TERRORIZING WOMEN Feminicide in the Américas
By ROSA-LINDA FREGOSO CYNTHIA BEJARANO
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-4681-4
Chapter One Testimonio
EVA ARCE, MOTHER OF SILVIA ARCE, DISAPPEARED ON MARCH 11, 1998
On March 11, 1998, Silvia went to collect the money she made selling jewelry on credit to female dancers and never came home. I was told about it four days later, when Octavio [Sylvia's husband] and ?gel, my grandson, came to my house to tell me that Silvia hadn't come home to sleep. My granddaughter, Esmeralda, told me that on that day her mom had asked her to put an avocado, an onion, and a tomato in a little backpack for her, and that she would eat them while she collected the money from the girls, and to tell Octavio to go pick her up. Esmeralda said that when Octavio came home, she told him to go pick up her mom, but he said that first he was going to sleep for a bit, and then he would go for her. He told me, however, that he woke up late and didn't go for her.
Later, he changed his story and said, "I went for her, and she wasn't there," and added that the parking lot attendant had told him that the dancers had been fighting outside the place and that they had called the police. The attendant explained that Silvia had been waiting for the truck when a white Cavalier car pulled up. A man got out and put her in the car and took her with him. When the car pulled away, the police arrived, and by then there were no dancers outside, so the police left. That day when they came to tell me all this, I got very nervous and we went looking for her.
My son and Octavio said, "Where are you going to go now if everything's closed ?" But I went anyway hoping to find someone who had some information. We went back to the house, and the next night we went to the place where Silvia went to collect the money from the dancers. It was so dark that you couldn't see anything in the parking lot. I kept looking but couldn't see anything. I came back and went to the place where the girls danced, and Octavio was there at the bar, drinking. When he saw me, he said, "You can't come in here." I went out, and just then a man and a young woman went in; then the young woman came out again. I asked her about Silvia, and she told me, "She hasn't come since Wednesday." I said to her, "What do you know?" and she told me, "Ma'am I can't say anything, because if I say anything, they'll kill me, and if they take me to make a declaration, I'm not going to say anything in her favor." She went back into the bar, and I stayed there where the cars were parked.
When I saw a man, I went and asked him about Silvia, and he told me she hadn't come back since Wednesday. Then another man came up and said, "This guy and I have the place now, and we're still settling accounts. I'm a licenciado, and he's the nephew of XYZ, and on Wednesday he left the place to him and I'm going to help him." I said to him, "What do you know about Silvia?" and he said, "She hasn't come back since Wednesday when she was eating at a table here. She's a good girl, but I haven't seen her since." At that point I decided to go to the district attorney's office around midnight or 1:00 a.m., to file a criminal complaint. I was told to come back on Monday to the Sexual Crimes Unit. I kept asking for my daughter, but no one knew anything. On Sunday I went to the DA'S office, and the officers told me, "We don't know anything, come back in the evening." Then the agents assigned to the case told me, "Ma'am, when your daughter comes back, you will have to take her to a place for her to recover," and they told Octavio, "You'd better go to sleep because you're always drunk." At that point, we went back to the house.
On Monday I went back and spoke directly to the special prosecutor to investigate crimes against women. She sent me to the judicial (state police officer) to ask him what he had investigated. The police officer said, "Why are you looking for her? She's happy having fun. You go back to your house; she's going to come back." That made me suspicious, and I responded, "Is it that you know where she is, or do you have her in that place where she's having fun?" He burst out laughing and got up and left me there.
I walked out with my girlfriends Judith and Mari, and we agreed to set up an encampment in front of the DA'S office. A lot of people joined us and brought photos of young women, which they placed there for people to see, because the women were also disappeared. I went out every afternoon to look for Sylvia, yet no one would tell me anything. We kept protesting in front of the DA'S office, but they never gave us any credible response-just pure lies and mistreatment. The judiciales would laugh and say, "Let's see who lasts the longest," and others told me, "We're just waiting for the order to go get her," and they never did anything. It was all a lie; all of them knew where she was being held, and they never rescued her. I have heard there is a cassette where they recorded that they had killed her and that they buried her where she couldn't be found. I keep going to the DA'S office with the hope of finding her alive or dead, but none of the officials there care. It's been eleven years, and there is still no response. They have several lines of investigation, but they don't investigate. There continues to be impunity....
I know they are kidnappers, the commander of the PGR [Procuradur? General de la Repúblic, or Attorney General's Office].... I've investigated a lot, but it hasn't done me any good, because I tell them everything, and they don't do anything. Neither the prosecutor nor the federal Attorney General's Office-it's the same thing: They don't do anything. I keep asking what have they done, and it's the same story. The years go by, and prosecutors come and go, and the only thing they do is tell us nothing, and they refuse to meet with us when we ask for appointments to see the DA. They never give us appointments, so it's all stuck-Silvia's case as well as Ángel's. I don't know what they have against me, because always wherever I go they have me totally under surveillance.
