Mothers of the Disappeared March Again and… Again

Posted on January 25, 2009

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On the same day Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president in U.S. history, an old story was repeating itself in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, Texas. Staging a caravan through the violence-ridden city, a new group of mothers of disappeared young women brought public attention to the cases of daughters who went missing after January 2008. Holding a rally at the downtown Cathedral, the mothers demanded their daughters be returned home alive.

“If there were leads as to the whereabouts of my daughter, I would not be here,” said Ernestina Enriquez, mother of Adriana Sarmiento, “but I do not have any favorable results from the little or the lot the authorities are doing. They don’t tell me anything…”

Demonstrators also demanded action in the cases of Hilda Gabriela Rivas, Brenda Ponce, Lidia Ramos, and Brenda Berenice Castillo. Representatives of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, the Mexico Solidarity Network, Centro de Mujeres Tonantzin, and other non-governmental organizations joined in
the protest.

The personal stories aired in public January 20 bore striking similarities. All the disappeared young women are teenagers who went to school or worked for a living, and most were headed to downtown Ciudad Juarez, the scene of numerous disappearances since the 1990s. Two of the women’s disappearances could be connected to travel on the same bus line, while a third instance might have some relationship to the Ignacio Allende preparatory school, an educational institution attended by several earlier victims of sexual assault and murder.

At least one member of the latest group of vanished teenagers was reportedly last headed downtown to purchase shoes, an activity connected to additional disappearances as far back as 1995. The most recent disappearances also bear a similarity to many earlier ones in that the missing persons were not seen being forcibly abducted, suggesting that the young women may have been lured into dangerous situations.

Brenda Berenice Castillo, 17, disappeared on Tuesday, January 6, 2009, a day celebrated as Three King’s Day in Mexico, after she reportedly headed downtown on the Zaragoza bus line to apply for a job at a jewelry business. The mother of a month-old baby, Castillo was quickly forced back into the job market because her husband’s work hours were cut back at his job with an export assembly plant.

“Although (Brenda’s baby) is little, he misses his mother,” lamented Bertha Alicia Garcia, the mother of Castillo.

At least 29 new cases of women who have disappeared in Ciudad Juarez since January 2008 are pending. As in previous times when disappearances of women rose, many tragically ending with the discovery of the tortured and
sexually abused corpse of the missing victim, the latest rash of women’s disappearances coincides with violent upheavals in the criminal underworld, increased seizures of drug loads, changes in political administrations, and deployments by the Mexican army or federal police.

Since 1995, several groups of relatives have thrust the issue of their missing daughters and sisters into the international spotlight. Mass protests, which reached their zenith in 2003-04, prompted the administration of former Mexican President Vicente Fox to create new government bureaucracies, including a special commission on violence against women in Ciudad Juarez and a special prosecutor’s office.

Both agencies were widely criticized for failing to clear up numerous disappearances and femicides. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon assumed power in December 2006, the two agencies have become virtually invisible.

Meanwhile, murders of women officially reached all-time heights in Ciudad Juarez last year, when at least 86 women were slain; many homicides were connected to the narco war that claimed more than 1,600 lives overall.

Women´s murders have continued into 2009. In early January, the body of a tortured young female was discovered near the village of El Millon in the rural Juarez Valley, the same zone were men’s heads and headless bodies were discovered in recent days.

In response to earlier publicity about the Ciudad Juarez femicides, some Chihuahua state and federal officials frequently pointed to the central state of Mexico as the most violent place for women in the country.

According to official sources cited in the Mexican press, 173 women were murdered and another 1,000 were raped in Mexico state in 2008. Less than half the murder cases were reported solved.

Surrounding Mexico City and containing the capital city’s suburbs, the state of Mexico has a population about 10 times larger than Ciudad Juarez’s estimated population of 1.3 million people.

In its recent world report, Human Rights Watch charged that violence against women in Mexico was endemic and draped in a mantle of impunity. Indeed, the saga of the Ciudad Juarez disappearances and femicides now covers the terms of four Mexican presidents and an equal number of U.S. leaders.

In Ciudad Juarez, many women denounce living hemmed in by gun battles, forced disappearances, sexual assaults, and street crimes of all sorts. The state of terror was further heightened late last year when the body of a young woman was found on a public street with an attached message that warned “sexy” women not to go out alone because “the devil was loose” in the city.

“Women do not enjoy the freedom of secure transit in the city,” said local women’s activist Irma Marrufo, “and this is a right and a responsibility of political authorities and the legal system.”

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Additional sources:
— Lapolaka.com, January 21, 2009.
— La Jornada, January 20 and 21, 2009. Articles by Israel Davila and Ruben Villalpando.
— Norte, January 15, 20, 21, 22, 2009. Articles by Nohemi Barraza and Herika Martinez Prado.
— El Diario de Juarez, January 21, 2009.
— Proceso, January 18, 2009. Article by M. Turati. — Cimacnoticias.com, January 5 and 22, 2009. Articles by Gladis Torres Ruiz and editorial staff.

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Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email fnsnews@nmsu.edu

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