The Mexican border city of Juarez continues to struggle with a population explosion, a recent loss of factory jobs as a result of the U.S. recession and an unending wave of violence. The rape and murder of more than 200 young women in the city over the past eight years has drawn particular attention to Juarez, which lies just across the Rio Grande river from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. Civic groups are now uniting to demand action from authorities.
Leaders of 11 women's groups and several civic organizations in Juarez have come together in a broad coalition in the past few months in an effort to put pressure on local authorities to solve the murders. The groups were brought together by the grisly discovery in November of eight bodies of young women in a Juarez ravine. Police arrested two men and accused them of the crimes, but they claim to have been tortured into confessing.
Many women's leaders are also doubtful of their guilt and accuse the police of incompetence and indifference to the plight of young women, many of whom have come to Juarez from homes farther south in search of work in local factories. Speaking to VOA, Esther Chavez Cano, who runs the private Juarez women's shelters Casa Amiga, or Friend's House, says these more recent cases have unified many divergent groups in Juarez to seek an end to the crimes.
She says the macabre discovery of the bodies in November led to a resurgence in civic outrage. She says the non-governmental groups, like hers, have never believed the problem was solved. They saw it as a latent problem because young women kept disappearing and the authorities made little progress in those cases. She says already this month there have been six murders, five of which were cases in which husbands killed their wives and one case that could fit the pattern of a serial killer, which is the theory behind at least 90 of the cases from previous years.
Mrs. Chavez Cano says the government of the state of Chihuahua has taken a defensive posture in front of the civic organizations' protests. She and other womens' activists believe a recent full-page advertisement in local newspapers that criticized the non-governmental groups was paid for by the state government.
She says politicians should realize that this is not an attack on them, but an attempt by civic groups to end the violence against women and to save Juarez from what she describes as the law of the jungle.
State and local authorities say they are taking these crimes seriously and have sought help from international experts. The situation in Juarez has also drawn attention from the Mexican Congress which established a special commission last year to look into the issue.