The rise of femicides and violence against women in Mexico is evidence of a sick, oppressive system that must be transformed, root and stem, through class struggle.
Alma Chavarría Farel was 13 years old when she was killed after being raped. That happened on 23 January 1993; it was the first documented case of femicide in Mexico.
Ciudad Juárez, a manufacturing hub located on the US border would sadly become famous because more cases of missing and murdered women were occurring. Farel's death only anticipated a terrifying nightmare. Cases that might seem isolated at first showed that they had a lot in common. We are talking about women who were predominantly from poor families, who were workers, and who were often migrants from other states in the country.
Years later, Claudia Ivette González, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, and Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez, were found on the outskirts of that city in a cotton field, with at least five other women. Their murderers had been acting with impunity for at least 10 years, snatching the lives of women. The case of the cotton field achieved, after a long legal battle, a favourable ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which held the Mexican State responsible for lack of diligence.
The country was submerged in violence after Felipe Calderón’s presidency. Femicide cases did not disappear but were hidden. In reality the problem was growing; it was not just the cases of that distant border town, as cases started to appear across the country. These were not just related to organised crime; the problem was spreading throughout different layers of society.
One of the symptoms of capitalist irrationality is childhood femicides. Frida Guerrera, a journalist and activist, who heads the organisation Voces de la Ausencia (Voices of the Absent), made visible the terrible case of Lupita, “Red Socks”, a girl who before the age of five was killed and thrown on the Bordo de Xochiaca dump. She had experienced a history of violence throughout her short life. She never existed for the authorities until the day of her death because she was never registered.
According to the Quadratín Agency, in 2016, 53 child femicides were registered, the following year 65 were registered, and 86 in 2018.
María Salgueiro points out that in most cases of child femicides there is a history of physical and sexual violence. There is a certain pattern of the perpetrators of femicides who are usually men that are unemployed or have precarious jobs, sometimes involved in small-scale drug dealing. Oftentimes, it is the mothers who work and femicides occur when they are not present, or when the girls already have some independence, after six years of age. They can be neighbours or members of the community who hunt them, although maintaining patterns similar to those mentioned. There is a clear relationship between material conditions and the development of femicides; although cases occur in non-precarious social strata too, to a lesser extent.
A fight against men or against systemic violence?
We live in a system where violence against women is socially accepted. However, in recent years we have seen important women's struggles emerge against this. In our opinion, violence against women is one of the crudest expressions of oppression, but not the only one that our society experiences. In a capitalist society, the capital-labour relationship is the central contradiction that exploits, marginalises, and facilitates other types of violence and oppression. We have to fight for a society free from exploitation and from the violence that it entails. We cannot aspire to an egalitarian society without a massive struggle, not only against exploitation, but also against oppression of women. This latter struggle is literally a question of life and death.
The working woman was relegated to the role of reproducing the workforce, confining ourselves to the home. Wars, crisis, and the struggle for equality itself, have allowed women today to take on other roles in society but by and large without being able to emancipate ourselves from other forms of oppression. Thus, in addition to going to work or study, we must often assume domestic work, living in a world that is generally violent against us.
We can find states with a greater number of femicides such as the State of Mexico, Jalisco, or Guanajuato. But the state with the highest femicide rate by number of inhabitants is Colima. The municipalities where these crimes occur most frequently are Ecatepec and Naucalpan, in the State of Mexico; Chilpancingo, in Guerrero; Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, in Chihuahua.
Daily or family violence is widespread, and also takes the lives of women. In these cases we could identify this violence as sexist and thus draw the conclusion that the root problem is men. But in reality material conditions greatly influence the development of these cases for both men and women. Violence against women is structural, linked to the bones and nerves of the current capitalist system.
Orphaned children neglected by the state or children of families in precarious conditions are more susceptible to becoming violent.
Decades of attacks on farm and city workers have led to an increase in poverty, chronic unemployment, misery, and social decomposition. This precariousness, in which we have been immersed by the capitalist system and the voracious capitalist class - both national and imperialist - is a breeding ground for the development of barbarism. The loss of moral values is a consequence of this social decomposition; society must be re-educated, but for this, the population must be given decent living conditions: good jobs, education, universal public health, decent housing, adequate infrastructure in the working-class neighbourhoods and peasant villages, leisure activities, opportunities, and prospects for the future.
Social decomposition is directly proportional to the increase in femicides. In places where there are conflicts with organised crime, these cases skyrocket. In Colima, this problem is clearly related to drug disputes.
Before the war against the huachicol (an adulterated alcoholic drink), in states like Puebla, the fights between the cartel groups ended in more cases of murdered women. There are, for example, cases of murders for “belonging” to the adversary, in which women, in addition to being seen as an object that can be possessed, pay with their lives for being the partner, daughter, or relative of an enemy. María Salgueiro points out that, in the past, it was adult women who were murdered but that lately the most common cases of femicides are among girls aged 18 to 25; and that drug traffickers are the main perpetrators of femicides in the country.
The search for justice
It seems that a large number of Public Ministries, judges, investigating agents, experts, and other officials are indifferent to all this pain. It seems that each femicide or each case of violence is another closed folder that they wish to file away. This is evident from the moment that a woman makes a report of violence because she has been beaten or raped by her partner and they release the aggressor within a few hours.
Negligence is noticeable when parents go to make reports of a missing minor and are told: “she left with her boyfriend, look for her in the hotels, she will be back in a few days and even with a prize (pregnant)”, or from the moment they have to go retrieve the body of a girl or women who they refused to search for and at the scene, they commit fatal negligence which results in the contamination or loss of evidence, they fail to take samples, or do not preserve the crime scene, which are critical to implicating the suspect.
