A decade of shame, cover-up and impunity

Dignitaries speak Monday at a ceremony in Juárez ordered by Inter-American Court of Human Rights as part of a December 2009 sentence handed down against the Mexican state in the cases of missing and murdered women. (Photo courtesy city of Juárez)

In Juárez: Official apologizes for lack of justice and protection

Frontera NorteSur

A model of the still-unfinished monument was on display at Monday's ceremony. (Photo courtesy city of Juárez)

In a Ciudad Juárez ceremony, a mid-level Mexican official asked forgiveness for the Mexican state’s negligence in the murders of three young women a decade ago.

“Because of its non-compliance in investigating and guaranteeing the rights of victims, and for violating access to justice and protection, the state recognizes its responsibility,” said Felipe de Jesus Zamora Castro, legal affairs and human rights undersecretary for the federal Interior Ministry. “We ask for pardon.”

Zamora spoke at a Nov. 7 ceremony ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as part of a December 2009 sentence handed down against the Mexican state in the cases of Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal and Claudia Iveth Gonzalez, teenagers who were found murdered along with five other young women in a Ciudad Juárez cotton field on Nov. 6 and 7, 2001.

The slayings stunned the world, and occurred at a time when the administration of then-Chihuahua Gov. Patricio Martinez was claiming that the serial murders of young women had largely come to a halt.

Monday’s ceremony at the site of a new monument, which was built near the spot where the bodies of the eight victims were discovered, was marked by a boycott of murder victims’ relatives boos from relatives of still-disappeared girls and young women and non-attendance by top-ranking Mexican officials.

Although the so-called cotton field case drew widespread international attention to the Ciudad Juárez femicides and eventually resulted in an international court ruling against the Mexican state, the 2011 ceremony was not attended by President Felipe Calderon, First Lady Margarita Zavala, Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte and Juárez Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguia.

Embroiled in pre-election campaigning, the leaders of Mexico’s political parties were also absent from the scene. Instead, mid-level officials representing the federal, state and municipal governments were dispatched to a ceremony held one year late.

As the event unfolded, the speeches of Zamora and other officials were heckled and interrupted by shouts of “Justice, Justice” from relatives of disappeared women and their supporters. Jose Luis Castillo, whose 14-year-old daughter Esmeralda went missing in 2009, was among the vocal protesters.

“We don’t want mausoleums, we don’t want to find our daughters dead,” Castillo was quoted. “We want (authorities) to pursue leads and find our daughters alive. Ten years later they show up to inaugurate a mausoluem that serves as a morbid tourist attraction for the rest of the people of the world.”

A day prior to the cotton field ceremony, relatives of the disappeared held a mass and then released white balloons at the giant Mexican flag in Chamizal Park facing El Paso. Among others, the event was organized by family members of Nancy Iveth Navarro Munoz, last seen on Oct. 15 of this year; Gisel Paola Ventura, missing since June 22, and 13-year-old Ernestina Alvarado Castillo, vanished since this past Oct. 24 while going to exchange shoes in downtown Juárez. While downtown Juárez has long been identified as a “red zone” for disappearances, many of the latest cases follow patterns that date back to the 1990s, if not earlier.

Typically, young women have vanished while riding buses, applying for jobs, shopping or attending school. Reportedly, Gisel Paola Ventura attended Allende High School, a private school where several other victims of disappearance and/or murder including Laura Berenice Ramos once studied.

After 20 years, posters of disappeared girls and young women have practically become a permanent fixture of downtown Ciudad Juarez’s landscape. Many relatives suspect organized bands of human traffickers are behind the disappearances of their loved ones.

In the cotton field case, several suspects were picked up by Mexican police but most of the the cases unraveled after torture-wrought confessions and other irregularities were exposed. At the Nov. 7 ceremony, family members of the last possible scapegoat in the affair, Edgar Alvarado Cruz, showed up to demand that Mexican authorities review his case.

Although evidence linked the eight cotton field victims to the same victimizer or victimizer, Alvarado was convicted of only one of the crimes; nor has anyone else been charged with the murders.

Alvarado’s prison sentence and the subsequent delay in justice surrounding the cotton field case would not have been possible without the collusion of the US government. At the behest of Mexican authorities, Alvarado was picked up in Colorado in 2006 and deported back home.

Despite missing evidence and other legal holes, the young man was vigorously prosectuted by the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office, which was then headed by Patricia Gonzalez, who had struck up relationnships with US officials and oversaw a United States Agency for International Development program designed to “reform” the state justice system.

Meantime, gender and other forms of violence spread across Chihuahua and Mexico.

Although this week’s cotton field ceremony put the Mexican state in compliance with one of the Inter-American Court-mandated remedies, other key parts of the nearly 2-year-old sentence including sanctioning of officials responsible for botching the disappearance and murder investigations as well as determining and holding accountable the killers of the young women remain unfulfilled, according to victims’ relatives and their advocates.

Victoria Caraveo, former head of the official Chihuahua Women’s Institute and coordinator for the non-governmental organization Mothers in Search of Justice, also spoke out on Nov. 7. The veteran women’s activist was critical of the more than $1 million spent on the still-unfinsihed cotton field monument, and added that the real action needs to be in stopping the disappearances and murders of girls and young women. The Mexican government’s response to gender violence in Ciudad Juárez, Caraveo contended, has been “shameful” until now.

Additional sources: Milenio, November 8, 2011. La Jornada, November 8, 2011. Article by Ruben Villalpando. Lapolaka.com, November 7, 2011. El Diario de Juarez, November 7, 2011. Article by Rocio Gallegos. Proceso, November 7, 2011. Article by Mauricio Rodriguez. Nortedigital.com.mx, November 6, 2011.

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