DALLAS – In the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, the bodies of 23 people were found hanging from a bridge or decapitated and dumped near city hall. Nine victims were found hanging from an overpass leading to a main highway. Police later found 14 human heads
in coolers near city hall, along with a threatening note.
Not surprisingly, the incident is thought to be a byproduct of rival drug cartels in the area across from Laredo, Tex.
With that kind of brutality as a backdrop, maybe it should not be surprising that the discovery of a new dumping ground for bodies of young girls earlier this year got relatively little media attention. But we should notice.
Outside Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso, Tex., authorities found the skeletal remains of 12 girls and women in January and February. The finding revived a trauma that has plagued the area for almost two decades.
Women and young girls disappear. Relatives file police reports and wait in vain for help, or even closure. The phenomenon was first identified in 1993 when bodies were located near each other outside Ciudad Juarez. International attention was focused on the crimes about 10 years ago when scholars and activists succeeded in calling attention to the fact that an estimated 400 young women disappeared into what has been called the “killing fields’’ along the border.
By 2004, Mexican officials had apologized and promised to create a special prosecutor to investigate the disappearances with more vigor. An international commission issued a set of recommendations.
Meanwhile, warring drug cartels unleashed a new level of violence in pockets across the country. In Ciudad Juarez, the turf war between drug-trafficking groups has left more than 7,640 people – men and women – dead since late 2006, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
But the discovery of the new dumping ground outside Ciudad Juarez speaks to a different problem. These killings are “femicides.”
The National Organization for Women, which was among groups trying to focus attention on the killings in past years, defines femicide as “the mass murder of women simply because they are women.’’
Most are young women who disappear while on their way to or from work or school. They are often tortured, raped and mutilated before they die.
Two years ago, Mexican prosecutors said they were making progress, noting that they had succeeded in getting 117 murder convictions from the older cases.
But the dumping ground discovered this year is the largest since 1995, when 12 women were found. Families of missing women and some outside groups say Mexican authorities haven’t done enough to eradicate the particular senselessness of the femicides.
Maybe the sheer number of femicides doesn’t compete with the thousands killed as collateral damage by drug cartels. But some experts have warned that ignoring the mass killings of women helped pave the way for the current widespread drug cartel violence.
“Ciudad Juarez is a warning of what is going to happen, what is already happening, all over Mexico,” Oscar Maynez told the Houston Chronicle two years ago. Maynez was a Ciudad Juarez criminologist who resigned after he said he was pressured to plant evidence against two men arrested in connection with some of the crimes. “The corruption, the impunity, is what feeds the violence — not the other way around.”
Lori Stahl is a Dallas reporter who covers politics in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.