Workers Vanguard No. 996
17 February 2012
On the Murder of Women in Ciudad Juárez
In their most recent issue of Espartaco (No. 34, Fall 2011), our comrades in the Grupo Espartaquista de México corrected a wrong position taken in print on the notorious murders of women in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, situated just across from El Paso, Texas. The correction centers on how we undercut our Marxist politics by embracing the bourgeois liberal framework of the Juárez campaign against “femicide,” thereby politically accommodating the feminists as well as the Catholic church. Of the three separate articles on this theme appearing in Espartaco over the last 12 years, one was translated and printed in Workers Vanguard in 2003 (see “Capitalism and Anti-Woman Terror,” WV No. 812, 24 October 2003).
Espartaco initially addressed the situation for women in Ciudad Juárez in 1999, several years after the implementation of the NAFTA “free trade” agreement brought a maquiladora factory expansion to Mexico-U.S. border cities. With cross-border commerce on the rise, the population boomed and women—mostly from poor, rural regions of Mexico—flooded the labor market. Ciudad Juárez soon became known for its economic immiseration, drug trafficking and crime. Alongside this, the homicide rate skyrocketed for both men and women.
Soon a campaign emerged surrounding the murders of women, some of whom were reportedly raped, tortured and even mutilated. The campaign encompassed a broad range of liberal and feminist organizations both in Mexico and the U.S., including NGOs, religious groups and so-called socialist groups. The famous 2001 documentary Señorita Extraviada [Young Woman Missing] by Lourdes Portillo early on popularized the idea that these murders were part of an organized conspiracy. In our article from 2003, we praised Portillo’s documentary and wrongly accepted as fact that these murders might be a result of a serial killer or a high-level government plot—or even possibly involve some kind of “ritual.”
The correction in Espartaco explains:
“As revolutionary Marxists we understand…that violence against women—including violent crime—is inherent to capitalism. Far from the tabloid stories of serial killings or an orchestrated terror campaign against women, this phenomenon is based on much broader social problems, including the growing level of criminal and state violence in the region throughout approximately the last decade and a half.”
In fact, according to liberal American writer Debbie Nathan—who critically analyzed some of the fundamental assertions of the Juárez “anti-femicide” campaign—in most of the 270 murder cases presented by Lourdes Portillo in her documentary, the killers were a relative or a partner of the victim (“Missing the Story,” Texas Observer, 30 August 2002). Espartaco further notes that the majority of the 3,726 women murdered in the whole of Mexico between December 2006 and October 2009 were victims of domestic abuse. Clearly, anti-woman violence is not unique to the border cities of the north; in the city of Toluca in central Mexico, the murder rate of women nearly triples that of Ciudad Juárez.
Today, Ciudad Juárez is considered one of the most violent cities in the world. The “drug wars,” which have claimed almost 50,000 lives in Mexico since 2006, have been the pretext for the Mexican government’s militarization across the country, leading to increased bloodletting and state repression against the working class and the poor. But contrary to the notion that women are being killed in disproportionate numbers, during the last decade and a half the murders of men have constituted the overwhelming majority of total homicides in Ciudad Juárez. One analysis based on death certificates and other data concluded that 942 men were killed between 1994-1997 while 143 women were killed in the same period. More recently, in 2010 out of some 3,000 total homicides in Ciudad Juárez 306 were women.
Since its inception in the ’90s, the “anti-femicide” campaign has called for increased military presence and government support to bring “justice” to the victims and their families. The correction in Espartaco states:
“The entire movement around Juárez has been characterized from the beginning by calls ‘against impunity,’ for the capitalist state to mobilize to protect women, to do ‘its job’ right, etc. Indeed, the perspective of massive police mobilization and draconian legislation supposedly aimed at ‘protecting’ women is a fundamental part of feminist ideology. In fact, one of the purposes of the term ‘femicide’—popularized by the reactionary bourgeois feminist Diana Russell, who made a career out of her anti-pornography campaigns—is to appeal to the authorities to strengthen penal legislation.”
The capitalist state—at its core the cops and army as well as the prisons and the courts—is the biggest force for violence in society. The central role of the state is to keep the ruling class in power through repression and terror. It cannot be reformed to act in the interests of the workers and the oppressed, including women.
The article printed in WV No. 812 correctly warned against deadly illusions in the state, but at the same time asserted that “we completely solidarize with the demands for justice from the families of the victims and from organizations like Mujeres de Negro [Women in Black] and Casa Amiga [Friendly Home].” These demands included calling for a “binational task force” of the U.S. and Mexican governments to investigate the crimes and for the declaration of a “national state of emergency” (i.e., the restriction of rights and the massive mobilization of the armed forces). As Marxists, we should not have, and cannot, solidarize with such demands.
The feminist organizations got what they asked for. In 2003, then-president Vicente Fox authorized the deployment of the Federal Preventive Police to Juárez. This set the stage for current president Calderón to put the city under military occupation in the escalation of the “war against el narco [drug trafficking].” The result has been a surge in brutal army abuses against labor and the poor—including illegal searches and arrests without cause, rape, sexual abuse, torture and killings.
Women’s oppression is not simply a question of backward ideology or the denial of democratic rights. Male chauvinism is propagated to justify the economic oppression and subjugation of women within the institution of the family. Espartaco explains how feminism views the main division in society as that between men and women as opposed to that between the exploiters and the exploited, i.e., between the classes. It goes on to observe that the “anti-femicide” campaign around Juárez promotes “the feminist perspective of the oppression of women as something that can be eliminated within the framework of capitalism by means of reforms and a change of attitudes, while extolling the bourgeois nuclear family, one of the fundamental pillars of women’s oppression.”
The centrality of the family in class society flows from its role in the inheritance of property along the male line, which requires women’s sexual monogamy and social subordination. For the working masses and the poor who have no wealth to pass on to new generations, the family serves to raise the next generation of wage slaves. Alongside other institutions such as the church, the family’s role is to teach respect for authority, enforce sexual “norms,” regiment the population (especially youth) and instill adherence to bourgeois morality.
In her 2002 article about Ciudad Juárez, Nathan observed that the campaign—which adopted a pink cross as its symbol—is imbued with the pious moralism rampant in Catholic-dominated Mexico. She stated:
“Infuriatingly, Mexico is still a place where politicians, police, and society in general love to hunt for reasons why a young woman who experiences sexual violence is a whore who ‘deserved’ to be raped and even killed. Things are probably even worse in Juárez, with its special hatred of prostitutes. The state governor during the 1990s, Francisco Barrio, said the city’s females were inviting their own murders by hanging out with the wrong crowd at bars. The state assistant attorney general, Jorge Lopez Molinar, blamed staying out late and skimpy dress. Between a rock and a hard place, families are thus loath to deal with the fact that many beloved daughters do go to cantinas, and many do communicate sexuality through their clothing. Yet to acknowledge this is to imply that one’s child is a slut undeserving of redress. It’s a cruel conundrum that has forced activists in Juárez to use a public rhetoric in which victims are all church-going, girlish innocents.”
By uncritically retailing the notions of the campaign around the Juárez dead, we in fact diverted attention away from the gruesome, everyday reality for women, i.e., the misery, abuse and social backwardness endemic to the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. The liberation of women can be realized only with the victory of socialist revolution, which will lay the material basis to free women from age-old family servitude, eliminate all forms of social oppression and reorganize society in the interest of all.