El Paso, Texas
28 February 2003
Citizens groups in the city of El Paso, Texas, are planning to march over the international bridge into the neighboring city of Juarez, Mexico, March 8, to protest the continuing murder of young women in the Mexican border city. In the past 10 years, more than 300 women and girls have been murdered in Juarez. The body of the latest victim, a six-year-old girl, was found several days ago. Human rights activists on both sides of the border are working together in an effort to stop the killings.
As the murder spree continues in Juarez, international pressure is growing on Mexican authorities to do something to catch the killer, or killers, and to protect the young women who are potential victims. The city of El Paso has passed a resolution of support for the citizens' groups in Juarez who are demanding justice. Both city and state representatives have backed proposals for more coordination in the investigation of the murders.
Victor Munoz is co-chair of the El Paso-based Coalition on Violence Against Women and Families on the Border. He said people in El Paso are concerned about the decade-long killing spree in Juarez. For one thing, he said, the murderers could be living on this side of the border.
"We do have a very high number of sex offenders in El Paso, and it would be very easy for them to cross the border into Juarez, commit a crime and come back," he explained. "Also, there are about six women from El Paso who have disappeared or who have been murdered in Juarez. So, we feel this is a binational issue."
Mr. Munoz said there should be a binational investigative commission to look into the murders. He says the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, would like to take a more active role, but Mexican authorities have refused to allow the U.S. federal agents to work in Mexico. For now, the FBI is providing investigative training for Mexican police at a site here in El Paso.
Meantime, human rights activists in El Paso and Juarez accuse the police of conducting sloppy investigations that lead nowhere. Over the years police have arrested several men in an effort to close the case, but the murders have continued. Human rights activists suspect the arrested men have been coerced into signing confessions. One accused man recently died in jail.
While womens' groups have continued the crusade against violence, some local merchants have complained that the protests are bad for business. Victor Munoz said that attitude is part of the problem. "There is a lack of moral outrage about what's going on," he said. "The merchants, instead of holding the high moral ground and saying we have to put a stop to this, are blaming the victims for the problems facing Juarez."
Mr. Munoz says some Juarez business leaders and government officials have said young women attract violence by simply looking young, pretty and sexy, "because they wear short skirts, because they go dancing after they get off work or go out to discos with their boy friends," he said. "We are looking at teenagers. That is what teenagers do. You cannot blame the victims for being murdered."
Some crime experts believe at least one serial killer may be responsible for a good number of the murders in Juarez. Mexican President Vicente Fox recently sent federal agents to the border to assist, but the primary investigation remains in the hands of the Chihuahua State Judicial Police, whose spokesmen say every effort is being made to gather evidence and find the person or persons responsible.