[m2c] In Juárez, Years of Seeking Justice for Murdered Women
sandinista at shaw.ca
Fri Jun 11 12:06:10 MDT 2010
In Juárez, Years of Seeking Justice for Murdered Women
By Daniela Pastrana
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico, Jun 11, 2010 (IPS) - "Sometimes I'm cheerful,
but other times I see no reason for working in the community or even
for life," said Paula Flores, who has become the symbol of the fight
for justice for the hundreds of women who have been murdered or
disappeared in this northern Mexican border city.
"Sometimes I hit bottom," admitted Flores, 52, speaking to IPS in her
home. Her voice was subdued and her sad gaze rested on some point out
in the desert that surrounds the Lomas de Poleo neighbourhood. Located
in Ciudad Juárez's western outskirts, it is a long way from city
centre -- and poverty is more than evident.
Sand covers the unpaved streets, an extension of the desert that for
the last two decades has witnessed some of the most gruesome sexual
violence -- nearly all of which has gone unpunished.
Paula Flores is the focus of a documentary film that was screened at
the 3rd International Human Rights Film Festival, May 21-June 3 in
Mexico City, 1,840 kilometres south of Ciudad Juárez.
Directed by José Bonilla, "La Carta: Sagrario... nunca has muerto para
mí" (The Letter: Sagrario... For Me, You Never Died), centred on the
mother's perspective, follows the 12-year fight for justice of the
family of Sagrario González Flores, who was raped, tortured and
murdered in 1998.
"Juárez is an issue that is a challenge to all of us," the director
Sagrario disappeared Apr. 16, 1998, two months before her 18th
birthday. Her body was found in the desert 14 days later. She was the
fourth of seven children of Paula Flores and Jesús González. Her
father committed suicide in 2006, unable to overcome his grief.
The family had moved to Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua state, in 1995
from a town in the neighbouring state of Durango. They dreamed of
improving their lives in a city where the for-export factories, known
as "maquilas," were still booming.
In the 1970s, Mexico had become fertile ground for these subsidised
and tax- exempt assembly plants, which are largely unregulated and
operate on cheap labour, employing mostly women.
"We had no idea what awaited us here," Flores said, her voice a
In February 2005, the family convinced the police to arrest José Luis
Hernández, alias El Manuelillo, a well-known figure in the
neighbourhood who worked as a "coyote" -- a human trafficker who was
paid to cross undocumented migrants illegally into the United States.
Hernández had disappeared for seven years, shortly after the crime. It
was the family's own investigation that led to him.
In his initial statement, he said two men had paid him 500 dollars to
deliver the young woman, who was intercepted as she left her job at
the maquila, shortly after 3:00 pm. That was not the usual time that
her shift ended -- management had abruptly changed her schedule --
which meant her father was not there to accompany her home.
But during the trial, Hernández changed his story, asserting that he
acted alone. He is now serving a 28-year sentence in a prison far from
Juárez, in the southwestern state of Jalisco.
"The case has not been resolved," said Sagrario's mother as she looked
through newspaper clippings about the family's 12-year search for
"They never put together a reconstruction of the events, and when I
told off Manuelillo, he said that the cops had told him to make that
statement (about acting alone) so they could close the case," she
Since 1993, when the first killings of maquila women were reported,
crimes of gender violence have continued unabated, and the numerous
human rights and victims organisations working on this problem agree
that the death toll has surpassed the thousand mark.
Official reports state that about 800 women have been killed since
then. But the authorities do not record them as femicides
("feminicidios" in Spanish) -- defined as the systematic killing of
women, or killing based on gender hatred, a definition that arose from
the Juárez crimes.
Government agencies only recognise that more than eight percent of the
women's deaths can be attributed to "crimes of passion" or "family
problems," and 12 percent have "unidentified causes."
The current rate of murdered women in Juárez is 23 per 100,000 women,
which is three times the rate that the World Health Organisation
defines as an epidemic. However, in this already violent city, torn by
drug trafficking, it is far below the rate of murdered men: 354 per
"That other violence has overtaken the issue (of femicide), but the
girls keep disappearing, and that they aren't found as quickly is
another thing," said Flores.
According to a study by the non-governmental Juárez Citizen Security
Observatory, the murder of women has jumped 579 percent since the city
got caught up in the wars between the drug trafficking cartels.
Of the 259 women killed in the last two years, 51 were clearly
attributable to gender violence.
"Impunity is the key to continued femicide in Juárez," summarised
Patricia Ravelo, who conducted all the research that went into the
On Nov. 16, 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a
condemnatory sentence against the Mexican state for the murder of
three women in Campo Algodonero, outside Ciudad Juárez. It was the
first ruling of its kind and established reparations for gender-based
The ruling, which cannot be appealed, holds accountable several
officials, charged for supporting impunity in the femicides.
In particular, the families of the victims point to Arturo Chávez, who
currently serves as Mexico's Attorney General, and was the Chihuahua
state attorney general when the Campo Algodonero murders occurred.
His designation as national attorney general came under fire from
women's and human rights organisation in Chihuahua. To add insult to
injury, they said, the government of conservative President Felipe
Calderón, who has not approached the Juárez families, ignored their
"We have come up against the fact that the Mexican state is unwilling
to carry out the (Inter-American Court's) sentence," said David Peña,
attorney with the human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
Paula Flores brought a lawsuit before the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights in 2007. That year she also founded the Sagrario
Foundation, which looks for ways to articulate a cultural alternative
Also, since 2002, the María Sagrario Flores González nursery school
has been operating in Lomas de Poleo, providing care for 250 children
under age six.
"Some families are tired of the issue, and people have grown
accustomed" to the femicides, said Flores. She believes the strategy
of the state and national governments is to minimise the phenomenon
and discredit the organisations.
"But my daughter is not a myth, as the governor (José Baeza) says,
that the dead women of Juárez are a myth. I didn't make it up.
Sagrario did live -- she had a great desire to live." (END)
"Until all of us are free, the few who think they are remain tainted
with enslavement." Lee Maracle
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