By Stella Pope Duarte
If I Die in Juarez
“Every skillful word is vividly, impossibly poignant and vividly, impossibly true”.
“Duarte’s writing is laced with anguish and desperation and brings to life the grime and sleaze of Juárez”.
—Publisher’s Weekly Review
“…a terrifying journey that resonates through every headline–and from this communal tragedy Duarte creates
something quite beautiful, poignant, and necessary: the hope for resolution.”
“… Their arms were chopped off and their stomachs ripped out. They had been raped, tortured, and killed.” (The Observer, 2000).
This was the description of three friends who died together, Esmeralda Juarez Alarcon, age 16, Juana Sandoval Reyna, 17, and Violeta Mabel Alvidrez, 18, of Ciudad, Juárez, Mexico. Diana Washington Valdez, reporter for the El Paso Times, described all three as poor, hard working women, not involved in high-risk activities, who attended school and were employed in an American owned factory, one of 340 maquiladoras in Juárez that employ over 220,000 people.
Approximately 98% of the maquiladoras in Juárez are American owned factories, such as Ford, Motorola, Honeywell, Alcoa, General Motors, Dupont, and Contico. This multi-billion dollar industry reaps the benefits of low tariffs and taxes, little to no environmental sanctions or safety provisions for employees, and an endless supply of cheap labor. Women who have moved to Juárez from rural villages in Mexico, affected by changes brought on by NAFTA, (North American Free Trade Agreement), make up 70% of the maquiladora industry. In comparison to autoworkers in U.S. plants who average $16.75 per hour, Mexican women take home the equivalent of $4.50 per day. This accounts for 1/10 to 1/15 of American wages.
Of the over 500 (2008 stats.) young women between the ages of 11 and 22 who have been murdered since 1993, hundreds show signs of violent torture, and sexual abuse. Women have been abducted either coming or going to work in las maquiladoras, walking down lonely roads in early morning, or late evening shifts. A smaller number have been taken on their way to school or other locations in broad daylight.
The Reforma, Mexico’s leading newspaper, has called the Juárez murders “the crime of the century.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has voiced outrage at the endless murders, and the ineffective and lax investigations by Mexican police. Indeed, victims’ families claim over and over again that the police are being paid to cover up the heinous crimes.
The murderers of the three friends, Esmeralda, Juana and Violeta have never been found, and the investigation has ended, yet the memory of these young women and those brutalized since 1993, lives on in the hearts of those who loved them. Their plight has become the plight of organizations dedicated to securing human rights for women throughout the world. Their plight has now become mine as well. There is something in me that cries out against such cruel injustice, and seeks to honor those who have died, suffering unimaginable torment.
The Juárez story is one that will impact the global community with facts of the murders as told by the mothers, family members, and those currently investigating these heinous crimes. This is a unique story, in that numerous documentaries, short vignettes, dramatizations, articles, newspapers reports, internet web sites, etc., exist all reporting the Juárez murders, but no one novel has been written to tell the story of young women in Juárez, in an intimate and passionate manner that offers readers the opportunity to “walk in their shoes,” and experience the streets of Juárez. The characters who will tell this story are all members of the poor working class, and reflect a distinct perspective on the murders, and on what it means to live in “the capital city of murdered women,” as Juárez is now described.
Several trips to Ciudad Juárez were completed, to write If I Die In Juárez, which included visiting actual sites in the city where women’s bodies have been uncovered, walking the streets of the red-light districts of the city, touring “las colonias” where the poor reside, interviewing mothers whose daughters have been murdered, and meeting with activists, investigators, and those who work with women’s organizations in Juárez and El Paso. I also visited a maquiladora, and interviewed a young woman who worked there, to secure more in-depth information. Additional information was gained through Amnesty International, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet, which included hundreds of reports documenting the Juárez murders.
Speculations as to who is responsible for the murders, described as femicides, (hate crimes) due to the brutality and defacement of the women, are as follows: (1) cartels/mafioso groups, (2) narco-traffickers, (3) opportunists, (4) serial murderers, (5) gang members, (6) Satanic cults, (7) porno industry and the making of “snuff videos,” and (8) jealous husbands and/or boyfriends. All of the above may have been responsible for one, or several of the murdered women; however, in all cases, cover-up by the Mexican police has been consistent. Police investigations have been poorly managed with no follow-up, families have been accused of negligence, victims have been denounced as prostitutes, torture has been used to obtain false confessions, and investigations have been closed without notice to families or further efforts to uncover the murderers.
In October, 2004, Jose Reyes Baeza took over as governor of Chihuahua, succeeding Patricio Martinez, and shortly after that, an unidentified woman’s body was discovered in Ciudad Juárez. The murder of the unidentified woman, fits the profile of the women being murdered: young, slender, long hair, and dark skin. It appeared as if the murderers were seeking to challenge the newly elected governor with the murder of still another woman. Due to pressure from human rights groups in the U.S. and all over the world, the investigation of the most recent murders will be done at state and federal levels. Unfortunately, even as of this writing, the murders continue, and more bodies have been uncovered in Ciudad Juárez.
Currently, my commitment to this project has opened the way for involvement in Amnesty International, Casa Amiga in Juárez, and the Women Writer’s Collective of El Paso, besides connecting with numerous human rights groups in many cities