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Activists seek murder investigations

Cultural Center screens film about Ju†rez factory worker deaths

Activist Victoria Caraveo lamented the mismanaged investigation of mass murders of women in Ciudad Ju†rez and urged people to write letters to politicians on both sides of the border during a forum Monday.

Caraveo, who works with Casa Amiga in Ju†rez, and Viola Casares of Fuerza Unida based in San Antonio, Texas, spoke in Spanish to a large crowd at the South Broadway Cultural Center during an event sponsored by numerous UNM groups. The women answered questions after a screening of "Se§orita Extraviada," which translates to "Missing Young Woman," chronicling the murders of women in the border city four hours south of Albuquerque.

Since 1993, between 70 and 300 young women have been killed in Ju†rez, a booming metropolis that transformed from a heavily agriculture-based town to an industrial gateway with the advent of free trade and factories known as maquiladoras.

The film identified women who were young, poor, slim, dark skinned, had shoulder-length hair and worked in the factories as the common denominators among victims. The documentary, directed by Lourdes Portillo, included numerous interviews with victims' families, investigators, activists and one sexual assault survivor. "Se§orita Extraviada" outlined the variety of theories introduced to explain the murders. The first centered on the arrest of an affluent Egyptian native known as Sharif Sharif living in the city who was rounded up when a woman accused him of kidnapping and attempting to rape her.

When the murders continued, Ju†rez police rounded up a variety of men known as "Los Rebeles" or "The Rebels." Investigators interviewed for the documentary said Sharif paid the gang $1,000 per woman to continue the murder spree while he was in prison.

After the arrest, more women disappeared and the authorities rounded up bus drivers who worked for the maquiladoras and said that Sharif paid them $1,200 per woman who was killed.

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Portillo interviewed a woman who said police held her for 24 hours, raping and beating her. She added that they showed her a photo album of women who had been raped, beaten and killed in the desert. She turned over her information to authorities, but says nothing has come of information.

Family members of victims told Portillo that they have provided new information about the murders, but investigators have ignored them. Other theories about the source of the murders include ties to the maquiladoras and organized crime that leads drug trafficking through Ju†rez because the two entities are regarded as untouchable.

Since the murders began in 1993, two special prosecutors have worked on the case, but activists and victims' family members are concerned with the recent appointment of a 26-year-old woman to lead the investigation. They say she is ill-prepared to handle the responsibility and has ignored their calls for action.

"We don't want to hear any more of these crazy explanations that don't make any sense," the investigator said in the film. "We don't want more women to disappear. The women who are alive deserve to be safe and the families' victims' deserve answers."

The shift in political power in Mexico from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional to the Partido Acci¢n Nacional when Vicente Fox took the presidential election in 1999 was heralded internationally as a great democratic change, but Caraveo said it has made no difference for victims' families.

"It doesn't matter whether it's PRI or PAN, it's all the same," she said. "The federal government refuses to do anything to really look into this investigation."

Adding to the frustration is what Caraveo describes as the growing acceptance of violence against women in Mexico.

"Recently, similar murders have happened in Chihuahua, which is scaring people there and adding more voices to the movement who are afraid that this will only get worse," Caraveo said.

Casares urged a boycott of Levi's Strauss and other companies that she says take advantage of women on both sides of the border. But Caraveo said Ju†rez activists want to protect jobs at maquiladoras and instead urge a push for a more serious investigation and security for women.

Portillo's Web site,, offers information about ways fight for further investigation into the crimes, including sample letters and contact information for a variety of activist organizations.

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