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Ricardo Dominguez on Fri, 31 Oct 2003 09:43:44 +0100 (CET)

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_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ 

cyberfeminist cyberactivism
in solidarity with the women of juarez and chihuahua


_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ 

street ACTIONS
the day of the dead

virtual sit-in

juarez and chihuahua

sign the PETITION in solidarity with
justice for our daughters

NETCAST of the ucla conference
on juarez from october 31, november 1 and 2

information about 
efforts in juarez and chihuahua,

more information about 
_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ 



The following is an interview with Lucha Castro and Alma Gomez, representatives 
of Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas and attorneys representing the families of the 
victims of violence in Chihuahua and Juarez. It was conducted by phone on 
October 19, 2003. Questions and translations by Coco Fusco for OPERACION DIGNA.

The MP3's of the interview may be downloaded, reproduced, broadcast and 
net.cast in part or its entirety. Please notify OPERACION DIGNA if any usage by 
sending an email to operaciondigna {AT} yahoo.com.

1. Every report on the violence against women in the state of Chihuahua varies 
with respect to the statistics on murders and disappearances. Can you explain 
the wide discrepancies?

Lucha Castro: First I can tell you that one of the reasons that we don't have 
an accurate and trustworthy data is because those in the attorney general's 
office and the other authorities haven't paid attention to the investigation. 
They haven't really wanted to deal with it. It is only because of pressures 
from NGOs and human rights groups and because of international outcry that the 
investigation is finally underway. 

But the manipulation of the figures is also a move on the part of the attorney 
general's office to minimize the problem, suggesting that in reality there have 
only been 90 murders. We reject the classification of the crimes in this way. 
In the end these were women whose lives were taken away, who were victims of 
sexual violence and who were murdered. Some of the murders seem to be serial 
killings, and others that are related to domestic violence. It seems that the 
only ones considered important are the serial killings, and no importance is 
given to domestic violence. For us both are equally monstrous.

Alma Gomez: The Women's Institute of Chihuahua speaks of 321 women murdered in 
Juarez. If you take into account that Martha Altolaguirre speaks of 268 deaths, 
the Attorney General speaks of 268 cases, the Women's Institute of Chihuahua 
speaks of 321 women and Amnesty International's figure which is 360 there are 
not great differences among the figures. What is true is that we do not have 
accurate and trustworthy public available data. The authorities have barely 
begun to work of determining the figures. The report from the Women's Institute 
of Chihuahua is important because it is the first public information that the 
state government has made available with names and numeration of cases. 

LC: I have in my hands an autopsy report of Cecilia Covarrubias. Here it 
clearly established by doctors who examined her - that she was sexually 
violated. There is evidence that she was penetrated, and an abundance of sperm 
was found in her vagina, and the doctor's determined that she died from being 
violently attacked. She was shot twice in the breasts. Nonetheless, if you look 
at the government document that Alma was just talking about she (Covarrubias) 
does not appear. She is only listed by the Attorney General's office as a 
murder victim, not a victim of sexual violence. They have been manipulating the 
data in the cases to lower the figures. That is what is happening.

2. When did the violence extend to Chihuahua and what are the conditions that 
led to this spread?

LC: Domestic violence has been present for a long while in Chihuahua and is 
rooted in the fact that Mexico's society is patriarchal. What we are 
identifying as serial killings begin in Chihuahua City in 1999, with a young 
woman Norma Leticia Luna. Sadly there are seven other young women who died in 
the same circumstances. And at the moment there are three cadavers that are 
being examined for proper identification. One we know nothing about - the 
Attorney General's office has hidden all their information. One we assume to be 
Neyra Azucena Cervantes, and the other to be Yasmin Garcia Medrano. 

I want to say that these victims are between 14-18 years old. They are women 
who are of the same physical type as the victims in Juarez - young women who 
worked in maquiladoras or who students at the Ecco Computer School, who were 
dark, thin, pretty, and working class. Their bodies were thrown into the desert 
after their being raped and/or tortured. 

