The first round of court appearances in a case against 12 Ciudad Juarez residents accused in the mass disappearance and murder of girls and young women concluded this past weekend.
The defendants, 10 men and 2 women, are charged in connection with the murders of 11 victims whose remains were recovered from the rural Juarez Valley and 2 others who were found slain in the city. All the victims vanished from Ciudad Juarez between 2009 and 2011.
Reportedly, the remains of at least 23 female murder victims have been discovered in the Navajo Arroyo of the Juarez Valley since 2011, but the indictments publicized last week only charge the defendants in crimes involving 11 of the Navajo Arroyo cases.
“Sadness and anger,” is how Carmen Castillo, mother of 17-year-old victim Monica Liliana Delgado, described her feelings shortly after the arrests were announced last week. Castillo told FNS that she and other relatives of victims were not initially notified by the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office (FGECH) of arrests that received prominent play in the Mexican and border media.
The detentions were announced as national and international pressure to address the long-running abductions and killings of women and renew federal intervention reached another boiling point.
For instance, in the very same week the state of Chihuahua rolled out its legal case, a group of Ciudad Juarez mothers met in Mexico City with Federal Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam.
Unsatisfied with Murillo’s posture and supported by exiled Ciudad Juarez activist Malu Garcia, the women later set up a protest encampment outside Interior Ministry headquarters, vowing to stay until President Enrique Pena Nieto agreed to meet with them. On Saturday, June 15, the group symbolically shut down the National Palace by hoisting in front of its entrance a giant banner emblazoned with the word “Closed.”
The action was the second time in less than two months that mothers of disappeared or murdered women from Ciudad Juarez have publicly protested in the Mexican capital.
“We understand the desperation of the mothers,” Imelda Marrufo, member of the Women’s Roundtable of Ciudad Juarez, wrote in an e-mail to FNS. “We consider it their right to act and to pressure. We think they should be attended in Juarez, so they don’t get more worn out.”
According to Marrufo, the federal attorney general’s office agreed two weeks ago with a proposal from the Women’s Roundtable to meet with victims’ mothers in Ciudad Juarez.
A dizzying week began unfolding Tuesday, June 11, when the FGECH unveiled its case against 12 suspects in the media. According to state law enforcement officials, the indicted individuals were part of a multi-layered network that tracked and lured teenage girls and young women with job interviews only to gang-press the hapless job-seekers into drug addiction and prostitution, under threat of harm to themselves and their families.
Allegedly, the victims sold their bodies and drugs at the Hotel Rio de Janiero and Hotel Verde, two cheap hotels in the downtown and Bella Vista districts of Ciudad Juarez, respectively, and were driven around to other hotels and private residences to peddle their services.
“These men knew with perfection the family surroundings of the young women, and that’s how they threatened them with possibly killing their parents and siblings if they rejected working for them” Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas, Ciudad Juarez district attorney, was quoted in the press.
Captives deemed unruly or no longer “useful” were murdered and disposed of in the Juarez Valley, the state charged.
An intense period of murder and mayhem as depicted by the FGECH happened during the peak of Ciudad Juarez’s recent violence, and transpired in a zone which was crawling with army troops and federal police assigned to the former Calderon administration’s Joint Operation Chihuahua. The Juarez Valley, where the women’s remains were discovered, was likewise overrun with police, soldiers and paramilitary groups during the years in question.
“As part of the search investigation, the investigative and women’s prosecutors did searches in the Juarez Valley, raids, operations in downtown Juarez, and more than 150 field interviews and interrogations that led to the finding of the probable guilty parties of the murders,” the FGECH said in a statement.
Charged with different crimes including human trafficking and homicide are: Victor Chavira Garcia, Camilo del Real Buendia, Edgar Jesus Regalado Villa, Manuel Vital Anguiano, Jose Gerardo Puentes Alba, Cesar Felix Romero Esparza, Jose Antonio Contreras Terrazas, Jesus Hernadnez Martinez, Rafael Mena, Raquel Venegas Trevino, Eduardo Sanchez Hermosillo, and Esperanza Castillo Saldana.
