EL PASO, Texas — More than 500 women have been kidnapped, raped, mutilated, and murdered in Ciudad Juarez since the early 1990’s in what has become known as the feminicidios. Just last week, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, the mother of one of the victims was gunned down on the sidewalk in front of the Palace of Government in the northern Mexican City of Chihuahua as she asked for justice in the murder of her 17-year-old-daughter Rubi.
The Mexican government has yet to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. The family members of the young women who have been murdered, and most Juárenses believe that the Federal Police are behind the killings and the government is covering it up. The majority of the women’s bodies are found in the desert area of Lomas de Poleo in Ciudad Juarez.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, two mothers whose daughters were murdered came to speak to students at the University of Texas at El Paso about their experiences on September 25, 2010. Both of these brave women have been faces in the fight of the violence against women, but one mother stood out in particular, Paula Flores Bonilla, 52.
Bonilla was born and raised in El Salto, Durango and moved to Lomas de Poleo in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua in 1995 with her husband Chuy, to find a better way of life for their growing family. She tells the students,”Mi hija, María Sagrario González Flores de 17 años desapareció el día 6 de abril de 1998 después de que había salido de trabajar de la maquila.” (“My daughter, María Sagrario González Flores, 17, disappeared on April 6, 1998 after leaving work from the maquila.”)
Americans own 80 per cent of the factories known as maquiladoras, where Mexicans are paid $4-5 dollars per day. Once the Free Trade Agreement came to place, an abundance of Mexican workers came to work in need of a job, especially the young women of Juarez.
Bonilla says in her native language, “No ha habido un serio esfuerzo sostenido en cualquier nivel del gobierno para mejorar la sofisticación de las investigaciones. Los sitios donde se encontraban los cuerpos fueron contaminados en casi todos los casos, por lo que el análisis forense era razonablemente imposible.” (“There has been no serious, sustained effort at any level of the government to upgrade the sophistication of the investigations. Sites where the bodies were found were contaminated or discarded in virtually all cases, making reasonable forensic analysis impossible.”)
Bonilla has been featured in many documentaries of the feminicidios in the ‘City of the Future’. One film La Carta: Sagrario Nunca Has Muerto Para Mí, directed by Rafael Bonilla in 2010, is about her life. Throughout the entire film she speaks about her life in Durango when she was young, how she met her husband Chuy, fell deeply in love with him, married him, and bore several of his children, including Sagrario. Bonilla also speaks about the horrible story of her daughters’ death, as well as her husbands’ suicide in July of 2006. She even read to the cameras the very last letter he had written her before pulling the trigger. Señorita Extraviada: Missing Young Woman, directed by Lourdes Portillo in 2001, tells the story of several mothers, including Bonillas’ story, who have lost their daughters in similar ways. Each of them spoke about who could have murdered them and why they were murdered. During an 18-month time span of making the documentary a total of 50 women were murdered and reached a total of 172 victims.
Both of these films were played for UTEP students, who had the opportunity to ask Bonilla questions. The students could see how saddened and uncomfortable she was looking at herself in both of the documentaries. Once the questions began she had no problem answering them as if she knew what each student was going to ask.
While in my class, I gained the courage to ask Bonilla a question I have always wanted to know since I first heard of the feminicidios. I asked in Spanish, “Señora, ¿usted piensa que todavía siguen los feminicidios en Ciudad Juárez? Porque ya no oímos nada de eso debido a la situación en Ciudad Juárez con el narcotráfico. ¿Piensa que ya ha terminando, continua igual o se puso peor la situación?” (“Ma’am, do you believe that the feminicidios still continue in Ciudad Juárez? We no longer hear of that because of what is currently happening with the drug trafficking in Ciudad Juárez. Do you believe it has finished, still continues, or has the situation become worse?”)
She gently smiled and told me, “Yo pienso que la situación es peor precisamente por la violencia del narcotráfico, la prensa ha hecho pensar a la gente que ahora las muertes de mujeres son parte del narcotráfico, ¡Mire! Ellos celebran cuando pasan droga con éxito a los Estados Unidos secuestrando, violando y matando más mujeres.” (“I believe the situation has been getting worse precisely because of the drug trafficking, and the press makes it seem that the deaths are part of the drug trafficking, you see. The traffickers celebrate when they successfully bring drugs into U.S. by kidnapping, raping and then murdering the women.”)
One question that struck me, but that I know without a doubt it is true, is how do these women know the Federal Police and the government are behind these killings?
After watching Señorita Extraviada you become convinced that the authorities are behind the deaths of these hundreds of women. In this film, a woman named Maria was arrested along with her husband, raped in the jail cell next to him, and threatened with her life. Maria gives a very detailed confession of her experience following her raping by a federal police officer. She tells her story very calmly until she gives the mental picture of the photo album the federal police officer throws at her. The pictures are of several different women lying down in the center of a circle of laughing men while being raped vaginally and anally in the middle of the desert, one man after another. After all this, her captives, the federal police, finally released her.
One particular mutilation most of the murdered women have in common, their nipples have been cut off. However, this is only what the authorities and the media say. In one of the pictures, Maria clearly saw a man biting a woman’s nipple off. “They were bruised. They had expressions of pain and suffering. You could see them cry and scream. Her face showed the reflection of the pain she was feeling. They looked very sad,” Maria confessed in the film in disbelief.
Maria said at the end of her interview, “Bien feo… Pobrecitas.” (“It was awful… Poor things.”)
Maria told the authorities. They arrested all the federal police officers who were, of course, later acquitted of all charges. None were ever sent to prison.
When Ciudad Juárez heard her testimony in court and in the news and heard the officers were acquitted, what do you think Juárenses thought of the Mexican government? They thought the same thoughts they are currently thinking concerning the narco killings. The authorities are corrupt criminals, helping one another from being brought to justice for what they have been doing all these years.
There are many ways all of these women could have been murdered. More recently, the cartels could be responsible for murdering the women. Another theory is that wealthy sexual sadists from the U.S. or elsewhere, enter Ciudad Juárez after paying high fees to witness or take part in a group rape or murder, Another possibility could be simply one copycat killing after another.
In the English language there is no word to describe what is occurring across the border. Considering how close Ciudad Juárez is from El Paso, we can no longer pretend that this feminicidio has not been happening to our sisters across the border. I realize our countrymen and women are getting tired of helping other countries, but I hope and pray that our government will help our neighbor to the south stop the ongoing tragedies of feminicidios and drug trafficking.
The Mexican citizens are the ones who make many of the things we take for granted — the bits and pieces of our cars, televisions, and many other objects used for entertainment, The U.S. should give back only two things, safety for those who are still alive, and closure for the parents who have lost their daughters. Until they receive the aid they deserve, the desert will continue to keep its secrets.