October 31, 2003

U.S. Legislators Search for Truth in Ciudad Juarez

By Javier Rodriguez
Eastern Group Publications

October 28, 2003 -- A Congressional delegation headed by Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat, went to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for a three day, first of its kind, investigation into the shocking murders of scores of young Mexican women in the city.

The fact-finding mission was arranged following the release of Amnesty International Human Rights’ report titled “Intolerable Killings,” which outlined many of the horrific details surrounding the murders, which some estimates place close to 300. Coincidently, one week before the group’s arrival, Mexican President Vicente Fox’s administration assigned 700 more federal police to protect the city against crime.

The event was sponsored and organized by the Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, Latin America Working Group, LAWG, and the Mexico Solidarity Network; three progressive national lobbying organizations based in Washington D.C.

Chicago Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Texas Congressmen Silvestre Reyes and Ciro Rodriguez, both Democrats, labor leader and University of California Regent Dolores Huerta and documentary producer Lourdes Portillo accompanied Solis. The delegation met with mothers of the victims, non-governmental organizations, Mexican officials and journalists from Oct.11-13.

The delegation labored with a packed agenda of closed-door meetings and visits to several dramatic sites where the murdered women’s bodies had been unearthed. One of the more sobering moments came during a tour of Colonia Anapra, a hilly and extremely poor neighborhood at the edge of the city, where many of the bodies were found.

There, the delegates saw first hand what some on the tour described as “sub-human social and dangerous living conditions of many of Juarez’ maquiladoras workers.” Workers in the region — for the most part employed by American and international companies — lack many of the most basic services such as sufficient water, drainage, clinics, schools, little if any public lighting, transportation and police protection.

Oddly enough, (perhaps to avoid questioning, some speculated) delegates and the throng of local and international media accompanying them could not locate any of the federal police officers stationed in Anapra or in any of the poor colonias of Juarez.

According to Amnesty International’s August 2003 report presented in Juarez by Amnesty’s Secretary General Irene Khan, since 1993 there’s been a total of 270 murders and 500 hundred more women have disappeared in Juarez and Chihuahua City. The report identifies patterns in the sexual murders, which indicate that the killings are not isolated or mere coincidences. The report further decries the lack of an effective governmental response to the murders and demands by the women’s families that something be done to stop the killings and to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crimes to justice.

Despite what many, including Amnesty International, call a preponderance of evidence, local and federal law enforcement agencies in Mexico, including the governor of Chihuahua continue to deny that there is any pattern to link the murders. President Vicente Fox is quoted in the report denying the patterns and stating the murders are an isolated phenomena. The report also concludes that the basis of the murders lies in societal gender based discrimination, a lax investigation of the murders and disappearances and a lack of inadequate protection and prevention programs. The official attitude is to blame the victim, the report concludes.

Mexican police have been accused of carrying out a pattern of brutal intimidation and violence against the victim’s families and of murdering an attorney. However, it has not stopped the families. Most experts point to the persistent struggle of the women and their quest for justice as the inspiration for the international uproar against the Mexican government.

The stories told by the mothers are many. Consuelo Valen-zuela sitting with a picture of her young daughter told this reporter, “my daughter Julieta disappeared as she came out of her high school. The Chihuahua authorities have not looked for her. They don’t help at all. We came here to ask for support and for pressure on the authorities. Our daughters were not frivolous as the governor says. They did not lead a double life. My daughter was studious. Se la robaron (She was kidnapped!)” Another mother, Mrs. Venegas said, “Why does this happen only to the poor and the daughters of laborers? There is a lot of wickedness in the powerful. What can one do against the powerful, the drug traffickers?”

Then there is the case of Veronica Rivera Martinez. She was arrested, beaten, tortured and then left for dead buried under rocks, but survived. She described and named her assailants, Jorge Garcia, a State Judicial Police Comandante and three police assistants known as “madrinas.” They were never charged. Norma Andrade asserted that many instances of police involvement have been confirmed.

Candidly, she stated, “I believe that police are also used to transport and get rid of the bodies.”

As for the killers’ motives, there are several theories. Martin Alferes, an experienced freelance cameraman for the major networks in the region, said he had received delicate information about an American and a Greek who came to Juarez twice a year to buy “snuff videos,” (that portray sex and real murders as they happen), for the U.S. and European markets. He also implicated the police as the abductors. Alferes stated that as a long time correspondent, he and other Juarez reporters with radio scanners had listened to police calls and complaints but never heard a woman’s abduction. His conclusion seemed to be logical. Who would notice if they thought a detention was taking place.

At the final press conference Laurie Freeman of WOLA declared, “We will continue our focus and return to this city. This is not just a three-day visit and then nothing. We want this problem to be included as part of the agenda for the next session of the Bi-national meeting between the two countries”.

Rep. Solis, visibly emotional at times, emphatically stated, “We listened to the affected families. We learned about their suffering and pain. The deaths of the women of Ciudad Juarez and other cities in Mexico are one of the problems that we, Mexico and the U.S. share jointly. We will ask that the next Bi-national convention on November 17 include this topic. We will also ask the Organization of American States and the U.N. to participate as mediators on the DNA tests. The families and the women are the true heroes. They have brought us together.”

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