Thursday, August 20, 2009

Las Muertas de Juarez

Speaking of movies, last night I was fortunate enough to watch the film, "Bordertown," (2006) written and directed by Gregory Nava, who reunited with actress, Jennifer Lopez (he directed "Selena," which rocketed Ms Lopez to national prominence in 1997, sandwiched in between interesting performances in "Blood and Wine," (1996), with Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine, and "Anaconda,"). Martin Sheen, and the ever underrated Antonio Banderas, also appear in the film, as well a startling performance by Maya Zapata.
The film deals with the very real murders of large numbers of mostly young women since 1993, in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico, right across the border from El Paso, Texas.
According to the Organization of American State's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
"The victims of these crimes have preponderantly been the state of young women, between 12 and 22 years of age. Many were students, and most were maquiladora (factory) workers. A number were relative newcomers to Ciudad Juarez who had migrated from other areas of Mexico. The victims were generally reported missing by their families, with their bodies found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots,outlying areas or in the desert. In most of these cases there were signs of sexual violence, abuse, torture or in some cases mutilation."
And from Amnesty International:
"In a significant number of cases, the brutality with which the assailants abduct and murder the women goes further than the act of killing and provides one of the most terrible examples of violence against women. Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture, and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, mostly as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or being beaten. Their bodies have been found days or even years later, hidden among rubble or abandoned in deserted areas near the city. 'When we found her, my daughter's body told of everything that had been done to her," said Norma Andrade the mother of Lilia Alejandra, whose body was found in February 2001, on waste ground in Ciudad Juarez next to the maquilal where she worked. Like Lilia Alejandra, most of the women, some with children to support, come from poor backgrounds and have to take long bus journeys to reach their places of work or study. Sometimes, they have no choice but to walk alone across unlit waste ground and streets where they are at greater risk of possible attack."
The estimate of the number of victims varies. Amnesty International reports that as of February of 2005, 800 bodies had been discovered, with over 3,000 women still missing.
The film "Bordertown" (which was released overseas, but went straight to video here in the US. The film did have its problems, long dialogue scenes in Spanish without subtitles not the least of them), lays the blame for these murders primarily in the hands of Bill Clinton, and his signing into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the exploitation of poor workers in other countries that have no protections against unfair labor practices, hence the growth of the maquiladora factories along the U.S. Mexican border, which receive imported parts on a duty free basis, manufacture these parts into a finished product, then ship them back to the originating countries for large profits. Workers typically make approximately $110.00 a week, during a 48 hour work week (but they have medical! Mexico enjoys universal health care, something its neighbor to the north has been unable to provide its citizens to date).
Still, although NAFTA was probably his worst mistake during his tenure as President, it is hard to pin the blame for "The Dead Women of Juarez" (the title of this post translated) entirely on Clinton.
No, one must take into account the actual murderers of these defenseless women and children. As John Steinbeck pointed out in "East Of Eden," there are monsters among us. Those who committed these crimes are literally human monsters, and should be hunted down and treated as such (or maybe not. Maybe the designation "human" is too good for them).
There are probably many factors contributing to the confluence of violence against women in the tiny geographical region of Ciudad Juarez, including the availability and quantity of easy prey, gang and drug related criminality, a culture of domestic violence and the treatment of women as property that is ignored by authorities (which is not peculiar to Mexico. This horrible tendency is endemic in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and countries like Afghanistan and India), genuine "Hostel" like killing by those who think of it as a sport perpetrated by monsters above and below the border, sexual aggression taken to its ultimate limits, as well as the general victimization of the weakest among us.
I believe the largest propagator of violence resulting in the murders of these women in Juarez, and elsewhere around the world is the irrational idea that is okay to treat women in this manner because they are less than. And I believe this idea is born out of the fear and ignorance of what women's equality and the power it would represent to the male population in these areas would mean to males, often reinforced by religious dogma that conveniently places the role of women beneath that of men.
My belief is in itself reinforced by the lack of fervor displayed by the local authorities in Mexico in the prosecution of those responsible for these horrendous crimes. Pitifully few arrests and prosecutions have been enacted considering the number of victims, and possible victims. The general tone of law enforcement in Juarez seems to be hostile toward the victims and their families, and foreigners who visit in order to investigate or publicize the murders. Nava's film crew, while shooting in Ciudad Juarez, were threatened, and thousands of dollars of valuable equipment vandalized. This would indicate a common disregard for the rights and safety of women embedded within the culture (unless of course it is their own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters involved). Indeed, "On May 30, 2005, President Vicente Fox told reporters that the majority of the Juárez killings had been resolved and the perpetrators placed behind bars. He went on to criticize the media for "rehashing" the same 300 or 400 murders, and said matters needed to be seen in their "proper dimension."
The BBC reported 28 women had been killed by November of 2005.
In August of 2006, the Federal government in Mexico dropped its investigation of the murders in Ciudad Juarez.
Through my involvement with Amnesty International I've been aware of the situation in Juarez for many years, and have done what I could, written letters to local and Federal authorities in Mexico, as well as officials in my own government, signed petitions, etc. Whatever I could do.
Even though the preponderance of violent crime worldwide targets men more than women, more than two thirds so, I don't seem to get all worked up about men killing each other, although violence in all of its forms is still appalling. I abhor violence against women. They are men's partners in life, and they should be cherished and protected for all of the love, beauty, intelligence, and grace that they bring into this hard world.
I invite you dear readers to join the fight at Amnesty Internationals site below.

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