May 12, 2006

US Congress Condemns the Killing of Mexican Women

Finally acting on long-pending resolutions, the US House of Representatives and US Senate unanimously passed resolutions this week condemning the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico. Sponsored by Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Ca.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) in the Senate, the statements contain the same language.

Both the House and Senate resolutions condemn the femicides, express sympathy to victims’ families, deplore the use of torture in the murder investigations, offer US assistance in DNA testing, and urge the US President Secretary of State to place the femicide issue on the official binational agenda of the US and Mexican federal governments. The resolutions also request a review of cases where scapegoats are widely believed to have been fabricated, and urge the Mexican government to punish of errant law enforcement officials.

“Binational cooperation between the US and Mexico will help bring an end to the murder of women in Ciudad Juarez and closure to the families,” said Rep. Solis after the House vote.

Mexican state and federal authorities did not offer immediate, public comment on the resolutions. Most Ciudad Juarez news media did not immediately mention the US

Congressional action on their Internet sites. One exception was the Norte newspaper, which quoted several Ciudad Juarez activists who praised the resolutions, including former Chihuahua Women’s Institute head Victoria Caraveo and Sonia Torres of the Center for the Integral Development of Women.

Alfredo Limas, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Juarez and a member of the Citizen Network for Non-Violence and Human Dignity, said the resolutions could help prod Mexican authorities into paying more attention to the femicides. Limas contended the Mexican government starts to really worry when it “gets scolded in English.” 

Long organizing for the passage of the resolutions, some US human rights advocacy groups also considered the US Congress’ action a step forward. “We hope the passage of this resolution will encourage the Mexican authorities to redouble their efforts to investigate the cases that have yet to be solved,” said Laurie Freeman, the Mexico program associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The vote came amid a spiraling wave of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state. Figures compiled by the WOLA report 20 murders of women and girls

in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua from January 1 to April 25, 2006. Additionally, a woman only identified as “Maria de los Angeles” was run over by a car and killed in Ciudad Juarez in an April 29 incident that could have been a homicide.

Also, 13-year-old Reyna Ortiz Rivera was reportedly killed by her boyfriend in another April 29 incident in Palomas, a small border town located across from Columbus, New Mexico. Ortiz’s alleged victimizer, 14-year-old Eduardo Mayor, then supposedly shot himself in the head and was then transported to a hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

If present trends continue, the cases reported by both the WOLA and the Mexican press reflect a murder trend higher than the rates for either 2004 or 2005. Domestic violence, sexual attacks, suspected narco-related mayhem, and robberies stand out as multiple motives in the 2006 murders. The ages, identities and backgrounds of victims suggest that a broad curve of violence against women is expanding. 

Apart from the murders, dozens of young women like 22-year-old Edith Aranda remain missing. Wednesday, May 3, marked the first anniversary of the school-teacher’s disappearance after she reportedly was last seen applying for a job at a Discorama music store in downtown Ciudad Juarez, the site of numerous disappearances. Aranda’s disappearance was remembered by her former pupils and fellow teachers who briefly interrupted the school day on May 3 to call for renewed attention on the missing young woman.

“Time has passed since the disappearance of this teacher, and the results promised in the investigations by (teachers’) union leaders have been forgotten,” noted Ciudad Juarez women’s activist Paula Flores, the mother of femicide victim Sagrario Gonzalez. 

Human rights activists said they hope the US Congress’ message will help convince Mexican officials to begin curbing the impunity prevailing in many murders and disappearances.

“Congress was responding to the fears of many families that they will not see justice for their daughters,” said Kristel Mucino, WOLA’s Mexico program assistant. “The Mexican authorities should punish not only the killers, but the public officials whose negligence and malfeasance have allowed them to go free.”

Previous to this week’s US Congressional action, various resolutions concerning the femicides were approved by the city councils of El Paso and New York City, the mayor of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the New Mexico State Senate.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University.

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