March 2, 2007

Bulldozing the Memories of Murdered Women

In the run-up to International Women’s Day 2007, the memories of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez are being erased. Workmen have started clearing a portion of the old cotton field where the tortured, raped and mutilated remains of eight young women were discovered in November 2001.

Located near the site of the new US Consulate in the border city, the cotton field is suddenly in the middle of a hot commercial zone. New hotels and other establishments catering to the diplomatic and immigration services offered by the US government are expected to open soon for business.

Currently, eight big crosses erected in memory of the murder victims mark a section of the cotton field. Now a landmark, the field is almost a required stop for foreign journalists, filmmakers, human rights and women’s activists, and others who reclaim the memories of the young women. Mothers and other relatives of the victims hold memorials in the cotton field.

Marisela Ortiz, co-founder of “Nuestras hijas de regreso a casa,” amongst crosses of abducted and murdered women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

For almost five years, Chihuahua state law enforcement authorities misidentified three of the victims as Guadalupe Luna de la Rosa, Veronica Martinez and Barbara Aracely Martinez, all of whom are now considered disappeared persons. Thanks to the efforts of the Argentine Anthropological Forensic Team, two of the victims were correctly identified last year as Merlin Elizabeth Rodriguez Saenz and Maria Rocina Galicia Meraz, both of whom vanished in 2001. The eighth cotton field victim remains unidentified.

“One does not forget,” said Javier Camacho, the new owner of the cotton field property under development. “It’s sad what happened, but nothing is gained by the crosses, and one way of stopping this is by developing the border.”

Although the cotton field case and scores of other rape-murders in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City stand unsolved, some local officials and business leaders have increasingly grumbled about the so-called “myth” or “black legend” of femicide that is allegedly giving Ciudad Juarez a bad name on the world stage.

Especially within the last year, Ciudad Juarez media have downplayed the women’s murders. A long-running web-site that publicized the cases of disappeared women and men,, mysteriously vanished from cyber-space, as did the long-running femicide section of the Norte newspaper. Readers of major Ciudad Juarez news websites would have had no idea that Jennifer Lopez was recognized by Amnesty International in a Berlin ceremony this month for her role in the upcoming Gregory Nava movie Bordertown, a fictional film about the Juarez women’s murders. While JLO’s award received ample attention in the Mexican national and international press, it did not even register a blip on several Ciudad Juarez news web sites.

Still, even the leading El Diario newspaper has had trouble swallowing the official story surrounding three men first accused last year of orchestrating the cotton field murders. In a February 18 editorial, El Diario questioned the authorities’ case and recounted the long history of police fabricating femicide scapegoats in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City.

Late last week, the Ciudad Juarez press was also forced to report on a possible new femicide after the body of a semi-naked woman was discovered on the morning of February 23 in an empty lot near the city’s international airport. Like numerous past cases, the woman’s body was found by playing children. Although the unidentified woman was found in various stages of undress, a preliminary official report claimed she was not murdered. Neighbors said it was the second time that a dead body had been discovered in the same lot.

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

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