Eve Ensler and Amnesty International March on Juarez to Stop the Murder of Young Women

 February 14, Juarez, Mexico—"Ni Una Mas"—"not one more"—was the impassioned rallying cry this Valentine's Day as activist groups from the U.S. and Mexico converged on this gritty border city to protest the brutal killings of more than 370 women in Juarez and the nearby state capital, Chihuahua City, since 1993. Early Saturday, a rapt crowd of 500-plus men, women, and children, sharing seats and crammed against the walls, spontaneously chanted "not one more" and "you're not alone" at the local university as Mexican professor Marcela Lagarde addressed the "feminicido" that has plagued Chihuahua State for the past decade.

Between 5,000 and 7,000 anti-violence protestors then gathered at the Lerdo Bridge separating Texas and Mexico and marched down Juarez's central Lerdo Avenue, lined with wedding-dress stores and small restaurants. Screaming "justicia," protestors carried black balloons, blurry black-and-white photocopies of missing and murdered women, and decorated dresses hanging on tall pink crosses. Even a group of fraternity brothers from University of Texas-El Paso—decked out in T-shirts reading "men of character"—marched with an enormous canvas of handprints and the declaration "These hands don't hurt."

At the front was Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, whose international non-profit V-Day co-sponsored the march with Amnesty International, which last year issued a detailed report damning the quality of the criminal investigations in Juarez and Chihuahua City. Accompanying Ensler was press-magnet Jane Fonda and other so-called "Very Important Vaginas": actors Sally Field and Christine Lahti, PBS president Pat Mitchell, Lifetime CEO and president Carole Black, and Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) and Hilda Solis (California). Solis wants to pass House Resolution 466, which supports the multilateral creation of a DNA database in Chihuahua state.

In the U.S., the right wing hopes to smear John Kerry for being within five feet of Fonda in 1970; for most in Juarez, the simple fact that Fonda, whoever she is, is a famous person agitating to draw attention to the murdered women is a hopeful sign. "I am rich, I am famous, I am white, and I have a daughter and a granddaughter," Fonda declared to a group of storming reporters. "If they were murdered or disappeared, I know the authorities would work very hard to find out who kidnapped them." Fonda concluded her comments by admonishing the press: "Why did it take international movie stars to turn up for you to be here?"

A little over ten years ago, according to an Amnesty Now article, the number of women murdered in Juarez—a city of roughly 1.3 million—averaged three a year. In 1993, the number skyrocketed to three a month. Many of these murders are classified by the police as "situational," as in domestic violence and drug- or gang-related violence, even though the similarities between the murders clearly point to a larger trend. The mutilated bodies of young, poor women are dumped in and at the outskirts of the city. The average age of the victims is 16. At least one-third of them work in the city's maquiladoras, or foreign assembly plants. More than one-third of the women are raped before they are killed, and most of their bodies show signs of captivity and torture. Once seen as a problem in the rough, crime-ridden Juarez alone, the murders have now spread to Chihuahua City.

Rumors about the killings identify its perpetrators variously as the state police, an international organ-trafficking ring, Satanists, organized-crime factions, serial killers from the U.S., a group of local serial killers, and the Mexican government.

So who is killing the women? At an emotional press conference in the crammed lobby of the Juarez's modest Monte Carlo hotel on Friday, one mother of a murdered girl answered, "We don't know. Why do they leave them like this [mutilated]? What are they trying to erase? . . . I am sure the state police of Chihuahua know what happened to these girls. I want to know. That's a mother's right." Amnesty's report declares that "the failure of the competent authorities to take action to investigate these crimes, whether through indifference, lack of will, or inability, has been blatant." Alma Guillermoprieto, who wrote about the killings for The New Yorker this past fall, sees "active collusion" by the Chihuahua police as a logical possibility, and "active indifference" as the least-incriminating explanation. The police deny all involvement.

The murder of women in Chihuahua state is certainly a socio-economic political issue. After NAFTA, workers from poor villages poured into Juarez, and the rise in violence in 1993 coincides with the boom of the maquiladora economy. On Saturday, the group La Mujer Obrera distributed leaflets avowing that the murders "are the consequences of a global economy that continues to promote the deterioration of the social fabric on the border." Multinational corporations take advantage of loose environmental regulations and cheap Mexican labor—maquiladora workers are paid less than $5 a day. U.S.-run factories in Juarez—including Thomson/RCA, General Electric, Ford, and Dupont—have done little to ensure the safety of their female workers: girls have disappeared in the waste-grounds adjacent to factories, which are often unlit. Private companies have rejected the idea that they should pay for security for their workers. Claudia Ivette González disappeared after her assembly plant turned her away for arriving four minutes late; she was found in 2001 in a ditch with seven other young women. Her employer, the Lear Corporation, stated that the company did not need to provide its workers with extra security because her murder didn't happen on Lear property.

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