In 2003, they beat me and surrounded my house. They have followed me and called me on the phone to threaten me. They've tried to pick me up, too. Once they left me a message to go to the Hotel Lucerna to identify the body of my daughter, Silvia, but I didn't go. They wanted to put one over on me, and I thought: I'm not going; they'll disappear me, just like they did my daughter, Silvia. I went to ask for help with the investigations to a news reporter from the United States who ended up making fun of me. I still keep getting threats: "We're calling you from the court, we're calling you from the Fourth Criminal Court." And they told me, "We're giving you three days," and hung up on me. At the airport in Juárez, two people followed me. I had to ask for help and have someone come for me. Downtown, too, an Asian man in a black suit was following me, and a woman helped me escape.
I have been harassed and threatened instead of getting news about my daughter. What I want is to find her and not get so many threats and for them to stop harassing me. I want justice and for them to find my daughter. I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep going, with God's help. Since my daughter disappeared, I've been living in hell. I'm a nervous wreck now, because that's all that's left to us. We don't live in peace for fear that something is going to happen to us, and we don't have any trust, because here in Juárez, respect, values, everything's been lost. It's ended up being a corrupt government, where impunity rules. There is no more justice, for as much as we ask for the punishment of the guilty and for them to give me back my daughter, they don't hear me, and they don't pay attention. I want to live in peace, but we don't have that.
Chapter Two Violencia Feminicida
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND MEXICO'S STRUCTURAL CRISIS
The World Bank and IMF, two grindstones of the same mill, imposed the violence of the free market on us.... In such a "democracy," who's really in charge?-Eduardo Galeano
Women are being murdered in Mexico at an alarming rate. Since the 1990s, this rate has increased so dramatically-in direct relation to the expansion of neoliberalism-that, under pressure from feminists, the government has finally had to recognize it as a national problem. It can be viewed as an expression of the country's current crises of governability, internal security, and respect for human rights.
Although there have been episodes of multiple murders of women, feminicides-which once were linked to particular regions, such as Ciudad Juárez-have become a pathology that has spread throughout Mexico. In 2002, there were more than five thousand cases nationally (Lagarde y de los R?s 2005). For the most part, the victims are women of childbearing age murdered with guns or knives, but many are also beaten, burned, or poisoned. The fact that the perpetrators are so rarely punished and that the number and viciousness of crimes against women continue to increase reveals the government's political incapacity to deal with this kind of crime.
Many of these killings are carried out by unknown assailants. Others occur in public security actions. In the majority of cases, however, women are murdered by someone known to them or related through work, family, or romantic involvement. According to the World Health Organization, 70 percent of the women murdered throughout the world in 2002 were victims of their husbands or lovers (Urias 2005). Their bodies, often found on the street, show the brutality carried out against them: A large percentage are beaten and tortured before their deaths.
With Mexican Congresswoman Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos, I view feminicide as but the extreme end of a range of violations of women's human rights-a direct and extreme expression of economic, political, social, and gender violence that is structural in nature. Much of this generalized violence is exerted against women for being women-that is, it is misogynous.
Violence against women, an expression of men's power, is present in various forms and degrees throughout women's lives. As a naturalized part of the culture, symbols, institutional functioning, and cultural prescriptions, it shapes identities and internalizes subjectivities. In all societies, the cultural models for being a woman assign positions to women that subordinate them to the personal and institutionalized power of men, creating real and symbolic inequalities. These inequalities are expressed in direct and hidden messages, discriminatory actions and excluding omissions, lack of resources, limits on freedom and coercion, objectification, exploitation, self-depreciation, feelings of guilt and shame, deception, and false justifications. In all of these situations, violence against women progressively develops from insinuations, offensive comparisons, harassment, threats, verbal intimidation, abuse, irresponsibility, betrayal, and abandonment to beatings, forced sex, rape, and persecution. It even appears in other realms, such as counterinsurgency and war.
From this perspective, feminicide and feminicidal violence can be identified as specific forms of gender violence, which is defined by the United Nations as a mechanism of domination, control, oppression, and power over women (United Nations 1979). Although gender violence does not always result in murder, it does increase the possibility of it. Gender violence is a constant violation of the human rights of women and girls. Its presence in the home, on the street, in the community, in the workplace, in government, in church, in organizations, and within couples allows tension and hatred to build up and reaffirms and reproduces gender relations of domination and subordination. In this chapter, I analyze briefly some of the structural causes of recent violence against women in Mexico. Taken together, they demonstrate the failure of the neoliberal system to provide either development or a model of democracy in our country (Mexico).
