The Silencing of Women’s Voices
By Frontera Norte-Sur
Photo: Susana Chavez, who was murdered.
On Tuesday, March 8, International Women’s Day 2011, the voices of many
prominent human rights defenders will be absent from Ciudad Juarez,
Mexico. Within the past 14 months, human rights campaigner Josefina Reyes,
poet Susana Chavez and activist mother Marisela Escobedo all have been
murdered, while Cipriana Jurado of the Worker Solidarity and Research
Center 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 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 Juarez. “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
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
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 2009 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 Juarez 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 Juarez and Chihuahua. And like
many advocates on both sides the border, group members have observed
violence against women and their advocates in Ciudad Juarez 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 Juarez 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 Juarez will receive heightened international
scrutiny this week, when members of the non-governmental Ciudad Juarez
Women’s Roundtable 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 Calderon
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 Juarez 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.
Additional sources, El Diario de Juarez, March 6 and 7, 2011. Articles by
Daniel Dominguez and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com, March 5, 6 and 7,
2011. Arrobajuarez.com, March 5 and 6, 2011. La Jornada, March 5, 2011.
Articles by Ruben Villalpando and Ariane Diaz. Cimacnoticias.com, March 4,
2011. Articles by Gladis Torres Ruiz. El Paso Times, February 18, 2011.
Article by Diana Washington Valdez.