AG: Chihuahua City has experienced that same accelerated growth. Not to the 
same degree as Juarez. But the maquiladora industry has also grown here, and 
massive numbers of women have joined the work force, going to the maquiladoras 
in particular. If we think these are factors that have contributed to the 
violence in Juarez, we have to acknowledge that in Chihuahua we also lack 
infrastructure. There aren't enough nurseries and childcare centers, there is 
not enough policing or public transport. Many areas lack street lights. These 
factors also contribute to the murders.

3. Many people think that the drug traffic in Chihuahua has created a climate 
of violence and fear that has contributed to the murders and the lack of public 
reaction to them. Is this true?

LC: Some cases have to do with the situation created by drug trade. 
Nonetheless, that is not everything. But that corruption, that mafia has 
permeated the police corps and gives them economic security regardless of 
whether they investigate the crimes - that is at what permits and supports the 
impunity. There is a line of investigation here that would take us directly to 
the police. 

4. You have written that the local media in Chihuahua manipulates the 
information about the murders and the measures taken by the authorities. How is 
the media dealing with the issues and with the families of the victims?

LC: The local media are completely co-opted by the authorities. There is a 
complete clampdown on the information. They present the families as 
disintegrated, infiltrated by stepfathers, and the victims as girls who were 
running away from their families. It's a campaign to promote the notion that 
the victims and the families brought the trouble upon themselves and the 
problem is a personal one, related to the family. 

There is a strong campaign against the human rights groups and the attorneys. 
They try to show us as people who are profiting from the tragedy. The president 
of the Chihuahua women's institute, Mrs. Vicky Carabello gave an interview to 
the media in which she said that we were profiting from the families' pain. 
That is the response of the Attorney General to the people and the institutions 
who are concerned about the femicides.

AG: We have to make a distinction. The majority of the local media, both print 
and electronic are controlled by the governor. There are some that escape that 
control but they have been threatened, but through those media we have the 
chance to make our case. At the national level, the situation is different. We 
are well covered by radio, television and in papers like La Jornada, Reforma, 
El Milenio, etc. But those are not media that are well distributed in the state 
of Chihuahua. 

5. Many of the victims worked in maquiladoras. Some of the mothers of the 
victims have said that if they criticize the maquiladoras for not providing 
safe travel conditions for their workers, people think that these accusations 
generate unemployment because they make companies want to leave Mexico.

AG: In the past two years there has been an exodus of maquilas to China. Why? 
Because in China they find cheaper labor than here. This departure of the 
maquilas has been used by the authorities and some members of the private 
sector to suggest that it is our giving Juarez a bad name that is causing them 
to leave. This is totally false. The maquilas leave because they can generate 
more profit in China through greater explanation. They are not leaving because 
women are being murdered here. Really, the maquilas destroy people physically. 
They are hardly respectful of human life. There are plenty of cases of women 
who began working there as young and healthy people who are now blind, or have 
deformed fingers, or they gave birth to deformed children. It's not because of 
a respect for life that they leave. But the authorities use their departure to 
blame us.

6. Why has there been so little public outcry in Chihuahua against the violence?

LC: First, there is a lack of solidarity. Because of neoliberalism that has 
permeated our society and because of individualism. The dire conditions in 
which people live here do permit them to be that concerned with things other 
than survival. They are worried about having enough to eat. Imagine a man or 
women who is the head of a family and who work in a maquiladora. The day they 
don't work is the day they won't be paid for. If they leave work for a day to 
go to a protest, that day their family won't eat. If they go to accompany the 
mothers for a few days, they could be fired. Many people are getting laid off 
these days. So there is a problem of this kind.

Also, the media has promoted a point of view of the problem as being purely 
domestic. We are given the impression that the violence is due to family 
problems, fights between couples, that the women were running loose in the 
streets, that they were prostitutes, and that they were out late at night. So 
the person who doesn't go out late at night thinks well this won't happen to 

AG: All of these factors are part of the problem. It's like a big puzzle. Some 
of it is apathy, some of it is economics, and some of it has to do with 
people's fear of coming forward. It isn't possible that nobody was ever around 
when a kidnapping occurred. But it is true that people are afraid to talk. If 
you go to the police, you might in effect be making an accusation against them, 
because of the degree of complicity that there might be. No one talks. There is 
a fear of coming forward to provide information. People don't want to get 
themselves involved in problems.

