CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – The government has inaugurated a memorial to seven of the hundreds of women murdered since 1993 in Ciudad Juarez, a border city in northern Mexico, during a ceremony interrupted by victims’ mothers, who demanded justice and a complete memorial.
The memorial was built on a cotton field in Juarez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
The bodies of eight women who appeared to have been raped and tortured were found in 2001 in the field, but only seven of the victims have been identified.
The young women who were identified, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez, Claudia Ivette Gonzalez, Maria de los Angeles Acosta Ramirez, Mayra Juliana Reyes Solis, Merlin Elizabeth Rodriguez Saenz and Maria Rocina Galicia, ranged in age from 15 to 19.
The Inter-American Human Rights Court found in November 2009 that the government failed to prevent and duly investigate the killings of three of the women – Herrera, Ramos and Gonzalez – in the “Campo Algodonero” (Cotton Field) case, failing to guarantee the victims’ right to life, personal safety and liberty.
The court ordered the government to pay the victims’ families a total of $383,000 in compensation and to hold a ceremony to apologize within a year.
The tribunal, moreover, ordered the government to build a memorial to victims of gender violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital.
Deputy Government Secretary Felipe Zamora, who represented President Felipe Calderon at the memorial’s inauguration, apologized publicly for the government’s failure to prevent the killings of the women.
“I came here to ask forgiveness from the families of all the victims in the name of the Mexican state,” Zamora said.
“The errors and negligence in handling the cases contributed to the delays in the investigations to find those responsible for these deaths. The Mexican state is aware of the suffering of the relatives of these victims,” Zamora said.
The victims’ relatives, who showed up at the cermony carrying candles, banners and photographs of dead and missing young women, interrupted the speeches by local, state and federal officials with shouts of “liars!”
The mother of Merlin Elizabeth Rodriguez, a teenager whose partially buried body was found in the cotton field, told Efe that fear of being murdered had kept her from going to the authorities to demand justice in her daughter’s case.
“I never come to these kinds of events because I’m afraid that the same thing is going to happen to me as happened to the activists. This is the first time that I come with a photograph of my daughter to demand justice,” the woman said.
The memorial, which cost 16 million pesos (about $1.19 million), features the seven pink crosses that were planted in the cotton field a few weeks after the young women’s bodies were found.
The crosses are surrounded by floral arrangements, while the victims’ names and photographs are on the walls of the memorial.
The relatives of the young women whose bodies were found in the cotton field decided to skip the event because the memorial “is unfinished” and the apology should have been made by a higher-level official, attorney Karla Micheel Salas told Efe.
Salas and her colleague, David Peña, argued the case before the Inter-American Human Rights Court in 2007.
An agreement was reached with the government in February to include the names of all the approximately 500 victims of feminicide in Juarez between 1993 and 2006, Salas said.
The memorial was to include plaques bearing the victims’ names and a park “to recover the historical truth of the events, since it was recognized by the court,” the attorney said, adding that Monday’s ceremony did not meet the standards set by the rights tribunal.
“Of the 13 resolutions from the court, the Mexican government has only complied with one of them, which is the compensation,” Salas said.
The court ordered a resumption of the investigation, the punishment of officials suspected of committing “irregularities” in handling the investigations and a probe into harassment of victims’ families, the attorney said. EFE