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Ciudad Juarez at war
Jenny Manrique
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Women become silent victims of militarization in drug-rattled border city.

There is a silent war going on in Ciudad Juarez. Female murder victims in the northern Mexican border city, known for having the highest rate of women killings in Latin America, are going even more ignored here as the government steps-up counter-drug militarization.

Since 1993, close to 500 women have been killed here.

“With all the [drug] cartel violence, crimes against women have become invisible,” said Irma Casas, coordinator of the psychology department at Casa Amiga, a safehouse where for the last decade, women who were attacked in their homes by criminals, security forces or others, could seek refuge.

According to Casa Amiga´s data, 83 women were killed in Ciudad Juarez last year, and 13 in the first two months of this year.

“Some cases are tied to domestic violence or even as a form of vengeance between drug cartels, but they´re no longer on the front page,” said Casas.

“What we fear is what´s ahead for women and civilians with the recent militarization,” she added. There were more than 1,607 murders last year in this city of 1.4 million people that has become some sort of security laboratory for 10,000 armed state security officers, including soldiers and police.

After the militarization
In March, under the anti-drug program Joint Operation Chihuahua, which aims to extinguish the violence between the warring Pacific and Juarez cartels in this important corridor for US-bound drug shipments, President Felipe Calderón ordered the military to occupy the city. Police corruption and targeting of officers by cartel members prompted the decision.

“We lost 800 police officers — 334 because they didn´t pass the confidence exam, which included psychological tests and a polygraph, 150 didn´t want to be subjected to the test, and 220 retired,” Ciudad Juarez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz said in an interview with Latinamerica Press.

Nevertheless, Reyes Ferriz says that since the army took over security there, violence has been reduced drastically.

“We went from having 10 murders a day on average to less than one,” he said.

But his optimism contrasts with the views of many human rights analysts and activists.

“The question is how long will the army be here and what will happen when they leave,” said sociologist Samuel Schmidt, of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. “If they leave, surely the narcos will come back, and training a clean police force in one year is not going to be easy.”

The troops have established curfews for Juarez residents. The restaurants and streets are empty.

What appears to be what police Col. Jorge Berecochea calls an “effective attack” on drug-trafficking operations, has really led to an explosion of other crimes.

In its first month of operation, the Citizens´ Crime Reporting Attention Center, where citizens can report crimes committed by the police or military, there were 170 complaints filed including accusations of excessive force, torture to obtain information and arbitrary arrests. The State Human Rights Commission of Chihuahua was recently notified of the disappearance of five soldiers and the sexual abuse of a woman near a border post. Even though these cases are in a preliminary investigation phase, fears of impunity from military justice are already surfacing.

“Frisking attacks women´s dignity, while investigations of disappearances take so long that when the victim appears, the case is closed, even if there was torture or illegal detention,” said Gustavo de la Rosa, of the Chihuahua commission.

“This is not an army prepared for procedural law. Many people are crossing the border and seeking political asylum.”

The other side of the border
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama, who visited Mexico on April 16, had shifted the official discourse on drug-trafficking for one of shared responsibility.

According to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 90 percent of the weapons that Mexican drug-traffickers use come from the United States. But in the border separating Ciudad Juárez from El Paso, Texas, the sending of 100 US agents there to control the traffic and a US$74 million investment in the Merida Initiative to control drug-trafficking and organized crime have proved insufficient.

El Paso registered 18 murders throughout all of 2008 — the former average of two days in Juarez — even though most residents over the age of 18 can purchase a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle.

According to gun salesmen John Hubert, of the Sun City Guns store, one of three in El Paso, this weapon went from $500 to $950 after the presidential elections, following fears of stricter gun laws.

“They´re buying them because they´re cheap and fun,” said Hubert, who admits that there is even less control in gun fairs, where few criminal records are heeded by vendors.

The AR-15, as well as .50 rifles, known as “cop killers,” are also freely sold, with a maximum price of around $1,200.

“The United States is not open to tracking arms by satellite … and even less to review the traffic coming from their country to ours,” said political scientist Tony Payán, of the University of Texas in El Paso. “There is a certain will, but there is no commitment. The country´s future is unpredictable.”

So are the investigations of the women killings and new abuses against women suffering in this silent war against them.
—Latinamerica Press.


This painting of a woman being crucified symbolizes women killings in Ciudad Juarez. (Photo: Jenny Manrique)
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