NAFTA’s Forgotten Women

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Amnesty International railed against Mexican Authorities Monday, in a report documenting the inadequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of poor women in the infamous free-trade region bordering the United States. Irene Khan, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, met with the President of Mexico to urge him to thoroughly investigate the chain of murders.

In the last 10 years, over 370 young women have been murdered and 83 have disappeared in the border state of Chihuahua. The scathing Amnesty report comes a month after Vicente Fox’s administration unveiled a 40-point plan to end the rash of killings. The report, “Mexico: Intolerable Killings” held that police investigations have been teeming with “apathy, indifference, impunity, lack of accountability and even complicity.”

The first victim in 1993 set the grim tone for many that followed. Seventy percent of the women have been strangled, most are between the ages of 13 and 22 and at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to their deaths. Seventy percent of the women were students, maquiladora employees or restaurant workers. Most of the bodies were left in the desert or outskirts of the city. The decrepid state of 75 of the corpses have left authorities with few clues to help identify the women.

At Monday’s press conference, the mother of Paloma Angelica Escobar, one of the 16-year old victims, joined Khan is criticizing the Mexican investigation. Norma Ledesma, explained that she was ignored and pushed aside in March 2002 when she reported her daughter’s mysterious disappearance. Ledesma told reporters that the Chihuahua Attorney General ignored her fears. He said Paloma, “was going to come back. He said she was happy, because she was dancing and smoking and getting drunk with a group of guys. When he told me that, she was already dead.”

Another woman, Josefina Gonzalez, also lost her daughter when she disappeared in October of 2001. The investigation into her daughter Claudia’s death was so poor that after inconclusive reports from authorities in Ciudad Juarez, Joesfina took the investigation into her own hands. After returning to the empty lot where her daughter’s body was found several months earlier, Josefina and other volunteers discovered a bag full of Claudia’s clothes and hair; crucial evidence the investigators failed to discover.

Although there have been over a dozen arrests only one man has been convicted for one of the first killings. In the wake of the killings, local women have been organizing where the government has failed them. A number of community organizations have formed in Ciudad Juarez and other towns in Chihuahua. As the death toll continued to rise, a coalition of American academics and Mexican women’s groups formed to pressure the US-owned maquiladoras to provide safe transportation for their employees.

Although Amnesty International is holding the Mexican government responsible for improving their investigations, other groups argue that both the United States and Mexico should work to solve these crimes. In a region where American companies reap huge profits on the labor of these women, some argue that US companies should work to ensure the safety of their employees.

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