No se sabe más: No more is know
Anonymity and the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez

Keith Miller

Fourteen years after women and girls began to be murdered, raped or disappeared in Ciudad Juárez, the police reports list the gory and tragic details of the cases, often ending inconclusively No se sabe más: No more is known. In 450 WOMEN HAVE BEEN MURDERED IN CIUDAD JUÁREZ, the SAC Gallery brings together 13 artists in an attempt to know more, to shed light on this dark subject. In learning more about the femicide, one can see the stages of shock to mourning, mourning to indignation. This show has been conceived as a result of this indignation.

 

Olga Alicia Carrillo Pérez was twenty years old when she disappeared on August 10, 1995. When her badly decomposed body was found a month later the coroner reported that she had been stabbed repeatedly and her breast had been bitten off. Found in an empty field within the city of Ciudad Juárez, hers was one of nine women’s bodies found in a three month period in that field.[i]

Claudia Ivette González’s decomposed body was found in a cotton field in front of the Asociación de Maquiladores (The Maquiladora Association) along with seven other bodies on the November 7, 2001. Her remains showed signs of rape and extreme violence. The two men immediately charged with her murder were tortured. One of the men died under suspicious circumstances while in captivity.[i]

When 16-year old Paloma Angélica Escobar Ledesma’s mother went to the authorities to report her daughter’s disappearance on March 3, 2002 the State Attorney assured that her daughter was just out partying. When the state forensic team made an inquiry it found that the student and worker at the maquiladora Aerotec had been dead by the time of the State Attorney’s statement. “When the State Attorney was inventing parties, friends and bad habits, she was already dead. He lied to me,” said Norma Ledesma, Paloma Angélica’s mother. The authorities quickly connected Paloma Angélica’s ex-boyfriend Vicente Cárdenas Anchondo to the murder. After being tortured by the authorities Cárdenas Anchondo confessed. Norma Ledesma does not accept that confession as legitimate.[i] Confessions after torture are a consistent occurrence in these cases.

        If there are too many factors and too many dead to easily comprehend in the case of the murders in Juárez, there are some basic facts. Over the past decade and a half, women and girls as young as 5 have been beaten, raped and murdered, many with no outcome and often with police impunity. This has created a double bind for the women living in the city. On one side, they continue to be targets of the serial rapists and murderers committing the ‘unsolved’ crimes thus far. On the other, they are caught in a historically bound cycle of violence against women and now face a generalized atmosphere of violence in which women’s lives are without value and the taking of a woman’s life holds no threat of legal ramifications. At the same time, supposed and actual suspects are tortured into confessing to crimes they often did not commit as part of the larger scheme of governmental corruption and collusion.

        The murders of the women and girls of Juárez began in 1993. Since that time the number of murdered women in Ciudad Juárez has continued to grow at an alarming rate. The current number is well over 450 and over 600 are missing. While the murders are a clear cause of indignation, the many forces active in the injustice obscure the clarity of that ire: political corruption, historically grounded sexism, generalized violence on the border, rampant drug trafficking, endemic class and race war and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) all factor into the equation. The fact remains: women are being murdered in Ciudad Juárez at a frightening rate, in terrifyingly brutal ways and with a consistent and general level of impunity.

 

A stone’s throw away from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juárez is home to the maquiladoras, the factories that supply the U.S. with low priced labor and much of its factory goods. Women and men from all parts of Mexico come to the border in hopes of a better economic future. NAFTA, which went into effect on January 1, 1994, briefly after the killings began, created the possibility for these factories to operate out of the reach of many U.S. labor and environmental laws. At the time, predictions by unions and civil liberties activists were dire for the fate of these new workers. Those forecasts continue to be relevant but have, to some, become a sidebar to this much larger injustice.    

            Once the maquiladoras were created the level of social corruption and power the rich and their grown children (known as Juniors) could wield was formidable. In a country with a seventy-year history of government and oligarchical corruption, this new way to exploit wealth was potentially explosive.

