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The City Of Murder

by Diego Cevallos

to series on Ciudad Juarez murders

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- The discovery of two raped and strangled women's corpses in just one week would send shock waves throughout most cities. But in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, this fate has befallen so many women in the last 11 years that such a discovery is hardly newsworthy anymore.

"These are crimes that have lost any shock value. Here in Ciudad Juarez and in most of the country, they have practically come to be seen as something commonplace, an everyday occurrence," said Esther Chavez, the director of Casa Amiga, a non-governmental organization that provides support for relatives of the murdered women.

Since 1993, the number of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez -- located in northern Mexico, along the U.S. border -- is somewhere between 300 and 380, depending on the source consulted.

Almost all of them were raped before they were killed -- gang-raped in many cases -- and also showed signs of having been tortured.

Theories on the motives behind these murders abound, encompassing everything from satanic cults to the pornography industry (such as snuff films). There is also a line of investigation delving into a possible connection with the trafficking of human organs.

In the last two years, the Mexican government and women's and human rights groups have stepped up efforts to both solve and stop these crimes.

Yet this veritable massacre has continued unabated, with total impunity. The average number of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2004 has risen to 1.5 a month.

"We are just overwhelmed by the shock of this new victim. We are horrified by the total impunity surrounding these killings, and by the latent danger facing the women in this city, especially the youngest and poorest among them," Chavez told IPS in a telephone interview.

"But most people aren't even surprized by these things anymore, and that is a very serious problem, because it means that the outrage once caused by this massacre is dying out," she added.

The investigation of these crimes was initially handled by the authorities in the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juarez is located.

But in July 2003, due to growing international pressure from human rights groups, the federal government, led by President Vicente Fox, took over responsibility for investigating the murders and ensuring public security in the city.

The government appointed a commissioner and special prosecutor to deal with the situation, as well as establishing committees in conjunction with activists and human rights groups to clear up the murders already committed and stop more from taking place.

Lucia Melgar, spokeswoman for a group of 11 Mexican social sciences academics who are demanding an end to the impunity surrounding the Juarez killings, told IPS that the strategy being used in the city is not working, because it lacks a centralized command, and the efforts being carried out are largely isolated and dispersed.

"They'll never solve the crimes this way," she said.

"There's a certain amount of faking going on in these investigations. What we are seeing in Ciudad Juarez is a collapse of the state of law," she added.

Both Melgar and Chavez believe it is very possible that there are influential people involved in the murders, such as high-level police authorities or wealthy and well-connected drug traffickers.

"I think there are important people involved, who nobody wants to touch," said Chavez.

The government's inquiries revealed that roughly 80 members of the police force responsible for investigating the crimes in the past were guilty of gross negligence. They are now facing legal proceedings.

A number of people are in custody in connection with the killings, but only one has been convicted: an Egyptian named Abdel Latif Sharif who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of five young women.

In any event, the killings have not stopped.

Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.2 million inhabitants directly across the border from El Paso, Texas, has been christened the "femicide capital" by human rights groups.

Almost all of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 30, and many were poor, working-class women employed in the city's maquiladoras.

Ciudad Juarez, like many other towns and cities along the U.S. border, is home to a large number of these tax-free manufacturing plants, where imported materials and parts are used to produce goods for export.

The maquiladora workforce is composed overwhelmingly of young women, often living far from their families.

The city is also a base for both drug trafficking and human trafficking rings, and is well-known for high rates of drug and alcohol consumption as well.

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Albion Monitor December 8, 2004 (

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