Having defined feminicide and feminicidal violence as a direct expression of the structural violence of the neoliberal social system, we could pursue its causes in the political realm or in the ways in which individuals have been divided and battered by the violent dynamics of social transformation. Putting the neoliberal mandates into practice through institutionalized patriarchal power, Mexico's so-called political class and its business and financial sectors have undermined and violated both society's and individuals' rights, interests, and needs. In the case of women, one outcome of the processes on both levels has been murder.
At the same time that we consider the increase in violence against women, we must also take into account the increase of violence within families and of personal violence in general. These are the other side of the systemic violence of the neoliberal social structure, which creates a social ecology in which men are driven to hypermasculinity, exaggerating the violent, authoritarian, aggressive aspects of male identity in an attempt to preserve that identity. The counterpart of these attitudes is found in the subordinate positions of women in relation both to men and to institutionalized masculine power. In the face of neoliberalism's increasing demands, the dysfunction and obsolescence of these stereotypes is ever more evident. The disturbances they have always produced in personal relations are inflamed by the current social violence. Conflicts within couples and families as masculine domination is brought into question and delegitimized steadily increase the levels of violence and, of course, the risk of murder. These conflicts are multiplied under the pressure produced by unemployment, poverty, social polarization, alcoholism, and insecurity, among the many other problems that fill daily life with tension.
Neoliberal Dynamic, Economic-Political Crisis, and Violence against Women
The United Nations committee that recently investigated the murders and disappearances of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua concluded that they had to be seen not as isolated cases but as a product of a "situation of violence in a structurally violent society" (United Nations 2003a). It therefore recommended "combating criminality concurrently with the structural causes of gender violence, including domestic, intrafamilial and public incidents such as sexual abuse, homicides, kidnapping, and disappearances." Its report associates these cases with the high density of the cities bordering the United States and with the establishment of maquilas and the predominance in them of poorly paid female workers. The lack of job opportunities for men, according to a subsequent report, "has changed the traditional dynamics of relations between the sexes ... creating a situation of conflict towards women because [the changes in employment patterns] have not been accompanied by a change in either traditional patriarchal attitudes and mentalities or the stereotyped vision of the social roles of men and women" (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 2005, 7-11).
Indeed, poverty, unemployment, the disintegration of the peasant economy, and migration-all more acute since the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94) accelerated neoliberal policies-are, along with the national crisis of governability, the most important structural causes of the increase in violence against women. Julio Boltvinik (2000) and Hernandez Laos (2000) maintain that in 2000, more than 75 percent of the country's population was poor or extremely poor. According to a recent survey, this figure now exceeds eighty percent (Boltvinik 2005). Although official sources recognize only between 45 percent and 52 percent as poor, a survey by the Organization of American States (OAS) concludes that Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia form a "triangle of extreme poverty" in Latin America because, in addition to high rates of poverty, they demonstrate insufficient progress with regard to the lowering of levels of maternal mortality and unemployment, to providing health services and comprehensive primary education, and to maintaining environmental sustainability. This situation is the result of the intense social polarization brought about by neoliberalism, which has deepened historical inequality and fostered corruption and inefficiency in governments that maintain oligarchic, authoritarian, and patriarchal social structures even though they are now disguised as democracies (Organization of American States 2005).
In Mexico, where neoliberal policies are applied dogmatically, favoring national and transnational companies and financial institutions at all costs, President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) adopted a discourse that systematically denied the exasperating social realities experienced by the population, among them marginalization; social, legal, and political exclusion in urban and rural areas; and a critical absence of human rights. The government reported that the economy had grown by 3.4 percent a year and that poverty had been reduced in a six-year period by 6.1 percent. This is something of an illusion, however, because in fact by 2006 we had barely returned to the levels of poverty that existed before the crash of 1995. Moreover, the growth described refers only to the macroeconomic level. What poverty reduction there has been in rural areas was actually due to the transfer of resources by government assistance programs and to remittances from the United States, both of which are used more for consumption than for investment. Consequently, Mexico is among the countries in Latin America with the least improvement in human development in recent years, with barely 1.3 percent growth in per capita income between 1990 and 2003 (United Nations Development Program 2005). During this same period, real salaries remained stagnant, while unemployment increased from 600,000 in 2000 to 1.027 million in 2005, and inequality increased to the point that "five percent of the income from the richest households would be enough to pull twelve million Mexicans out of poverty, reducing the national poverty rate from sixteen percent to four percent" (González and Vargas 2005, 1). And, of course, as bad as inequality and marginalization are in central and northern Mexico, they are much more severe in the south, where there is a high percentage of indigenous people and peasants.
Growth in industrial production and exports is also somewhat fictitious, since most of it comes from the maquiladoras, with little value added, minimal technology transfer, and volatile capital investment. Meanwhile, petroleum production is on the point of collapsing, both because of the rapid exhaustion of reserves accelerated by demand from the United States and because of the use of the profits to cover the country's current expenditures rather than for reinvestment (González and Vargas 2005).
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