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Murder Spree Fosters Sinister Reputation for Juarez, Mexico - 2003-02-25


Mexico's border city of Juarez has developed a sinister reputation worldwide for a decade-long string of murders of young women that continues still. Citizens' groups are pressuring local, state and federal authorities to put an end to the murder spree.

In this bustling city of more than one million people, just across the Rio Grande river from El Paso, Texas, there are few obvious signs of violence. Many women and girls walk the streets with little sign of fear.

But this is a dangerous city for young women. More than 300 have been raped, tortured and murdered here in the past 10 years. Many others have gone missing without a trace. In some store windows there are posters with photos and names of young women who have recently disappeared.

By the main bridge leading over the border to El Paso, there is a makeshift monument to the women whose bodies have been identified. It is a wooden cross surrounded by nails that hold strips of cloth with names of victims.

But in spite of public pressure from citizens' groups, the killings go on. Three more bodies were found in a ravine last week.

Esther Chavez Cano, the director of a women's shelter called "Casa Amiga," or friend's house, says the attitude of authorities in the state of Chihuahua is a large part of the problem.

She says she has little confidence in the police and that a statement by state officials last Saturday has troubled her even more. The officials said the constant complaints of the womens' groups and others have made their work more difficult. Mrs. Chavez Cano says citizens have a right to demand justice and that the authorities should be concentrating on doing more effective investigations rather than attacking the activists who are trying to protect women from violence.

She says the reasons behind the killings in Juarez are varied. She cites an overall climate of violence, fed in part by the drug trade, and the lack of competence on the part of police. She says it is possible that serial killers from other places could be drawn to Juarez because it holds the promise for them of being able to kill with impunity.

The climate of lawlessness is also a concern for the business community of Juarez, especially now that the worldwide economic slowdown is reducing employment and some factories, known as maquiladoras are closing.

Mario Mora, director of the Juarez Maquiladora Association, says all levels of government need to work together to solve the problem of insecurity in the city.

He says even one death is too many, but that hundreds are far too many. Mr. Mora says the federal government needs to step in and do more, along with the local and state governments. He says business leaders are trying to get the city to provide better security in the remote "colonias" slum areas, where many workers live.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has sent a team of federal agents to Juarez to help in the investigations, but federal and state police are notoriously suspicious of each other. Last month, federal and state agents scuffled with each other at the Juarez airport over a minor dispute that almost turned into a deadly clash.

Police spokesmen say they are conducting a thorough investigation of the crimes in an effort to stop the killings. The state of Chihuahua has also offered a reward for information that might lead to the arrest of the killer or killers who are preying on the women of Juarez.

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