The brutal, sadistic slayings of the women workers of Guatemala and Juarez, Mexico that have occrurred for years have been largely ignored by many people in the world. Young women and girls who were strangled, raped, tortured, mutilated, sexually tortured, dismembered—with their bodies put into garbage bags, then dumped as if they were so much trash. Three killers of these innocent women have been caught, but, the callous disregard the local police have towards the deaths of these women is rampant where the police do not even investigate a majority of these cases, for these vicious slayings are still occurring. These women maquilladora factory workers who were trying to make a life for themselves, have been forgotten. I post these articles to remember them and the lives they had taken from them by savage murderers. I post this to remind people that all around the world the lives of women and girls are held so cheaply, so hatefully, so misogynistically—-so unvalued.
GUATEMALA’S MURDERED WOMEN
Guatemala does not keep reliable statistics. But it is clear that a pattern of these killings was first seen in 2000, and the reported numbers have risen since then. Last year, there were 590 such killings of women, and the murders have grown more grisly. Many of the women were victims of gang warfare. Others were killed by husbands or boyfriends. But there are also cases of college students or shop workers who had no links to crime and simply disappeared – until their bodies were found.
What the women have in common is that their cases go nowhere. Overwhelmingly, victims’ families report that the response of the authorities is a lack of interest. The police assure them that a missing daughter, for example, has run off with a boyfriend. When the body turns up, the crime is often dismissed with comments that the dead woman must have been a gang member or a prostitute, or killed by her partner – as if these were justifications for failing to investigate.
Guatemala has recently signed several international conventions protecting women, and it has established such new organizations as the office of the special prosecutor for crimes against women. But this progress is largely on paper. Laws are not enforced, and there is no money to finance the new offices. Guatemala is still a country where a rapist can escape charges by marrying the victim, and domestic violence cases can be prosecuted only if the victim can still show bruises 10 days later. Sexual harassment is not illegal.
When such outdated attitudes toward women prevail, it is easy for the local authorities to justify taking no action when young women are murdered. Their inaction gives an official green light to the killers of women.
400 DEAD WOMEN; NOW HOLLYWOOD IS INTRIGUED
With a body count now estimated at some 400, the killings have been called the maquiladora murders because some of the victims worked in the city’s factories, which are also known as maquiladoras.
Given that kind of sensationalism, it was inevitable that Hollywood would enter the picture, and now it has, twice. “The Virgin of Juárez,” a drama with a supernatural subplot starring Minnie Driver, was made for just $1 million and is playing the festival circuit. Meanwhile “Bordertown” — an action-thriller with Jennifer Lopez budgeted at $35 million — is in post-production, though a release date has not been set. The scripts for both were read in advance by Artists for Amnesty, the Hollywood arm of Amnesty International, for suggestions about the depiction of the case facts. But based on a screening of the former and the screenplay for the latter, neither movie suggests the scope of the issue.
For the mystery of the murdered women of Juárez has evolved into more than a crime story. Words like “femicide,” “machismo,” “misogyny” and “impunity” have entered a much broader debate about the city and its connection to issues of race, class and gender. And, less predictably, Juárez has become the heart of an impassioned grass-roots artists’ movement.
“I realized I could put something together to echo the voices of the victims,” said Azul Luna, a Los Angeles photographer and digital artist who traveled to Juárez to document the scene. The founder of an artists’ collective that raises awareness about the crimes and the larger issue of violence again women, she once led a caravan of artists from California to El Paso and across the river to Juárez.
In Los Angeles, Rubén Amavizca’s play “The Women of Juárez” (“Las Mujeres de Juárez”) has become a staple at the Frida Kahlo Theater, with performances in both English and Spanish. Several books, both fiction and nonfiction, are in the works, and there have been songs about the killings by the Mexican groups Los Tigres del Norte and Jaguares, and by Tori Amos.
The Juárez violence has also become the subject of treatises in scholarly journals and university symposiums and has galvanized human rights and women’s rights activists. And American celebrities have become involved: on May 9, Jane Fonda and Eve Ensler were among those who participated in a Mexico City reading of Ms. Ensler’s feminist work, “The Vagina Monologues,” with proceeds benefiting a women’s shelter in Juárez. Two years earlier Ms. Fonda, Sally Field, Christine Lahti and Ms. Ensler led a much-publicized march from El Paso to Juárez.
Juárez, Mexico’s fourth-largest city, with a population of about 1.3 million, is a teeming industrial center dominated by hundreds of multinational assembly plants. Women drawn to Juárez from villages across Mexico provide the majority of the cheap labor, typically for about $6 a day.
As bodies continue to turn up, so have a host of theories. Satanists, organ harvesters and drug cartels have been among the suspects. (Juárez is a major drug conduit to the United States.) So have the sons of wealthy men, who, it has been said, hunt and kill women for sport. Even husbands and boyfriends have been suspected. But so far the only consensus is that a phenomenon once attributed to a single serial killer has become a wider crime wave involving multiple murderers.
