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MEXICO: Murdered women of Ciudad Juarez

I asked Chihuahua expert Dick Hancock for comments on the gruesome murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, the twin city of El Paso in the state of Chihuahua.The capital of the state is also caled Chihuahua. Dick replies: I know nothing more about this matter other than is included in your last message. I have not inquired about this matter because I thought it might be a delicate subject with my hosts, but I will do so as I move along in collaboration with scholars.

I do know that CiudadJuárez has always been a site for the criminal element beginning with smuggling liquor during our prohibition. This tradition has been maintained and increased because of narcotics traffic. During our helicopter reconnaissance of the canyon areas of the state (more than 100 hours), our pilot pointed out both marijuana and poppy fields. They are not large fields but are more like garden plots. The Indians--Tarahumares, Pimas, Tepejuanes and Guarijíos--work on these plots when they need money, and it is almost impossible to catch them because of the mountainous terrain and the running ability of the Indians. The Indians are not involved in the management of these enterprises; they only supply labour. The narcotraficantes are absolutely murderous; they think no more of killing a person than you or I would think of killing a fly. I suspect that the drug traffickers are behind these killings.

There is something of a competition between CiudadJuárez and Chihuahua. The Governor is from Chihuahua and was the mayor of Chihuahua City before becoming governor. Juárez has a PANISTA mayor. I found myself wondering at the rather poor coverage given Ciudad Juárez in our book. Of course, Ciudad Juárez has little to attract tourists beyond shopping, nightclubs and other more dubious forms of entertainment. We didn't tour Ciudad Juárez until we photographed the monuments. Juárez is really two cities: one the old city along Ave. Juárez, which crosses the Santa Fe bridge from El Paso; the AAA guide book warns tourists not to visit the nightspots west of Ave. Juárez. This is really a run-down ghetto with street people in terrible condition either from drugs, liquor or perhaps retarded. I am sure that a great many people here are not employable--just as in the U.S. ghettos--because of their drug history. The other city is east of Ave. Juárez, and the further you go the better it gets. This is the place where the maquila factories are located; they are many, clean and handsome structures (Ciudad Juárez is the queen of the maquila plants in Mexico). Interspersed with them is housing for workers and middle management and, finally, upscale housing developments that compete with the best in the U.S. There are also some world-class monuments!

Our guide, probably biased toward Chihuahua, says that Chihuahua City is made up of 90% of people from Chihuahua, whereas the people in Ciudad Juárez come from every state in Mexico; he says that there is a lack of community spirit in Juárez. There are no street people in Chihuahua City, They are arrested and a serious attempt is made to rehabilitate them. Chihuahua City is a city of great pride and a strong sense of community, much more so than San Salvador where Nancy and I lived for two years when I was the director of the Peace Corps there. There, I found all levels of society to have absolute contempt for the government, especially for the police. I expect that this attitude comes form centuries of corrupt government.

Incidentally, I solved the mystery of the two Satebós. Prof. Zacarías Márques says that satevó in the Tarahumara language means a sand dune and that the name simply reflects the sandy terrain where the two places were founded. He says that there are two more Satevós in Chihuahua.

Ronald Hilton - 6/7/03