Interview: Juarez Mother Counters Violence with Activism

Interview: Juarez Mother Counters Violence with Activism

by Corie Osborn
Off Our Backs,  Mar/Apr 2004

Norma Andrade is advocating on behalf of her daughter Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade and hundreds of other young women who have been found murdered in Ciudad Juarez in the past ten years. Andrade has been traveling the globe in an effort to put international pressure on the Mexican government to gain justice for the murdered and missing women of Ciudal Juarez and Chihuahua State. off our backs intern Corie Osborn interviewed Andrade in December 2003.

oob: I’ve heard that Ciudad Juarez is dominated by traditional machismo attitudes. Do you believe that these oppressive attitudes toward women support and perpetuate a violent culture?

Andrade: Yes, certainly the fact that now because of economic changes women have been forced to work, which also leads to a situation where men have somehow increased their sexism toward women, when they see that women have engaged in the labor force and became some sort of bigger power.

oob: Do you believe that this machismo culture is to blame for the lack of thorough investigations into these crimes?

Andrade: It certainly has played a role. Impunity-it’s corrupting everything that has to do with justice. But harassment or physical assault…all these violent acts affect mainly women.

oob: Estimates of the real number of women who have been killed in Juarez over the past ten years have depended greatly upon the source. How high do you believe that number is today?

Andrade: Certainly the statistics-the numbers-vary according to who you talk to. The government, for example, has tried to downplay that number, but according to the statistics provided by the Amnesty International report on Juarez, the number of women up to this date who have been killed in Ciudad Juarez is around 370.

The National Commission on Human Rights in Mexico has said that 250 women have gone missing. We have been asking the government to make an effort to come up with a list of the victims that is accurate, because to this day we don’t really know the exact number of women who have gone missing.

What we have learned to do-due to the patterns of violence that we are talking about here-is to look at certain physical features of the victim that match a pattern. We also take into account the amount of time that the specific woman has been missing. And then, given the patterns that have already [occured] with other women who are missing or have been murdered, we try to determine whether she’s a victim or she will actually come back.

oob: FBI profilers believe that a serial killer or killers is responsible for the deaths of close to 100 of the women found murdered in and around Ciudad Juarez.

Andrade: We have about 30 women who have been also victims of sexual violence before being murdered. We are not talking about one person-we are talking about a number of individuals, I think. We believe that the way in which they carry out the sexual violence is through gang rapes.

One of the most common theories is that this might be related to snuff films. In the case of Benera Susina, one of the victims,…an expert testified that her heart had been removed surgically, as well as a part of her eyes. That has been the only case where a forensic expert has actually testified that the victim experienced the removal of one of her organs.

oob: The investigation led by Chihuahua State officials into the Juarez murders has raised questions of a police cover-up. Why do you believe the government has taken so little interest in solving these crimes? Have you seen evidence to suggest some sort of a police cover-up?

Andrade: Yes, certainly there has been, on the part of the authorities, planting of evidence to blame people who are innocent of having committed these crimes. When they found the body of Paloma Angelica Escobar Ledesma, Commander Gloria Cobos Ximello came up with a picture of Paloma’s ex-boyfriend from one of his friends to suggest that he was responsible for her killing.

There is another case, that of Silvia Arce. There were two agents of the PGR, which is the federal police in Mexico… It is known that her kidnappers were members of the PGR-they have their names.

We believe that the authorities are doing this because they are protecting the real killers.

oob: I’ve heard that acting on the rumors of organ trafficking-a federal crime-the Mexican government has sent 300 federal agents into Juarez to aid local police in their investigation. What effects do you think we will see from this?

Andrade: We hope that anything that comes out from those actions are positive-anything. We know that many of these investigations involve the possible participation of very powerful people in the crimes. We don’t know if they are going to carry out these investigations until their final completion. But we are going to try to demand that the federal authorities indeed make all efforts to ensure that these investigations come to a close.

oob: Last fall, a group of mothers marched from the border to Mexico City demanding that something be done to find their daughter’s killers. Can you tell me more about what you are doing, and what other mothers are doing to gain justice?

Andrade: We have attended a number of forums. We have approached President Fox, the president of Mexico, to ensure that he knew of our grievances. We went to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. We went to the United Nations. And we have denounced what is happening in Mexico in various places around the world. We have been in Spain, Ireland, Geneva, France, and in Los Angeles in the United States. We went to Chicago, New York, New Mexico and here, to Washington, D.C. We have also had opportunities to speak with government officials here in the U.S. Congress. In Mexico we have met with congresspeople as well as members of the Mexican Senate. We have also met with the National Commission of Human Rights.

oob: Do you feel that the international pressure you are building by going to these all these places and spreading your message will make the Mexican government respond?

Andrade: Yes certainly. You can tell that they are already reacting at this point to the international pressure, because of what you were talking about before-about sending the agents to Ciudad Juarez. It was because of the international pressure that the Mexican government took that action.

oob: Would you be willing to tell me a little about your daughter?

Andrade: My daughter is Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade. She was kidnapped on February 14, 2001. We found her body on February 21, a week later-a Sunday. When we found her, she had been dead for 24 hours…

oob: How do you think that justice can be achieved for your daughter?

Andrade: Ideally, the cure will be jail. But I think that this is something, as a goal, that we are far from achieving, because it is clear that the authorities are not interested in ensuring that this will be the outcome in these cases. But if we are able to somehow stop the disappearances of young women, then I think that that way we can say that we have achieved something, and then we can start talking about achieving some justice.

oob: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Andrade: I think that the impunity [surrounding crimes against] women has grown because we-women-have been seen simply as sexual objects, and not for what we are-human beings.

We also want to ask for the support of the community here-the citizens in this country, the women in this country-to help us whether through their own efforts or by joining with other organizations such as Amnesty International, which has been extremely supportive…to ensure that the Mexican government doesn’t forget that it has to take action to solve these murders and achieve justice. And we also want to ask the people here to please contact your representatives in Congress and to support those members of Congress who support the initiative taken by Resolution HR 466, which was introduced by Congresswoman Hilda Solis from California.

Translation services were provided by Alex A. Taylor del Cid.

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