“Now it’s a monster,” the actress Vanessa Bauche said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. “You can cut off one head, and there will appear three more. This is one of the darkest stories in Latin America.”
The founder of an artists’ group that works with relatives of the Juárez victims, Ms. Bauche, the star of the Mexican New Wave film “Amores Perros,” is co-producer of a documentary that will include interviews with victims’ relatives, some of whom have received threats. “The only way we have to protect them is to make them famous,” she said.
The killings have been the subject of numerous Spanish-language television programs in both Mexico and in the United States on the Telemundo and Univision networks, as well as several lurid direct-to-video movies. On a more literate front, the acclaimed Mexican playwright Sabina Berman has recently completed the script for “Backyard,” a film based on four true stories. “My screenplay is very social minded, political minded,” she said. “It talks about the politics of globalization. Juárez is just one example of what can go wrong with globalization.”
Ms. Berman said she applauded Hollywood’s interest in Juárez, “not just the crimes, but the wave of violence against women,” adding, “Of course it would be better to not trivialize and sensationalize, or sexualize, the story.”
Debbie Nathan, a journalist who has written extensively about border issues and sexual politics, questioned Hollywood’s tendency to simplify. “This situation is about so much more than serial killers,” said Ms. Nathan, who worries that movies about the murders “could be a kind of reality porn.”
“Did I worry about exploitation?” he said. “In a word, yes. The attacks I showed are fictionalized, but the facts spoken are true.”
Mr. Dobson said he first learned about the murdered women while searching a Web site about serial killers. “I had the idea to bring Joan of Arc to Juárez,” he said, referring to a victim (played in the movie by Ana Claudia Talancón) who develops stigmata and has visions, and who is befriended by a feisty female reporter.
“Bordertown” is also about a female reporter, played by Ms. Lopez, who befriends an attack victim (Maya Zapata). Gregory Nava, the film’s writer and director, who previously teamed with Ms. Lopez on the 1997 film “Selena,” declined requests for an interview. And the publicist for Ms. Lopez, who is also the film’s executive producer, did not respond to requests for an interview with the star.
Marisela Ortiz, a former teacher of one of the Juárez victims and an advocate for victims and their relatives, said she welcomed the prospect of a Hollywood movie about the murders, “in spite of the film presenting a different premise from reality.” She was referring to scenes in “Bordertown” pointing to a group of bus drivers as the culprits, a theory that has since been debunked.
The catalyst for many of the artists, filmmakers and activists involved in the Juárez mystery was a 2001 documentary titled “Señorita Extraviada” (“Missing Young Woman”). The veteran Bay Area filmmaker Lourdes Portillo spent 18 months on the project, which received a special jury prize at Sundance four years ago and was broadcast on PBS in the United States. To this day it grips a viewer’s attention, from the opening narration, “The desert is full of secrets, some of them buried in the sands,” to its accusations of police and governmental negligence and cover-ups.
“You are talking about a very complex problem involving a culture that diminishes the role of women in life,” said Ms. Portillo, a native of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico.
A number of new documentaries from both sides of the border are in the works, including Lorena Mendez-Quiroga’s “Border Echoes” (“Ecos de Una Frontera”). A freelance television reporter and the founder of the Los Angeles-based Justice for the Women of Juárez, Ms. Mendez-Quiroga made more than 30 trips to Juárez and mortgaged her house to complete the film, which looks at the crimes through the eyes and investigative work of Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter at The El Paso Times who has long been at the forefront of the Juárez story. Ms. Valdez has said she is going to be “naming names” of suspects in the film, which Ms. Mendez-Quiroga hopes to screen at the next Sundance Film Festival.
Another project in development is an HBO feature written by Josefina Lopez, a playwright and screenwriter whose credits include the screenplay for the 2001 film “Real Women Have Curves.” To research her project Ms. Lopez visited a desert area near Juárez called Lomas de Poleo, where the bodies of eight young women were found. “I’m very sensitive in that sometimes I can pick up energy,” she said, “like ghosts and stuff like that. And as I stood there, I could feel the souls of the women, their spirits.”
Ms. Lopez went on to talk about the women who ventured to Juárez from central and southern Mexico in search of work, only to die gruesomely. “When I stood and looked where the bodies had been dumped, I kept thinking, these poor women, their spirits, they’re wandering,” she said, raising a question that filmmakers and other artists are now left to answer. “How are they ever going to get home?”
Articles courtesy of The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com )
On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez by Steev Hise (DVD – 2006)
The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Teresa Rodriguez (Hardcover – March 27, 2007)
Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez by Marjorie Agosin (Paperback – June 1, 2006)