Family members, on the other hand, from the first moment make the search for justice the central axis of their life. It is the family who begins the investigation with friends, acquaintances, neighbours, and other people who were in the life of the murdered girl - work that investigating agents should take on. Impunity generates rage; there are cases in which the trial lasts for years and in the end it turns out that the murderer is given a lenient sentence and is able to be released on bail.
In Mexico, such painful cases number in the thousands; these lines are not enough and fall short in comparison to what victims of violence against women experience daily, and when violence finds its crudest expression, femicide, grief runs deep in families. In this process, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters realise that, only by becoming organised can they find answers and hope; when acting in isolation, little or nothing is achieved.
The institutions and the legality of the capitalist state do not serve working families. It is regrettable to hear the phrase "for money, the dog dances". In this system it is a reality that justice only serves the wealthy classes.
Bourgeois legality is like a spider web where the weak are trapped while the powerful break through. It is a system that does not provide justice for the poor, for working families or for women victims of violence. This leads to impunity, repetition of the acts, and therefore an increase in cases. We remember, for example, Marisela Escobedo, who was coldly murdered at the end of 2010 in front of the government palace in Chihuahua when she was demanding justice for Rubí Frayre, her murdered daughter.
There are more cases of perpetrators of femicides that remain free and repeat the crime. On some occasions we see the development of real serial killers; for instance the femicides of the cotton field or the Ecatepec monster.
Due to the seriousness of the situation, which increases year by year, legal and political support groups have been formed. In these groups, the families find the support that the authorities do not give. In these groups the family members organise themselves and take to the streets to demand punishment for the guilty. By becoming organised they grow in strength, and can take steps forward in the search for justice. It is only when the family or an organisation is behind a case that it goes forward, although this does not guarantee punishment for the guilty. Despite the efforts and steps forward in terms of justice that have been achieved by cases such as the Cotton Field or Mariana Lima, (where her mother, Irinea Buendía, fought a titanic battle that got the case to the Supreme Court of Justice and considered a femicide, which resulted in the imprisonment of her murderer) unfortunately violence, impunity, neglect, and injustice remain.
A recent and emblematic case is that of Lesvy Osorio, who was murdered by her boyfriend in front of the department of engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) on 3 May 2017. The authorities initially did not even consider the case as homicide and wanted to treat it as suicide. Through mass pressure, which involved massive student mobilisations and an open propaganda campaign of feminist, student, social, and union groups, the culprit was finally sentenced to 45 years in jail. That shows us how the organised mass struggle can obtain victories.
The number of murders of women, far from diminishing, have increased, going from nine to 10 cases per day according to official figures. A femicide is not just any murder of women, but when it happens because of gender. Legally, a murder is classified as femicide when it meets one of these conditions: the victim shows signs of sexual violence of any kind; the victim has been inflicted with infamous or degrading injuries or mutilations before or after the deprivation of life or acts of necrophilia; there is a history of any type of violence in the family, work or school environment by the murderer against the victim; a sentimental, affective or trusting relationship existed between the murderer and the victim; there are facts that establish that there were threats related to the criminal act, harassment or injuries of the murderer against the victim; the victim has been held incommunicado, whatever the time prior to the deprivation of life; or the body of the victim is exposed or displayed in a public place.
According to figures from the AMLO government, in the first nine months of its administration there have been 638 possible femicides. The reality is cruder than official statistics. The actions of the authorities are negligent, characterised by routinism and bureaucratism. They see each murder as one more case and prefer to just file it away. We see the extreme cases of open, deliberate protection of criminals in instances of collusion, malicious omission and corruption. As mentioned, in the example of Lesvy, the authorities wanted to classify the murder as a suicide (and this is not the only example). Had this happened, it would not have appeared in official statistics as femicide.
"Capitalism is horror without end," Lenin once said. Reality hits us in the face when we least expect it. In this decaying capitalism, any of us, any of our loved ones, could be the next victim. Relatives of the victims, formerly apolitical, undertake struggles and seek to gather their voices to obtain justice. The fight against femicide is not exclusive to women, it must be taken up as a demand of the entire workers’ movement, and social and student organisations. There are activists who have given themselves to this cause admirably, which has allowed us to know about cases that would have been hidden, and obtain justice for some particular victims. Although the loss will never be completely repaired, and new cases appear, meaning the general problem continues to deepen.
The problem of femicides is one of the most horrific, but there are others, such as the murder of young people; the disappearances that are counted in the tens of thousands; violence and sexual harassment. The fight against violence must be accompanied by the fight against poverty and the search for alternatives for a dignified life. Violence is not avoided by relying on a public ministry or a judge, or by educating a police officer to have a different perspective on gender, but rather by fighting for an egalitarian society with opportunities for all.
Femicides are a worrying symptom of a mortally sick system. Small reforms do not solve deep social problems. We need change at the root: a total change of the state, replacing the current institutions with others that serve women and working people in general.
We need to re-educate ourselves, end sexist prejudices and attitudes, but this will be achieved with the collective struggle of men and women to transform our society at the base. We need to unite the struggles, all aimed at driving out any type of violence and exploitation. This does not mean that we put aside our fight against violence against women, but it is important to understand that bourgeois legality and the capitalist system do not serve us and our goal must be to transform society.
Originally published in Spanish on 29 November 2019 by La Izquierda Socialista |