7. Have there been any changes over the past decade as the violence has 

AG: At first, a woman was killed every 12 days, now it's every 9 or 10 days. So 
what has changed? There is more vigilance from the NGOs. Each time a body is 
found, we divulge information, initiate legal proceedings, etc. So the 
mechanisms for organizing information about these days has been elaborated by 
the NGOs. On the part of the authorities, well imagine, it took ten years for 
them to issue their first public statement. That should tell you how much 
things have changed. 

Since last July there have been a number of initiatives that we see as 
resulting from the pressure exerted internationally. We now have an integrated 
program of public safety for Juarez. A commissioner was just named to deal with 
the victims in Juarez. A public prosecutor's office representing a joint effort 
between the state and federal government has been established to deal with the 
crimes in Juarez. There is a very persistent presence of the National 
Commission of Human Rights and they just opened an office in Juarez. That means 
that some things are happening - not that there have been many results yet, but 
we have take them into account. 

8. How do you explain the inertia and repression of public protests on the part 
of the authorities?

LC: The judicial system is not working with respect to this problem in Mexico. 
It is a structural problem. The state maintains total control over the public 
ministries. In this case it is the governor who controls everything. So Alma 
and I are legal representatives, for Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, we are very 
limited in what we can do. Even though we submit requests and ask that certain 
kinds of investigations be made, when they get to point where it is no longer 
convenient for them, they just divert everything. On other hand, we have a 
gender perspective on this and believe that these are sexual crimes. The 
victims are women, they are sexually attacked and killed because they are 
women, and tossed away because they are poor. The state's response to this is 
that this is not a gender issue because there are men in the state who are also 
killed. But the men are not raped and tossed in the desert. The state does not 
these as sexual crimes. They see the killings as crimes of passion, or regular 
murders. So we are speaking two different languages here. And the state is 
represented by the police who search for the victims. So unless the basic 
structural problem is solved, regarding the perspective on the crimes and the 
angles that the investigation will pursue, we are just stuck.

AG: While the issue of the Juarez murders has gotten international attention in 
the last few years, in the state of Chihuahua, this has been a political issue 
locally for a long time. The governor who just took office made it part of this 
political campaign to say that he was going to resolve all the murder cases in 
Juarez. A lot of attention is given to how politicians say they will approach 
the issue of the Juarez murders. So it becomes relevant to the authorities to 
minimize the problem, to hide it, to say that we are exaggerating, that we are 
manipulating the issue and profiting from it. So there is a campaign to prevent 
from getting close to the families of the victims, they tell the families not 
to get together with us, because we are trouble, etc. 

Second, there is a strong campaign in the media saying that the women die or 
disappear because they are crazy or whatever. Why? To absolve themselves of 
responsibility and not have deal with how they have failed in guaranteeing 
public safety. On the other hand there have been strong repression campaign 
against the organizations. Every time that Amnesty International comes there is 
a campaign against us. The Human Rights Commission comes, and again, they 
launch another campaign against us. They suggest that we are provoking the 
situation, making the international organizations come to our city, that the 
problem is not that big, that we are exaggerating, because we benefit from 
this. In the end, the problem is that Juarez murders is a political issue. 

LC: How does the government present the victims in this case? They look for 
rationales to justify the crimes. Some say that there were family problems, 
that the women were overprotected, that there wasn't enough control over them, 
bad treatment, etc. Since they haven't found the perpetrators or they don't 
want to find them because there is complicity and the investigation could lead 
to people in power, and that the prosecutor's office might be full of people 
who are involved, so then, they have choose a guilty party so that the public 
calms down. That's when they start looking for scapegoats. The scapegoats will 
be among the poor, among those with alternative lifestyles because they are 
frowned up by the main sectors of society. Finally, if they make themselves up 
that way, if they dress that way, if they occasionally take drugs, then they 
might be capable of more. The public doesn't ask question when a young man 
dresses in that way is jailed and tortured. They say, well, it must be him.

9. Everyone involved in protesting the violence speaks of impunity. Can you 
specify what this means in relation to the murders?

