In a Ciudad Juarez ceremony, a mid-level Mexican official asked forgiveness for the Mexican state’s negligence in the murders of three young women a decade ago.
“Because of its non-compliance in investigating and guaranteeing the rights of victims, and for violating access to justice and protection, the state recognizes its responsibility,” said Felipe de Jesus Zamora Castro, legal affairs and human rights undersecretary for the federal Interior Ministry. “We ask for pardon.”
Zamora spoke at a November 7 ceremony ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as part of a December 2009 sentence handed down against the Mexican state in the cases of Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal and Claudia Iveth Gonzalez, teenagers who were found murdered along with five other young women in a Ciudad Juarez cotton field on November 6 and 7, 2001. The slayings stunned the world, and occurred at a time when the administration of then-Chihuahua Governor Patricio Martinez was claiming that the serial murders of young women had largely come to a halt.
Monday’s ceremony at the site of a new monument, which was built near the spot where the bodies of the eight victims were discovered, was marked by a boycott of murder victims’ relatives boos from relatives of still-disappeared girls and young women and non-attendance by top-ranking Mexican officials.
Although the so-called cotton field case drew widespread international attention to the Ciudad Juarez femicides and eventually resulted in an international court ruling against the Mexican state, the 2011 ceremony was not attended by President Felipe Calderon, First Lady Margarita Zavala, Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte and Ciudad Juarez Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguia.
Embroiled in pre-election campaigning, the leaders of Mexico´s political parties were also absent from the scene. Instead, mid-level officials representing the federal, state and municipal governments were dispatched to a ceremony held one year late.
As the event unfolded, the speeches of Zamora and other officials were heckled and interrupted by shouts of “Justice, Justice” from relatives of disappeared women and their supporters. Jose Luis Castillo, whose 14-year-old daughter Esmeralda went missing in 2009, was among the vocal protesters.
“We don’t want mausoleums, we don’t want to find our daughters dead,” Castillo was quoted. “We want (authorities) to pursue leads and find our daughters alive. Ten years later they show up to inagurate a mausoluem that serves as a morbid tourist attraction for the rest of the people of the world.”
A day prior to the cotton field ceremony, relatives of the disappeared held a mass and then released white balloons at the giant Mexican flag in Chamizal Park facing El Paso, Texas. Among others, the event was organized by family members of Nancy Iveth Navarro Munoz, last seen on October 15 of this year; Gisel Paola Ventura, missing since June 22, 2011; and 13-year-old Ernestina Alvarado Castillo, vanished since this past October 24 while going to exchange shoes in downtown Ciudad Juarez. While downtown Juarez has long been identified as a “red zone” for disappearances, many of the latest cases follow patterns that date back to the 1990s if not earlier. Typically, young women have vanished while riding buses, applying for jobs, shopping or attending school. Reportedly, Gisel Paola Ventura attended Allende High School, a private school where several other victims of disappearance and/or murder including Laura Berenice Ramos once studied.
After 20 years, posters of disappeared girls and young women have practically become a permanent fixture of downtown Ciudad Juarez’s landscape. Many relatives suspect organized bands of human traffickers are behind the disappearances of their loved ones.
In the cotton field case, several suspects were picked up by Mexican police but most of the the cases unraveled after torture-wrought confessions and other irregularities were exposed. At the November 7 ceremony, family members of the last possible scapegoat in the affair, Edgar Alvarado Cruz, showed up to demand that Mexican authorities review his case.
Although evidence linked the eight cotton field victims to the same victimizer or victimizer, Alvarado was convicted of only one of the crimes; nor has anyone else been charged with the murders.
Alvarado’s prison sentence and the subsequent delay in justice surrounding the cotton field case would not have been possible without the collusion of the US government. At the behest of Mexican authorities, Alvarado was picked up in Colorado in 2006 and deported back home. Despite missing evidence and other legal holes, the young man was vigorously prosecuted by the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office, which was then headed by Patricia Gonzalez, who had struck up relationships with US officials and oversaw a United States Agency for International Development program designed to “reform” the state justice system.
Meantime, gender and other forms of violence spread across Chihuahua and Mexico.
Although this week’s cotton field ceremony put the Mexican state in compliance with one of the Inter-American Court-mandated remedies, other key parts of the nearly two-year-old sentence including sanctioning of officials responsible for botching the disappearance and murder investigations as well as determining and holding accountable the killers of the young women remain unfulfilled, according to victims’ relatives and their advocates.
Victoria Caraveo, former head of the official Chihuahua Women’s Institute and coordinator for the non-governmental organization Mothers in Search of Justice, also spoke out on November 7. The veteran women’s activist was critical of the more than one million dollars spent on the still-unfinsihed cotton field monument, and added that the real action needs to be in stopping the disappearances and murders of girls and young women. The Mexican government’s response to gender violence in Ciudad Juarez, Caraveo contended, has been “shameful” until now.