It takes two to start a fight.
“Why didn’t the police show me the whole of my daughter’s body, just a left foot which was sticking out?”
Who: Rosaura Montañez
What: Member of a network of mothers who have lost daughters.
Araceli disappeared on the 30th of June 1995 and was found four days later on a refuse tip on the southern outskirts of the city. She had been raped and strangled. She was 19 years old. No-one has been found guilty of her murder.
We remain standing for a while in the strong sunlight. Two lorries roar past us, swaying in the loose sandy soil. Rosaura tells us that there used to be a railway track here, and that when the line was closed people began to transport their rubbish, old car parts and dead animals to the tip. Araceli lay in the midst of all the debris, with her trousers pulled down. A month later they found another girl. To date 14 women have been found in the same miserable sandy hole.
And similar pink crosses can be seen here and there around Juarez; on roundabouts, refuse tips, industrial sites and in fields where the bodies of dead women have been found.
Pink crosses can be seen here and there around Juarez; on roundabouts, refuse tips, industrial sites and in fields where the bodies of dead women have been found.
What Rosaura did not know at first was that her daughter’s murder was just one of hundreds in a chain of similar extremely brutal murders of women, which came to be known as femicides, meaning that the women were murdered for the very reason that they were women. The victims were nearly always impoverished young girls who worked in the factories; they had been raped, mutilated, had their nipples cut off, their necks broken and been dumped as if they were waste. What was striking was that they were often similar in appearance, with long hair and full lips.
Several suspects have been charged, but doubts have been raised as to their guilt and none of the similar murders has been solved. There appeared to be some sort of pattern to the murders and the way in which the bodies had been dumped, many of them in exactly the same place.
Over the years there have been many rumours: of mass murderers, Satanists, rich sex murderers, organ traffickers, and corrupt members of the police force who have themselves been involved or are just protecting the killers.
Rosaura does not know what to believe. There are several things that still puzzle her. One is why the police would not allow her to identify the whole of her daughter’s body; “They just showed me a left foot which was sticking out from under a sheet.”
Another is the clothes. Time and time again she asked the police if she could see her daughter’s clothes, until in the end she was told they had disappeared. And why, when she received the casket, was it closed, and sealed?
And why, when she received the casket, was it closed, and sealed?
Rosaura says that it appears Araceli was held captive for four days before she was found dead. She is not sure of the details, as she was not allowed to see the police report.
Almost everyone in Juarez has similar doubts about the police, and they are not going away. The murders in Juarez, which have attracted attention all over the world, are not only continuing; the number is exploding. The city has 1.3 million inhabitants, and 300 women were murdered in 2010. Around ten people are murdered each day, most of them men involved in the drugs trade.
The authorities claim that the abnormally high number of murders of women can also be explained by the drugs-related criminality, but the many mothers who have chosen to go public do not agree. They continue to protest, in various ways. One of the networks consists of 24 women, and is organised by Vikki Caraveo, a lawyer. Their latest weapon is – needles and thread. A long table in the room where they meet is covered by a fantastic patchwork quilt, each piece of which tells a personal story of a murdered daughter, with her photograph and an embroidered message. This work of art will hang in the entrance to the university as a testimony to what has happened, and is still happening today.
“The mothers want to go out and give talks in the schools, so all the girls will be careful.”
“The mothers want to go out and give talks in the schools,” Vikki says, “so all the girls will be careful. We’ve been going on about this for two years. The authorities won’t allow it; they say it will take too much time way from the children’s schooling.”
The mothers, many of whom suffer from recurring depression, keep each other going. They make things as well, such as beautiful bags woven from paper from chewing gum packets.
“It’s important for us not to accept charity. If you take money from someone, you become a captive,” says Vikki, who is convinced that the police are involved in the feminicides.
Has anything improved in Juarez as a result of your protests?
“Not in the sense that it has become more difficult to kill women. The guilty get away. But we will never be silent!”
The pink crosses serve as reminders of the women’s murders, feminicides, which plague Juarez. The additional contribution Rosaura Montañez can make is her story, telling it to everyone who will listen.
“And as soon as I hear that a girl is missing I join the search for her.”
She rarely goes to the cemetery, preferring to stand for a while beside the wooden cross in the sand at the old refuse tip.
“I feel her presence much more here.”
Maternal deaths: 51 deaths per 100,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 2.3 (2010)
Abortion legislation: Varies greatly from state to state. In Mexico City, a woman has the right to abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, while in the states of Guanajuato and Querétaro abortion is punishable by 30 years’ imprisonment. ****
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: Every third woman in Mexico is, or has been, subjected to violence in a close relationship.