             Also in 1993 the Juárez drug cartel, run by Amado Carrillo Fuentes[i], took control of the drug trafficking zone centered in Ciudad Juárez. At that point the power of the cartel and its collusion with local, state and federal officials grew exponentially with bribes to government officials in the millions of dollars monthly. The level of power, ability for corruption and depth of the cartel would be difficult to overestimate. Among the corrupted officials was at one point the general in charge of pursuing drug traffickers.

The continuing violence against women and a generalized level machismo, sexism and misogyny has brought about a reality in which women are still victims of a series of too many ‘unsolved’ crimes, fourteen years after they began.

 

“No se sabe más.” This absence of information seems too often intentional, symbolic and underscoring of the tragedy. In any country it seems that death and murder are inevitable. Why then is the case of these murders and disappearances any different? Perhaps they are not. On the other hand, one might ask: What is it that makes these cases unique? Why are they such a tragedy to some and a non-issue to many? If the death of a single individual is of great import, then how to categorize the death and disappearance of so many women? And, urgently, why the silence?.

            If the case of these women has achieved a painful degree of anonymity it is perhaps specifically because of the social, cultural, political and, significantly, economic framework within which the crimes occur. The women being murdered and disappeared do not come from the class in power. Just as they make up the supposedly anonymous laborers in the maquiladoras, the apparently nameless workers in bars (sex workers and otherwise) and multitudinous students, they also can be seen to fill spots on a macabre list of nameless deaths. That is one of the great crimes of the murders in Juárez.

            If I speak of the ‘women of Juárez’ I admit to also participating in the injustice. I do so for lack of a better solution. The injustice is not that 450 women have been murdered. It is that Raquel Lechuga Macías has been murdered. That 12-year old Maria de la Luz Martinez Garcia has been raped and left dead. That Celia Guadalupe Gómez de la Cruz was found dead, buried naked in a field. These are more than a series of murders: they are a single murder that has been committed individually and uniquely again and again. We should serialize them in our heads only to the extent that we must. But we must also keep very present the reality that Olga Alicia Carrillo Pérez was murdered and her killer or killers walked away. And when she was killed she was taken uniquely from her mother and friends, community and family, and not merely as part of a morbidly growing list but of a new list of a single name.

 
The question is what can be done? Anyone who understands police work knows that reality on the ground rarely resembles the neat solutions found on TV. To solve a single case of murder takes hard work, often a clumsy criminal and, more often than not, a large dose of good luck on the part of the investigators. But this is not an injustice due to inept police investigation. This is a systemic failure, a crime committed as much by the murderers as by the authorities and the society that does nothing to stop it.
The central issue here is the making invisible women whose skin is darker and whose economic possibilities are lesser. In this vacuum of identity their lives have been traded at no apparent cost. This is an institutional crime. Negligence, cover-ups, ineptitude, arrogance, etc all form part of a larger crime that is clearly a tacit acceptance and complicity in the femicide. In the end, the true crime here is the making anonymous individual women and girls. In this case, corruption is not a local phenomenon created by the stereotypical single officer demanding a bribe. It is a systemic occurrence that permits or demands a certain mentality to exist and which, simultaneously, prioritizes some over others. If we allow ourselves to accept the injustice of a marginalizing corruption as a lamentable fact of a democracy we run the risk of permitting large segments of the population to be more than marginalized, to be eliminated.
 

[i] http://www.senado.gob.mx/content/sp/informes/chihuahua/cedulas/22-F.htm
Washington Valdez, Diana; The Killing Fields, pp. 7-8; Peace at the Border Publishing, Burbank CA.

[i] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2003/11/29/038n1soc.php?origen=soc-jus.php&fly=1

[i] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2003/11/29/038n1soc.php?origen=soc-jus.php&fly=1

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amado_Carrillo_Fuentes
Even Carrillo Fuentes’ death in 1997 of complications during plastic surgery have been shrouded in mystery. Whether or not it was actually the Narco boss remains for some in doubt.