Binational civic action for accountability: Antiviolence organizing in ciudad juárez/el paso

Kathleen Staudt, Irasema Coronado

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Since the early 1990s, civic activists in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas, have been gaining ground in raising awareness of and bringing attention to the femicides- The hundreds of unsolved murders of girls and young women in the region. In the context of Mexico's transition to democracy, activists have struggled to obtain political accountability, professional responses from the criminal justice system, or even respectful acknowledgment of public problems, particularly those aff ecting women and families from poverty. In fact, some activists have faced threats, harassment, and intimidation for their eff orts to make problems visible and criticize governmental nonresponsiveness. Th is chapter focuses on antiviolence organizing in the Ciudad Juarez/ El Paso population of two million people. The border is a violent place for men and women, but this chapter's focus is on the organizing eff orts around the murders of girls and women in the 1990s (now numbering over four hundred deaths, a third of which involve rape and mutilation),1 and on the events taking place in 2008 in Ciudad Juarez. Drug dealers are engaged in a turf war that has turned Ciudad Juarez into a militarized city, has rendered local government useless and ineff ective. Th is wave of violence resulted in over fi ve hundred deaths from January through June 2008 alone, of mostly police offi cers, federal government offi cials, and random other people. Where are the activists now? What has happened to the antiviolence organizing in the region? Women's bodies are still found in Ciudad Juarez, mutilated, raped, and gunned down. Where was the outrage of feminist and antiviolence organizations when a high-ranking police offi cer who happened to be a female was gunned down in her home in front of her children or when a pregnant twenty-four-year-old died after witnessing the violent deaths of three men who were sitting outside her home? We argue that the antiviolence movement has waned for a variety of rea-sons: (1) fear of reprisal from the state; (2) fear of being a target of drug traffi ckers for defending their perceived enemy or enemies; (3) U.S. citizens' concerns about being arrested in Mexico for violating Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution; and (4) hard- To-sustain, dramatic organizational performances that peaked in 2004 and became, in organizing terms, a hard act to follow. Violence against men and women is reprehensible; however, activists have been silenced because the victims are seen as less worthy or as "bad people" who are involved in high-stakes activities that may result in loss of life. It is important to mention that this drug war is in part fueled by the consumption of illegal drugs in the United States and that over 90 percent of all arms being used to wage this war originate in the United States and are transported into Mexico. We focus on the civic actions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which press governments for accountability. The fi rst section will briefl y outline the facts and chronology of the Juarez murders and offi cial responses. The second section examines the challenges of accountability in borderlands, which complicate public action. In the third section, cross- border civic action is analyzed. The fourth part of the chapter deals with civil society's response to the new wave of violence that has rampaged through Ciudad Juarez and the reactions to the "warfare." Th is section is followed by considerations of strategies for successful action. The chapter draws on multiple sources: interviews, observations, and participant observation of antiviolence organizations, including the crossborder Coalition against Violence toward Women and Families involving activists and organizations from both Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. We also use local radio and television news programs and content analysis of blogs and newspapers in the region. Our underlying argument calls for "institutional shrouds" to provide leverage and resources for successful, systemic action, such as a human rights treaty, coupled with oversight by civil society. While Mexico and the United States have signed numerous agreements on topics that range from free trade and the environment to air traffi c control and plant viruses, no human rights agreement exists to address public safety, sex-related serial killers, and the overall lawless climate in cities like Ciudad Juarez.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMaking a Killing
Subtitle of host publicationFemicide, Free Trade, and la Frontera
PublisherUniversity of Texas Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9780292722774
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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