Slowly and steadily the brave women of Chihuahua who speak out against the deaths and disappearances in their communities are being killed, disappeared or fleeing the state. Once they’re gone, what will be left of society and how can Chihuahua ever be saved?
Since 2008, Chihuahua, and most notably Juarez, have been plunged into a seemingly hopeless, bloody chaos over the right to sell more drugs to the United States. The one bright spot in the unceasing bad news has been the unfailing bravery and strength of Chihuahua’s women who have spoken out repeatedly and forcefully against the massacres of their communities.
But as we enter 2011, it’s become clear what a terrible toll 2010 took on these women who bravely tried to seek justice and keep the social fabric from completely unraveling. One by one the women who spoke out forcefully and publicly have been killed or disappeared. Others are seeking asylum in the United States. What happens to Mexico when they’re all gone?
Back in October 2010, Marisol Valles, made international headlines as “Mexico’s bravest woman.” Journalists from around the world traveled to the tiny hamlet of Praxedis G. Guerrero, outside of Juarez, to marvel at Valles’ bravery after she stepped up to serve as the town’s police chief. The town’s former chief was kidnapped, then killed. His head was left outside the police station. No one claimed the position for nearly a year until Valles finally volunteered. The slim, bespectacled Valles didn’t even know how to fire a gun, nor was she interested. She told the press: “I took the risk because I want my son to live in a different community to the one we have today. I want people to be able to go out without fear, as it was before.”
But this was not to be. Last week Valles, 21, her infant son, husband and parents fled the state and asked for asylum in the United States. Another woman Erika Gandara, 28, was not so lucky. Gandara also made headlines in 2010 when she became the sole law officer in the town of Guadalupe, a small town outside of Ciudad Juarez. The 12 men on the force had either been killed or quit. Gandara was kidnapped last December. Her fate is still unknown.
Also in December 2010, Hermila Garcia, 38 was gunned down on her way to the police station. Two months prior, Garcia, a lawyer by profession had become police chief in her hometown of Meoqui. Garcia didn’t carry weapons or have bodyguards. Her security philosophy was “If you don’t owe anything, you don’t fear anything.” These three women stepped forward to try and save their communities. Now two are dead and the other is in hiding in the United States.
Last year was equally deadly for Chihuahua’s female human rights activists. First they fought consistently and bravely for the killers of Juarez’s women to be brought to justice. Then they became victims of the killers themselves. Susana Chavez, a 36-year old poet and activist, was killed not far from her own home in Juarez in early January 2011. Prior to her death, the cold blooded shooting of activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz before Christmas on the steps of the state’s Capitol building made international headlines. Escobedo had worked tirelessly to bring to justice the killer of her daughter Rubi Marisol Freyre Escobedo, who was murdered in Juárez in 2008. Escobedo was at the Capitol collecting signatures and campaigning for the government to bring her daughter’s killer to justice when a gunman shot her down.
The massacre of activists has become so unrelenting that last week the United Nations got involved. The UN urged the relatives of activist Josefina Reyes Salazar to leave the country immediately. Josefina was killed in January 2010 after leading protests against the militarization of Juarez. Her family has been systematically hunted down and killed in the past two years. Three more of her family members were kidnapped and killed in February. Last week, the remaining 28 members of Reyes family were flown to Mexico City and transported in an armed convoy to an undisclosed location. The United Nations is helping them arrange for political asylum in the United States.
Innocent civilians having to be transported for their own safety in an armed convoy shows how serious Mexico’ security crisis has become. The U.N.’s intercession is testament to the utter failure of the government’s ability to protect its own people, especially those who advocate for justice and the rule of law. Next week another prominent human rights activist, Cipriana Jurado Herrera, will ask for asylum in an El Paso courtroom. Every voice that is disappeared, killed or exiled is a mortal blow for Mexico:
Marisela Escobedo Ortiz
Cipriana Jurado Herrera
Josefina Reyes Salazar