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Mexican Maquila Worker Femicide Back in Spotlight

Kari Lydersen

Pink crosses mark spots where the bodies of women—mostly maquiladora workers—have been found in Juarez.

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The confirmation of Arturo Chavez Chavez as Mexico’s new attorney general Thursday brought a story that had been overshadowed by the country’s ever-escalating narco-violence back into the public eye.

That would be the murder or disappearance of up to 400 or more women in Juarez during the last 16 years, most of them maquiladora workers who often disappeared on their way to or from work.

As prosecutor for Chihuahua state, Chavez Chavez failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute the murders, instead blaming the victims for wearing short skirts and being out at night.

Journalist John Ross pointed out Chavez Chavez’s long-standing ties with the pro-business conservative PAN party, and told me Cha Cha” made his bones as president of the Juarez maquiladora association.” So it isn’t surprising he wouldn’t take on the femicide that many surmised was intrinsically linked with the maquila industry.

Several families of the disappeared finally got answers this summer, as findings of the Argentine Anthropological Forensic Team were released. Earlier this year the team identified several bodies, including teacher Edith Aranda, whose disappearance sparked a march and one-day work stoppage by thousands of teachers.

Scientists made the chilling determination that two years passed between Aranda’s 2005 disappearance and her 2007 death.

And the killings continue. About 24 women have disappeared in the last year and a half. The LA Times reported that the recent victims differ from the general trend: they are mostly not impoverished workers drawn to the border, often alone, in desperate search of work.

Rather, recent victims tend to be from middle-class, stable families, and bodies have largely not been found, leading to theories they have been forced into prostitution.

Meanwhile, the larger social and labor situation which has made women such easy prey in Juarez has only worsened. The economic crisis has hit Mexico hard, both domestically and in reduced remittances from the U.S. And the climate of violence, terror and governmental repression wrought by the drug war have made life even more tenuous and difficult for the average person.

I asked Tom Hansen, executive director of the Mexico Solidarity Network, what this could all mean for organized labor and workers’ rights in Mexico. Hansen sees President Felipe Calderon quickly losing the war with the narcos, and he predicts that the chaos may be fertile ground for both increased repression and popular resistance.

He had this to say:

Given that 2010 is the bicentennial of independence and the centennial of the [Mexican] revolution, almost everyone is expecting something dramatic to happen — perhaps some kind of social uprising. The conditions are certainly ripe - high unemployment, no economic recovery in sight for most Mexicans.

There is also an increase in spontaneous actions by civil society in which citizens are taking situations into their own hands rather than relying on the government. For example, there have been a number of recent cases of bus drivers who kill pedestrians and then were accosted by a mob, or police that have been threatened with lynching by a mob.

The level of cynicism that generally accompanies Mexican politics is increasing and people are just simply writing off the State as a viable alternative for resolving anything.

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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.

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