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"You can't have Juarez without El Paso and you can't have El Paso without Juarez" - Ana Morales - Peace and Justice without Borders
(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - If anything marks the first weeks of 2011 in Mexico and the Paso del Norte border region, it is the growth of citizen activism in response to femicide, human rights violations and a broad range of atrocities stemming from the so-called drug war.
Galvanized by the recent murders of two women from Ciudad Juarez, activist mother Marisela Escobedo and poet Susana Chavez, public demonstrations were held January 15-17 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua City, Monterrey, Culiacan, Pachuca and Mexico City.
The protests also took aim at the generalized situation of violence against women, and demanded that the Mexican government fully comply with the 2009 Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentence related to the slayings of three of the eight young women found murdered in a Ciudad Juarez cotton field nearly ten years ago.
In Chihuahua City, a memorial was held at the site next to the state capital where Marisela Escobedo was gunned down last December 16 while demanding justice for her murdered daughter Rubi, killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2008.
The crowd, which included relatives of victims slaughtered in the Creel massacre of 2008, heard words from Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera, a leading voice for human rights in Mexico. Attorney Lucha Castro of the Chihuahua City-based Women's Human Rights Center placed the issue of femicide in a context of militarization, violence and overall human rights violations.
According to Castro, 10,135 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua from 2006 to 2010. The death toll represented about one-third of the total number of people killed in conflicts related to organized crime and the state in all of Mexico during the same years, Castro said.
"No government has managed to get Ciudad Juarez from figuring as the most violent city on the planet," she said.
Internationally, the Escobedo/Chavez murders are sparking planned protests abroad and eliciting condemnations from prominent individuals. In a statement this month demanding justice for Escobedo and Chavez, six female Nobel laureates also urged the Mexican government to comply with the Inter-American Court's verdict.
As ordered by the Inter-American Court, the Mexican state has economically compensated the victims' families, published the sentence and posted information about some disappeared women on the Internet, but it still has not held accountable the Chihuahua state officials responsible for botching the 2001 cotton field murder investigations or apprehended the killers-actions also ordered by the international judges.
The Nobel lauretes warned that the more recent Escobedo and Chavez murders fit into a pattern of violence against "human rights defenders that valiantly struggle against femicide in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua." The statement was signed by Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchu, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.
Grassroots activism succeeded in first making the women's murders an international issue about ten years ago. A big difference between the previous wave of activism and the current one is that women's advocates now have a binding legal instrument-the 2009 Inter-American Court sentence-to pressure the Mexican state.
Obliged to follow the Inter-American Court's orders and its deadlines, the Mexican government risks further political troubles on the world stage if it does not comply with the sentence.
In the coming days, more grassroots actions are in the works for ground zero of the violence in the Paso del Norte. On Saturday, January 22, a literary event in honor of Susana Chavez is scheduled for the Cafeteria S&L in Ciudad Juarez. A 36-year-old poet who once spoke out against femicide in Ciudad Juarez, Chavez was killed in the border city under strange circumstances earlier this month.
On Saturday, January 29, a new citizen initiative from both sides of the border plans a daytime protest at the border fence dividing the northwestern edge of Ciudad Juarez from Sunland Park, New Mexico. Organized by Peace and Justice without Borders, the demonstration will take a stand against violence and militarization in Ciudad Juarez and call on Mexico City and Washington to change course in the so-called drug war.
Dr. Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and an expected speaker at the January 29 event, told Frontera NorteSur in an e-mail that Peace and Justice without Borders was started by students and professors who felt "outraged by the violence in Juarez and frustrated by the lack of political activism on the US side of the border surrounding the issue."
According to Campbell, who is the author of a recent book on the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug culture, Peace and Justice without Borders is a binational formation including Ciudad Juarez student leaders and intellectuals. In a separate e-mail to Frontera NorteSur, January 29 co-organizer Ana Morales contended the US had a hand in the violence devastating Ciudad Juarez and Mexico.
Morales criticized the multi-billion dollar Merida Initiative, started under the Bush administration and expanded into "Merida Plus" by the Obama administration, that channeled more intelligence, training, logistic and material support to Mexian security forces.
"What a lot of Americans don't know is that since the militarization of Mexico, violation of human rights, murder and rape went drastically up," Morales said. "However, popular media continues to insist how many of the deaths and crisis occurring are organized crime related. If you speak to local Juarenses, they will tell you otherwise..." Born and raised in Ciudad Juarez's sister city of El Paso, Morales said the Mexican and US cities are inextricably linked through culture, history, family and business, and in ways that "cannot be understood or experienced" by US citizens living further north.
"You can't have Juarez without El Paso and you can't have El Paso without Juarez," Morales wrote. The January 29 event will include victims' testimonies, speakers, poetry, music and spiritual invocation.
According to Morales, the supporting groups include the Juarez Student Association, Las Americas, Border Network for Human Rights, Miners without Borders, Border Peace Presence, MECHA, and the Border Agricultural Workers Center, as well as students and faculty from UTEP and El Paso Community College.
"By protesting on the US side of the border by the fence in Sunland Park and Anapra (with some complementary events on the Mexican side) we want to draw attention to US complicity and partial responsibility for the violence/`drug war` devastation of Juarez," Campbell wrote.
"We also want to show Juarenses that they are not alone but that there are thousands of people on this side that want to change the situation. We intend to build broad a binational movement against what is happening."
Also on January 29, Ciudad Juarez activists will kick off a two-day hunger strike in the city's downtown to commemorate to the first anniversary of the Villas de Salvarcar massacre of young people.
Endorsed by several Catholic parishes, the organizing groups include the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, Pastoral Obrera, Citizens Medical Committee and Migrant Human Rights Center. In a statement, the fast's organizers appealed on the three levels of government to halt "this war that continues profoundly damaging our city."
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
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