LC: Impunity means there is no justice with regard to the victims. In the sense 
that when the girls disappear they are not looked for. There is a selective 
application of judicial process, due to structural problems. There are first 
and second class citizens here. When there is a situation or a crime that 
affects a member of the upper classes, the entrepreneurs or politicians, the 
classes with power, suddenly the legal process works. When the problems involve 
the poor, workers, working women, the indigenous, who might be victims of any 
kind of crime, disappearance, murder, rape, domestic violence, then the justice 
system no longer works. That is the essence of the impunity here. The girls are 
not searched for, their murderers are not sought. The rule of law has been 
ruptured and the system does not function for our second class citizens, the 
poor of Mexico.

AG: In the context of Mexican law, what is already on the books is fine and 
should work. What is missing? Very concrete things. When a bank alarm goes off, 
the police show up and even the fire department. Why do they arrive? Because 
they have to protect money, which is important. But when a woman disappears, 
they tell the family to come back in 48 hours. And there is no further 
response. So what do we say? We demand that a group of trained specialists be 
formed so that as soon as a woman is abducted or disappears, they will look for 
her. Immediately, just they respond to a bank alarm. 

Then, when a woman's body is found and it appears that she was murdered. They 
don't have an elaborated data base because they didn't work on this. And when 
the body is found, the retrieval of the cadaver is not handled properly. The 
crime scene is not examined properly. They don't do proper tests during the 
autopsy to see if the victim was raped, or how she died. In response to this 
situation we say that she was special police units with proper forensic labs 
and such that enable them to conduct proper investigations. This infrastructure 
does not exist. 

10. How can those outside Mexico help to bring an end to the violence in 

LC: One concrete thing that could happen is that US Congressmen propose that 
Mexico sign an agreement with the US regarding the murders. Last week we were 
visited by Congresswoman Hilda Solis. We hope that you can support your 
Congressional representatives in their efforts to help us. 

AG: Some of the disappeared women have been gone for two or three years. We are 
asking for help to be able from experts who can create portraits of what the 
missing young women would like now after two or years of being missing. We have 
noticed in the US that these kinds of missing person signs are posted in many 
public places. We would like the portraits of our missing daughters to be 
posted around the US. Also, we would like an investigator who could examine the 
documents from the open cases of missing women and make suggestions about what 
kinds of lines of investigation could be undertaken to begin to look for them. 
In the case of the murdered women, we have trouble getting access to the bodies 
to conduct DNA tests, because of the monopolistic control that the state has 
over the human remains, but we would look for the way to conduct these tests 
independently. There is the case of the eight bodies that were thrown in the 
cotton field. The families have given blood samples to conduct comparative 
tests three times and supposedly the blood gets contaminated, and still there 
are no results. And it is has been two years since the bodies were found and it 
is still not known who they are. We are talking about a criminologist, who 
could come and study some of the cases and offer an opinion. 


_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________



Washington D.C
New York City
Mexico D.F
Portland, Oregon
El Paso, Texas
Phoenix, Arizona
San Francisco, California
Minneapolis, Minnesota
St Paul, Minnesota
Paris, France
Tokyo, Japan
Madrid, Spain
Valencia, Spain
Cuernavaca, Mexico

By Organization:

Women in Black/Mujeres en Negro
Mexico Solidarity Network
Black Hole Collective
Borderlands Collective
Do it Herself Collective
Amigos de Mujeres de Juárez 
La Peña del Bronx, New York
El Grupo de Trabajadores por la Paz
La Red de Solidaridad con Venezuela
Red de organizaciones feministas 
contra la violencia de genero
Mujeres en Red
Plataforma de Artistas contra la violencia hacia las mujeres
Consejo de las Mujeres de Madrid
Enclave Feminsita
Fundación Mujeres
Mujeres Juristas Themis
Action Center 
Coatlicue Theatre Company 
New York Zapatistas 
Electronci Disturbance Theater
Centro de Desarrollo de la Mujer Dominicana 
Centro Guatemalteco Tecun Uman 
Iglesia San Romero de las Americas 
As well as independent artists, activists and concerned individuals. 

_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ 

For more information contact OPERACIÓN DIGNA at OPERACIONDIGNA {AT} yahoo.com 

OPERACIÓN DIGNA is named after of Digna Ochoa, the courageous Mexican human 
rights lawyer who was assassinated in 2001. 

_________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ 

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