to an already violent scene, Monarrez told the Mexican press in a recent interview.

In one of the latest instances of criminal violence, an unidentified young woman was shot to death firing squad-style along with four men in the Barrio Alto neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez early on the morning of March 6. Witnesses quoted in the local press described the victim unsuccessfully begging for her life. On the same day, another woman was found possibly beaten to death in the city’s conflict-ridden downtown zone.

The violence in Ciudad Juárez will receive heightened international scrutiny this week, when members of the non-governmental Ciudad Juárez Women’s Roundtable (Red Mesa de Mujeres) give talks in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. The European tour is part of a new campaign to protest the “simulation of the Mexican state” in addressing gender violence, as well the Calderón administration’s failure to fully comply with the 2009 Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentence related to the murders of three young women in Ciudad Juárez back in 2001.

Andrea Medina Rosas, Women’s Roundtable spokesperson, said hundreds of national and international recommendations concerning gender violence have been made to the Mexican government during the last two decades, including some of which have been attended, but that “effective results” have been lacking until now.

From Frontera NorteSur, March 7

See our last posts on Mexico’s crime wars, the struggle in Ciudad Juárez and the femicide.

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  1. Social Violence, “Well-meaning and not”
    If the country of Mexico could put a lid in it’s “machistas” I do not doubt that the world would see impressive gains on solving it’s society’s problems. I do not use the word “macho” in describing the problem because in spite of the warping of it’s meaining on this side of the border a macho is simply a man who is sober, hardworking, and faithful to spouse and family. Because of this misleading construct and it’s usage in the English language Mexico is seen “muy macho”. I wish! When at thirty years of age in the early sixties I took the time to look into the social activism in the Chicano communities in the souhwest I discovered in time that many of the on-campus, rural and community organizations were infested with the masculinist machista types whom I perceived to be very busy making the world safe for such as they, and not for women, children or elders, and certainly not for gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals or trans-gender people,which of course brought about a response by Chicana feminists, and gays. I already knew that I would be working among nit-wits busy being “real men” but I had no Idea how bad it would be. Within two weeks of taking a production job with the popular Lowrider Magazine I encountered a viciously bigoted cartoon in the June 1979 issue taking aim at women, gays and lesbians, and the working class as well. The publisher, one Sonny Madrid, well known for his many years of “activism” on behalf of his community had allowed a spoiled, surly and middle class twenty year old Texas transplant account exec and his cartoonist amigo to assault his own beleagered barrios with a seriously toxic, inhumane and divisive message. And to promote this unbright entrepreneur’s wish-dream the 24 Street Galeria in San Francisco was enlisted to promote the magazine with a special Lowrider Exhibit. The cartoon text was so blatently gross that it was blanked outvfor this June 1979 show, but it pointed to and promoted buying the publication, thanks to Rene Yañez, “Barrio Artist and intellectual” and his “Latina feminist and artist side-kick Patricia Rodriguez”. Did these pendejos babosos realise that they were asking parents to hate, ostracise and/or abuse their gay children? In several panels an over-bearing masculinist entrepreneur “el cruiser” demonises a “not straight” small business owner in his own shop. I was abused and harrassed by a confused and homophobic uncle at age five , for my first six months of kindergarten, some seven months for not being “manly enough”and when I spotted this disgraceful piece of work I saw red, and knew that I would have to respond. I have created Hate Crime Review, a self published ‘zine, to convey to the reader a parody of the very parody which ignorance makes of maleness. The same thing happens in the anglo community, so pointing fingers at the cultural “Other” is useless. It is a manifestation of patriarchy and seduces or coerces women to go along with it: “Men should rule the family and socially harmful pose, and to avoid being labelled “unmanly” boys take up sports. Like the nazi “thousand year reich” hypermasculinity will go down the tubes, but not before doing a lot of damage. It is a cultural imbalance which arrived in the New World with European conquest and it’s rotten obscurantist and intolerant religeous values. An imperialist view of life is a twisted oppressive and hypocritical one. Mexico is nothing more than the straw through which drugs are snorted into the U.S.. But doped communities, especially poor ones of color , because cops allow middle-class white druggies to slip through scot free, are easier to demonise and to control and privatised prisons are profitable, so don’t expect change soon. And the Pentagon must have it’s quota of young men willing to “prove themselves”. Ask the returning wounded, and ignored vets how they like war. You really should, because the media avoids the dehumanizing aspects, and presents a “patriotic” view. The problems of Mexico are not unrelated to the problems of the U.S. The true border does not run from Brownsville to San Diego, the border is wherever Mexicans are in the U.S., and it is worse than being ignorant and short-sighted, it is silly to believe that culture and traditions and modes of perception stop at an arbitrary line between two nations. As a chicano I see cultural nationalism as simplistic, pointless and shallow and a waste of energy. Chicano cultural nationalists wish to convey “I love my people” It is no more than an ingratiating lie. Unless I need to make clinical observations for my writing, poetry or art, I give machistas short shrift. Life is too short.