Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor
Although the new year was rung in with voices demanding that authorities on the border stop crimes against women and solve the crimes already committed, the new year also came with news of three brutal murderers killing three more women. Two of those crimes have been solved, and one is still being investigated.
NGOs Demand Accountability From Authorities
Because the number of missing women in Cd. Juárez nearly doubled in 1999, and the non-governmental organizations believe the authorities are not doing enough about it, the civil rights groups took action. On January 11 it was reported that Victoria Caraveo, organizer for March 8, and other group leaders sent a letter to Chihuahua’s Governor Patricio Martínez, Attorney General Arturo González Rascón and Cd. Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo Aguilar demanding an accounting of their investigations in these cases.
“It is time that these public officials let us know what they are doing to solve the cases of missing women. This is a statistic that should have been decreasing, not increasing.” Caraveo believes that the authorities think that if they don’t address this matter, the groups will forget about it. However, according to Caraveo, they are mistaken. “The deaths of women in Cd. Juárez are already stamped in the brains of all Juarenses.”
Caraveo said the authorities would simply like the NGOs removed from the picture. “The government thinks that we are just trying to make them look bad, but that’s just not true.” However, Mayor Elizondo did promise to speak with the state authorities.
Special Investigator Accounts For Missing Women
Although the number of missing women may have doubled, Suly Ponce Prieto, Chihuahua’s special investigator for the murders of women, said that the majority of the cases have been solved. “We have satisfactorily solved 617 of the 679 cases. The state attorney general’s office success rate is at 91 percent.”
Those 617 solved cases typically involved women who had been located with girlfriends, close relatives or their boyfriends, according to Ponce. Of the remaining 62 cases, 52 of the women have actually been located but their files remain open because the women have failed to appear before the public ministry as required.
According to Ponce, that leaves only 10 women whose cases have not been solved and there is no information available about the women’s locations. Two of the missing are adults, the rest are minors.
However, the NGOs do not believe that the success rate is so high. The families of missing women receive such negative response when they inquire at the state office, they do not have much trust for the authorities or their work. Some say they are laughed at, or that the agents put their hands over their ears.
Either way, the NGOs see the “with a boyfriend” explanation as an excuse or coverup for lack of thorough investigations.
Families Tell Stories, Demand Special Investigator’s Resignation
At a meeting on January 14, city and state authorities heard the complaints and stories of NGOs and family members of victims who denounced the work of the officials and demanded the resignation of Suly Ponce Prieto, hired in the fall of 1998 as special investigator of the murders of women.
Vicki Caraveo compared the work of Ponce Prieto to that of a line worker in a maquila, and accused her of not having the “chemistry” to know how to deal with the families of missing or murdered women. “She does not have the sensibility this job requires. We need someone who is interested in the people of this city.”
Felipe Nava Freyre and Gloria Vásquez González have visited the special investigator’s office every day since their daughter María Isabel Nava Vásquez, 18, disappeared on January 4, but to no avail.
The family took on the investigation themselves and posted flyers in the city. City officials also posted the girl’s photograph, however they posted a photograph of the wrong girl. So when the officials told the family that their daughter had been “seen with a boy,” they disregarded this information.
What the family has learned on its own is that their daughter was seen at a maquila where she had inquired about employment. “Avery of México” has a video from a closed circuit camera showing Nava Vásquez leaving the plant on January 4 and boarding a public bus at noon. Their posters brought one witness who had seen Nava Vásquez later that day on January 4 near the city’s water and sanitation department.
The family believes that they can do a better job than the state, and that the state has done the family a disservice. However, Suly Ponce denied giving any false information about this investigation.
The mother of Sagrario González, a maquila worker murdered in 1998, said that the state exhumed her daughter’s body on various occasions without ever consulting with her.
Irma Pérez, mother of Olga Carillo Perez, murdered in 1997, said she has pressured the state for over a year to gather information on the investigation of her daughter’s murder, but the state treats her poorly and won’t talk to her.
At this meeting, Attorney General Arturo González Rascón admitted that there have been problems and errors, and he also said that although there have been important technical advances, there has been a lacking in human relations.
Against Wishes Of The Citizens, Special Investigator Stays In Office
However, against the wishes of citizens, activists and family members of victims, the attorney general’s office announced that Ponce Prieto will remain in office.
Steve Slater, the security advisor for attorney general of Chihuahua, said, “I see no reason to remove her from her office.”
It was noted at the January 18 meeting that Ponce has not mistreated anyone, and that she is not a politician. “We do not need any personnel changes,” said Slater, a former FBI agent originally from Texas.
At this meeting Ponce addressed Victoria Caraveo, noting that she is an attorney, “If you are interested in viewing the murder files, send an assistant to my office, and if the victims’ families allow it, I will turn the files over for your review.” Ponce said that she is open to constructive criticism and opinion.
Both Ponce and Slater reminded the members of the meeting that a “missing person,” by definition is not a crime, and therefore the report has to be presented before the municipal authorities before the state can investigate.
Roberto Corral from Cd. Juárez Municipal Police and Police Chief Javier Benavidez González both said that the city is ready to coordinate with state authorities when missing reports are made.
It was also announced that there would be some minor personnel shifts, and that the three departments currently under Ponce would be divided. The special offices for victim care and sexual crimes will now become autonomous under their current directors.
Drug Lords Have “Entered The Heart Of Our Families”
Families have been effected in other ways by the impunity in the city, according to a January editorial by Pedro Martínez Cháirez. He sees a disconcerting tie between drug cartel employees and “respectable” women.
According to Cháirez, when drug cartel personnel hire women for sex, they do not hire the typical professionals: prostitutes who do business on the streets, work in parlors, etc. Instead, the men associated with the cartels seem to want women who are “ambitious and determined to make good use of their income.” Therefore, women who are employed at banks or similar businesses, and who are university students, are typically those that are chosen by the cartels. For these women, working for the cartels is an opportunity to rstn good money on the weekends.
The scene that is presented by Cháirez suggests that these hired women arrive at an appointed meeting place where they are blindfolded and driven to the destination, typically the ranch where the cartel does business or may live. Then, the blindfolds are removed, but not until the women are inside where male cartel employees await them. They engage in a weekend of partying and sex with cartel employees, and when the weekend is over, they are generously compensated, blindfolded once again and returned to the point of origin where they get back in their cars and return to their normal lives.
Cháirez interprets this scenario as proof that the power of the drug cartels has moved into the society in a far more powerful manner than either government or police has ever done. The cartels have entered “the hearts of decent families, robbing them of their ambitious daughters, using them as objects of pleasure, in exchange for money, and brand new cars.”
“There are those who lose everything at the hands of the drug cartels, and those who benefit immensely by the incredible wealth,” Cháirez notes.
Woman’s Body Found, Investigation Ensues
It has been suggested in some news and op/ed pieces that the ties between women and the drug cartels may not always be so profitable. A number of the bodies of murdered women that have been found over the last seven years were located in great proximity to the drug cartel ranches where excavation efforts have only recently been halted.
Although the culprit remains unknown, a female murder victim was recently discovered. The corpse of a woman believed to be between 25 and 30 years old was found on January 19 at the foot of the Juárez Mountains to the northwest of Cd. Juárez. It is believed that the murder victim has been dead for three to six months and died of strangulation. Evidence also indicates that she had been beaten and possibly raped as her clothes were found a short distance from her body.
Suly Ponce immediately began an investigation including the questioning of 100 residents of the nearby colonias with hopes of identifying the murder victim. The characteristics of this woman will be compared to those of missing women reports. Additionally, the state’s forensics lab is working on renderings to assist identifying the victim based on the remains.
Other Crimes Against Women
In related news, Emma Dora Nevárez López, 54, an herb seller from Cd. Juárez murdered her former boyfriend’s new girlfriend in a jealous rage. María Santos Rangel Flores, 42, was brutally murdered with an ax on December 6 and her body, which had been cut into pieces and buried, was discovered on January 4. She left behind four children.
In related news, Arturo Tovar Rocha, 37 stabbed his ex-wife Juana González, 37, to death, and then attempted to cut his own jugular vein, but failed. He is awaiting sentencing for the crime he confessed to and could get a minimum sentence of 25 years. His crime was also motivated by jealousy.
Civic Leader Responds
And as was cleverly pointed out by Esther Chávez Cano, the story of Nevárez’ brutal crime made headline news for eight days, however, Arturo Tovar Rocha murdered his former wife the same day Flores’ body was found, and the story was stuck on the back pages of the news. But both crimes are indicative of the society’s system of impunity and acceptance of violence, according to Cano, and should equally convince citizens to speak out against a society that either sensationalizes or ignores crimes against women, and doesn’t make successful enough effort in stopping the crimes against women.
In a subsequent editorial, Esther Chávez Cano also questioned the media’s coverage of another story involving alleged abuse against women. According to the parents of Karina Yapor, a young musician from Chihuahua, their daughter was kidnapped and sexually abused by Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi and her partner/agent Sergio Andrade. After months of searching across the globe for the entertainment partners, they were finally discovered and arrested in Brazil and are awaiting extradition to México, which could take weeks.
What Cano notes is that the headlines continually focus on Gloria Trevi, and not Sergio Andrade, although witness after witness claims that he was a notorious womanizer and notoriously abusive with the women he hired to perform with Trevi or those who came to him for assistance in their musical careers. Again, what Cano notes is that men’s abuse of women is somehow disregarded as “news,” maybe because it is so “old.”
Also, what Cano and others have questioned is why would any parent allow their daughter to pursue a musical career across the globe by herself when she was twelve years old. Their motivation should be questioned, according to Cano, as much as anyone else’s.
Sources: El Diario, El Norte