Six of the defendants were already jailed for other crimes when the femicide-related indictments were handed down.
Mostly minors, the 13 victims covered in the legal case include: Monica Liliana Delgado Castillo, Idaly Juache Laguna, Maria Guadalupe Perez Montes, Lizbeth Aviles Garcia, Perla Ivonne Aguirre Gonzalez, Beatriz Alejandra Hernandez Trejo, Jessica Terrazas Ortega, Jazmin Salazar Ponce, Jusalet Alejandra de la Cruz Lucio, and Nancy Gomez Farias.
Pieces of the state’s case have been trickling out in the media for some time. State law enforcement agents searched the Hotel Verde last March, even though the establishment had been closed ever since two federal police officers were killed at the premises in late 2010. In April, the local press reported that a detained 17-year-old was providing information about a band responsible for killing women found in the Juarez Valley.
Also in April, Juan Jose Roldan de la Cruz, or “El Miguelito,” died after a confrontation with state police; according to one version, the purported human trafficker/ pimp and leader of the band abducting girls provided the same police agency with information about associates now charged with murder and human trafficking. Roldan’s son, Alexis Adrian Roldan, is serving a 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting and stabbing two girls.
Some defendants and their supporters protested their innocence. Camilo del Real Buendia, proprietor of a modeling and television advertising agency, acknowledged that he had two professional contacts with 19-year-old victim Idaly Juache but insisted he had nothing to do with her disappearance and death. The 38-year-old defendant broke down on the stand, sobbing and swearing that he “prayed” for Juache every day.
“Mister prosecutors,” pleaded del Real. “Don’t keep destroying lives like you’ve done today. I am not guilty.” Del Real claimed he did know the other co-defendants.
On June 14 and 15, hundreds of supporters of 78-year-old Victor Chavira, owner of El Caporal cowboy attire store in downtown Juarez, staged public demonstrations on his behalf. In the courtroom, lawyer Jose Luis Erives asked Judge Apolinar Juarez Castro to transfer his client to a hospital because of the elderly man’s fragile health condition.
In response to a story about the arrests in the El Paso Times, a writer who identified herself as Sonia Munoz of the University of Texas at El Paso, posted a message on the newspaper’s website claiming to be Chavira’s niece.
“My uncle is an elderly man about to hit 70, with diabetes, in need of a liver transplant, can barely see or walk anymore. The business is family owned and is now run by his children. We come from a family of values and hard working people,” the message read in part. “It’s election time in Juarez so they want to show the city is getting cleaned up. Unfortunately, at the cost of innocent people. Our hearts go out to the families that have lost their loved ones and they have the right to seek justice. The real criminals are still out there.”
According to the writer, one of the disappeared girls did indeed apply for a job at Chavira’s store when he was not present, but the businessman’s family has “cooperated fully with the police” and handed over a video that shows the girl exiting the establishment.
Imelda Marrufo, however, said the non-governmental Women’s Roundtable considers the detentions “a step forward.” The FGECH’S hypothesis is on mark, with evidence gathered and submitted by several mothers backing up the state’s case, Marrufo said.
“The special prosecutor for gender crimes knows that it is our position that due process be protected,” she added. “Since the government of Chihuahua has been an example of bad practices, it is understandable that the community does not believe in the elements for the detentions.”
“I don’t know really what to think,” said Carmen Castillo, adding that officials had previously “given me many stories.” For Castillo, a couple of the state’s assertions stand out, including the systematic targeting of “poor girls” in need of work, and the date of her daughter Monica’s disappearance (October 2010) compared with the closure of the Hotel Verde only days later, meaning that if Monica had been held against her will at the hotel it couldn’t have been for very long.
Television is a common thread linking three of the Juarez Valley murder victims. Both Idaly Juache and Monica Delgado appeared in commercials that were filmed shortly before their disappearances and run on Channel 2, the Televisa affiliate in Ciudad Juarez. According to Castillo, her daughter commented that a “casting” was in the works but did not go into detail.
In a bizarre sub-plot to the story, Brenda Berenice Castillo, who is not among the list of victims the 12 defendants are accused of killing but whose remains were officially recovered in the same area of the Juarez Valley as the other victims, reportedly appeared on a controversial Los Angeles television program, “Jose Luis Sin Censura,” in the spring of 2011- more than two years after she disappeared on January 6, 2009.
The teen was not known to have a U.S. visa, and if the account of her television program visit is true, then it’s not clear how “Bere,” as she was called by loved ones, first got to Los Angeles before winding up in a mass burial site for female murder victims outside Ciudad Juarez. The young mother, who left behind a baby boy, was also reported seen in El Paso and New Mexico after her disappearance.
“Jose Luis Sin Censura” was cancelled last year by Lieberman Broadcasting after protests and ad boycotts over the vulgar language, misogynous outbursts and anti-gay content of the show. On one episode, for instance, a woman was heckled by audience members as a “whore.” Entitled “Hot Stories from the Hotel,” the segment in which “Bere” Castillo was supposedly filmed dealt with the theme of sexual cheating.
Alerted to Castillo’s appearance on the program, mother Bertha Alicia Garcia questions the recent state identification of the teen’s remains through DNA testing and, along with other mothers of recently identified victims, is demanding verification of the results by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which previously identified the remains of scores of missing young women from Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City when the world-renowned specialists were under contract with the Chihuahua state government.
In a phone interview with FNS, team co-founder Mercedes Doretti said she and her co-workers had not seen any of the cases in question from the Juarez Valley before wrapping up their work in 2009. “We haven’t examined any of the new ones,” Doretti said. The veteran forensic anthropologist said identification methods have improved in Chihuahua and other facilities are available to do the difficult job of processing and identifying human remains, but trust and communication between the families of possible victims and government officials is essential.
“The most important thing is to provide clear answers to the families in a transparent way and that involves both a technical side and how answers are provided to the family. We are sorry this hasn’t been solved, because the families have been waiting for a long time,” she said. Doretti declined to comment on whether the Argentine team would resume working in Ciudad Juarez.
Capping off a hectic week, Mexican authorities announced the closure of El Caporal, Camilo del Real’s agency and three other businesses connected to the defendants, while Chihuahua state police officers conducted searches for missing women at more Juarez lodgings, including the Hotel Paso del Norte, Motel Studio, Hotel Manport, and the Fortuna boarding house.
“Consequently, no disappeared women were found but evidence was secured for continuing the probes,” the state prosecutor’s office said.
In the days ahead expect much more attention, and perhaps political fallout, from the legal proceedings against the 12 men and women accused of systematically disappearing and murdering young women and girls in the heart of Ciudad Juarez.
Additional sources: Proceso/Apro, June 16, 2013. Article by Marcela Turati. La Jornada, June 13 and 16, 2013. Articles by Ruben Villalpando, Emer Olivares and Fabiola Martinez. El Sur/Agencia Reforma, June 14, 2013. Puentelibre.mx, March 14, 2013; June 12 and 14, 2013. Articles by Josue Serna, Paty Herrera and Cecilia Cortez. Cimacnoticias.com,. June 13, 2013. Article by Adriana Franco Rosales and Anaiz Zamora Marquez.
Lapolaka.com, June 12, 2013. Arrobajuarez.com, June 6, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, June 4, 8, 11, 12, 14, and 15, 2013. Articles by Luz del Carmen Sosa, La Jornada and editorial staff. Nortedigital.com.mx, April 13, 2013; June 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, 2013. Articles by Carlos Huerta, Herika Martinez Prado, Miguel Vargas, El Universal, and editorial staff. Laopinion.com, August 10, 2012.