Juarez: missing-non-white-women meme, at work?

This article is the first time I have seen NYT coverage of the missing women in the maquiladoras towns along the border — a rash of killings and disappearances that has affected literally hundreds of women, many of whom worked in US-owned factories.

Searching the NYT archives since 1996 (“missing women maquiladoras”, “missing women Juarez”) I found a couple of others; one from Dec. 2002; one from Aug. 2002 focusing on a filmmaker doing a documentary about the issue; and one from Aug. 2003; another from Oct. 2004. I won’t do the word count; it’s embarrassing, since many of these articles appear in the short-shrift foreign desk section. But by comparison a search for “Natalee Holloway”, missing in Mexico, turned up 17 articles since June. With this relative level of media coverage, I’m certainly glad to see this year’s story about the Juarez disappearances actually make the front webpage of the NYT. [Well, for a couple of hours it did, anyway, as one of three articles in the NATIONAL subsection.] Maybe the missing-non-white-women meme is starting to spread? Or maybe there’s some natural spillover effect from the missing-white-women coverage? every twenty articles about a missing white woman the NYT can run one about a non-white-woman human interest story?

Amnesty International, in 2003, noted that the disappearances and murders involved at least 700 women in 10 years.

According to official figures 70 women remain missing in Ciudad Juárez, and more recently in the city of Chihuahua. Information from other sources puts this figure at 400 women missing since 1993. Their families fear the worst, given the alarming number of missing women who have subsequently been found murdered days, or even years, later.

Amnesty International’s investigation found that in the last ten years approximately 370 women have been murdered, of which at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to their death. A further 75 bodies have still not been identified — it is thought some may be those of women who have been reported missing but grossly inadequate forensic investigations have made this impossible to confirm.

Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, most as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or from being beaten. Their bodies have then been found hidden among rubble or abandoned in desert areas near the city.

An unknown number of other women, not included in these numbers, have escaped their captors.

Taking the top figure of 400 missing women, but subtracting the 75 unidentified bodies from the missing women to arrive at a conservative (non-official) estimate, you find that one woman has gone missing every 5.25 days. Juarez, for comparison, is 1.2 million people — that’s pretty comparable to San Diego, and just a little bit smaller than Philly. Imagine a rash of disappearances: one every five to six days. Friday, another woman missing; Thursday, another woman missing; Monday, another woman missing; Saturday, another woman missing … tick, tick, tick, another woman, and another woman, and another woman … Every couple of weeks they turn up a body. They identify most but not all of the bodies. Now imagine this goes on for twelve years.

I’ve been following this story off and on for five or six years. It’s impossible to maintain a proportionate sense of horror with so many individual lives. I decided to focus on women who share my name. Over the years, five women named Laura have been murdered or have disappeared.

  • Laura Ana Inere (b. approximately 1968; 27 years old when murdered; body found Dec. 1995). She was shot to death. Her body was found on Christmas day, 1995, in the municipal cemetery. Because a firearm was involved, investigators suspect police involvement in Laura Inere’s murder.
  • Laura Georgina Vargas (b. approximately 1961; 40 years old when murdered; body found Jan. 3, 2001)
  • Laura Alondra Márquez (b. approximately 1985; 16 years old when murdered; body found May 1, 2001)
  • Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez. Laura was a high school student when she disappeared in Sept. 2001. Her body was found Nov. 6-7, 2001. Two Juárez bus drivers confessed to Laura’s murder, and the murder of ten other women, but claimed they were tortured to elicit a confession. El Diario, 11/12-21/2001, also reports that the victims’ families are unconvinced about the confessions, and they and human rights groups cite irregularities in police investigation techniques.
  • Laura Lourdes Cordero García. No information other than her name on lists of disappeared and murdered women.

More info about the murders and disappearances in Juàrez and nearby Chihuahua communities:

  • Women of Juarez. (English) The site includes a list of some of the victims’ names, or occasionally a cursory description of remains found, painstakingly gathered by Esther Chavez Cano from news sources through 2002.
  • Mujeres de Juarez (Español) The list of names includes 286 women reported missing from 1993 through 2004.
  • Amnesty Int’l’s page on Juarez’ missing women. (English) Amnesty wants people to contact their own Congressional representatives to urge them to cosponsor a US Congressional Resolution offered by Representative Hilda Solis and Senator Jeff Bingaman on the murders.
  • Safe Juarez takes donations. (English) They began by providing self-defense training & establishing safehouses for women. They are now doing family interventions. While I have no knowledge of this group other than what’s on their website, a couple of quick google searches looking for criticism of them didn’t turn up anything negative in the first many pages.
  • AcciOn (Español) Another list of women’s names.
  • crimelibrary.com. (English) Listing of media coverage (notably, most from nearby Texas towns)
  • Mother Jones, To Work and Die in Juarez (2002) (English)
  • El Paso Times, Death Stalks the border, 2002. (English)
  • Gender[f] offers an online memorial rollcall of 400 missing women’s names. (English)

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