Crosses mark where slain women were found outside Juárez. Photo: Flickr” title=”Crosses mark where slain women were found outside Juárez. Photo: Flickr” class=”image image-_original” width=”500″ height=”375″ />War on Women in the Borderlands
from Frontera NorteSur
Up and down the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, from Laredo to Albuquerque, families and friends protest, plead and pray for the return of their missing daughters, mothers and loved ones.
In Laredo, Texas, a case of two missing young women ended on a positive note April 3, when 19-year-old Yazmin Silva and 18-year-old Nydia Benavides were returned home. The two friends were reported missing in Laredo’s sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, on March 29. A car driven by the young women was subsequently recovered in a supermarket parking lot not far from Nuevo Laredo’s red-light district.
US and Mexican law enforcement officials teamed up find out what happened to Silva and Benavides, but it is still not clear who was behind the disappearance of the two friends and for what ends. Elizabeth Hernández Arredondo, investigator for the Tamaulipas state attorney general’s office, confirmed the two young women were held against their will, but insisted their nearly week-long absence was “not a case involving organized crime.”
After reappearing in public, Benavides and Silva hid their faces and avoided talking to the media. Benavides’ mother, Angeles Benavides, later described her daughter as depressed and in need of treatment.
While last week brought good news to two families, others in the two Laredos continued to wonder about their loved ones. A web site maintained by the relatives’ group Laredo’s Missing lists 17 women reported vanished between 2003-2006.
In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, many families also anguish over the fate of missing relatives. Scores of young women have been reported missing since the early 1990s, with the latest instance involving an 18-year old student from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ), Monica Janeth Alanis Esparza, who vanished last March 26 after advising her family she was leaving the school to go with friends.
“My family is destroyed,” said Monica’s father Ricardo Alanis. “We are desperate from not knowing anything.”
The missing person’s department of the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office lists 33 “high-risk” cases of young women who disappeared in Ciudad Juárez between 1995 and March 2009, but many women’s advocates say the true number is much higher.
According to research by El Paso reporter and author Diana Washington Valdez and subsequent press reports, more than 620 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez because of various reasons since 1993; reportedly, 22 women have been slain in the border city since the beginning of 2009.
The prevalence of forced disappearance and violence against women motivated a group of human rights activists and mothers of missing and murdered women to stage a protest outside the Ciudad Juárez offices of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) on April 3. The group demanded that the Mexican government comply with international human rights agreements protecting women from violence, that Mexico finally get to the bottom of the femicides and disappearances and that former Chihuahua governor Francisco Barrio be retired as Mexico’s ambassador to Canada.
Mothers of femicide victims and their supporters contend that as governor of the state of Chihuahua from 1992-98, Barrio blamed the alleged lifestyles of victimized women for the violent crimes perpetrated against them, while he permitted the mass murders of women to go unchecked by helping to fabricate a scapegoat for the crimes, the late Egyptian national Abdul Latif Sharif Sharif.
“Let’s Not Export Impunity,” read a sign at the April 3 demonstration in Ciudad Juárez. “Barrio is not a dignified representative of Mexicans,” charged Marisela Ortiz, spokeswoman for the Ciudad Juárez non-governmental organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa.
A letter containing protestors’ demands was also written to the Mexican Senate. In addition to Nuestras Hijas, signatories included Pastoral Obrera, Tonantzin Women’s Center, Mesa de Mujeres, academic researchers from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte and UACJ, and many other individuals and groups.
Simultaneous to the Ciudad Juárez demonstration, the Quebec Federation of Women, Committee for Human Rights in Latin America and Committee in Solidarity with the Women of Ciudad Juárez held protests outside Mexican consulates in Montreal and Ottawa in support of the demand that Barrio be declared “persona non-grata” in Mexico’s most northern NAFTA partner.
There was no immediate public comment by either the SRE or Ambassador Barrio on the bi-national demonstrations.
Four hours upriver from Ciudad Juárez, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is another community now forced to come to terms with issues of violence against women.
In a scene strikingly reminiscent of previous events in Ciudad Juárez, a group of relatives and their supporters gathered on the bitterly cold evening April 4 to honor the memories of at least 20 young women who have gone missing or fallen victim to the streets since 1989. As an arctic-like chill whipped the Duke City, scores of activists and relatives installed a shrine, displayed photos of missing women, set up pink crosses, and conducted an indigenous ceremony in Robinson Park on Central Avenue.
Speakers challenged a narrative of stigmatization flowing from media stories and police reports that emphasize the connection between missing women and drugs/and or prostitution. Six of the women honored April 4 were among the 11 sets of female remains that have been unearthed at a clandestine graveyard on the outskirts of Albuquerque since last February. One of the presumed victims of violence was pregnant.
“She was a beautiful person, always smiling,” said Elsie Montano, god-mother of Veronica Romero, whose remains were identified last week. Montano said years passed between filing the police report about Romero’s disappearance on Valentine’s Day 2004 and any official word of her fate. “I don’t think [police] responded very well to anything,” Montano added. “I mean, this was terrorism, actually. These girls have been killed and thrown like garbage.”
Although differences exist in the backgrounds of some victims in Albuquerque and Ciudad Juárez, similarities are also evident. In both cities, working-class Latinas went missing and later turned up in mass graves uncovered not by hard-nosed detective work but by a random member of public.
Little is publicly known about the ongoing Albuquerque investigation, which is headed by the Albuquerque Police Department. For example, it is still not publicly known how the 11 women died in what the mass media refers to as the “West Mesa Mystery.”
Several elected officials attended the Albuquerque victims’ memorial, including city councilors Rey Garduno and Ike Benton and Bernalillo County Commissioner Art de la Cruz, who represents the district where the mass graveyard is located.
In an interview with Frontera NorteSur, de la Cruz said he was concerned about initial law enforcement responses to the women’s disappearances in Albuquerque and elsewhere, but was confident police were now working “very, very hard” to get to solve the “mystery.” De la Cruz called the West Mesa saga a “huge issue” that can’t be permitted to happen again.
Several relatives of missing women said they were against reported proposals to discontinue excavations at the crime scene soon. They also vowed to form a relative’s group to press for justice and the apprehension of criminals.
“We’re a little snowball at the top of the hill where we started,” said Dan Valdez, father of Gina Michelle Valdez. “When we get to the base we’re going to be an enormous snowball. We’re not going to stop.”
After delivering a short but powerful speech about her disappeared cousin, an eight-year-old girl perhaps best summed up the sentiments of the people gathered. “And [my cousin] got a son,” the elementary school student said. “And her son’s here too, but he loves her and he misses her. I hope everyone prays for her too.”
Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa
CIUDAD JUÁREZ MILITARIZED
Mexico’s Internal “Surge” on the Rio Grande
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, April 2009
From our Daily Report:
Juárez femicide cases go before Inter-American Court of Human Rights
World War 4 Report, April 30, 2009
Mexico: narco-war death toll doubles ’07; Juárez femicide breaks records
World War 4 Report, Dec. 10, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution