Juárez activist killed after protesting against hundreds of women murdered in city

| Jan. 13, 2011 |

Back in the nineties, Susana Chavez coined the phrase, "ni una más” (‘not one more’), in protest at the incompetence of Ciudad Juárez authorities in finding the killers of hundreds of women murdered in the city since 1993 with no known motive. She was a prominent activist hoping to end the killings that blighted Juárez long before drug wars took over the city.

The strangled body of the 36-year-old was found, its left arm sawn off, in an abandoned house in the notorious city last week. Her parents recognised the body in a morgue after days of searching, apparently as authorities attempted to conceal her identity for fear of protests and outrage in the city.

Chavez was a much-loved poet and artist in the US-border city. "My blood, blood of dawn, blood of the broken moon, blood of silence," opens her poem Blood, written from the perspective of a victim, in her only published book, Song to a City in the Desert.

“I waited for her all night long, but she never came back," a woman claiming to be Chavez's mother told local reporters. Details are emerging of the killing, which authorities claim is not linked to her activist past.

Driving to a local restaurant for a meal to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings, widely celebrated in the Catholic country, Chavez was ambushed just streets from her home.

Authorities initially said she had joined the subjects for a drink but had refused to grant them sexual favours and so was tortured, maimed and strangled. However, this version of events has been dismissed with no clear motive for the killing found.

Another prominent activist was killed just last month, in dramatic scenes outside a government building that are circulating now on the internet. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, a mother who had spent years campaigning against crime following the killing of her 17-year-old daughter, was shot in front of the governer's office in the state of Chihuahua. In the video, masked men pull up in a car in front of her protest and begin talking to her. She flees across the street but it shot in the head.

The burnt and dismembered remains of Ms Escobedo's daughter were found in a rubbish bin in June 2009 in Ciudad Juárez. Her ex-boyfriend is the prime suspect in her killing as well as that of her mother. He was freed after three judges said his confession was not convincing. The judges have themselves now been impeached.

The city saw more than 3,000 deaths in 2010 alone. The majority of these were drug related, however, Chavez protested the hundreds of unsolved femicides that have plagued the city since the early 1990s.

Authorities claim the death toll is somewhere between 300 and 500 women, however, many residents claim thousands have died. Many victims are poor. They are raped before being killed and their bodies left in the desert, earning them the epithet, “las muertas de Juárez”, the dead women of Juárez.

Mexican authorities announced this week that the 2010 death toll in drug-related violence in the country stood at 15,273, a jump of nearly 10,000 from 2009’s figure. Since President Felipe Calderón came into power in December 2006, 34,612 people are thought to have died in drug-related killings in the country.