This is great news. From Frontera Norte-Sur News:
Historic Femicide Trial Gets Underway
Thousands of miles and a continent away, it’s a long haul from Ciudad
Juarez, Mexico, to Santiago, Chile. But that’s where the road to justice
led Benita Monarrez, Irma Monreal and Josefina Gonzalez. Mothers of
murder victims, the three women from the Mexican border city pressed their
case last week against the Mexican government as the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights opened a milestone trial in Santiago, Chile.
Marking the first time the Organization of American States’ court has
heard a Mexican femicide case, the historic legal proceeding centers on
the slayings of three young women who were found with five other female
victims in a Ciudad Juarez cotton field in 2001. The three victims,
Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, 14, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez, 17, and
Claudia Ivette Gonzalez, 20, all went missing between September 25 and
October 29, 2001.
Counting only two months in Ciudad Juarez at the time of her
disappearance, Herrera was a domestic worker employed by Mitla Caballero.
A high school student, Ramos also worked for the Fogueiras restaurant. An
assembly-line worker for the US-owned Lear Corporation, Gonzalez was
turned away at the plant gate because she was a few minutes late and then
vanished. Relatives contend the disappearances and subsequent murders of
their loved ones were never truly investigated or punished by the Mexican
For example, Benita Monarrez has stated that two investigators from the
Chihuahua state attorney general’s office (PGJE), Ramirez and Miramontes,
personally knew two young men, “El Gato” and “El Perico” who appeared in a
previous photo taken with Laura Berenice Ramos. When pressed to explain
their relationship to the mysterious pair, the law enforcement officials
clammed up, Monarrez has asserted.
“This is the case to show the many failings there have been by the Mexican
government,” said Maureen Meyer, program associate for the non-profit
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a group which supports victims’
relatives. Meyer told Frontera NorteSur that the Inter-American Court case
could set a precedent for other femicide cases, including sex-related
homicide cases from 1993 or 1994 that are now falling into legal oblivion
because of Mexican statutes of limitations.
Mexican, US and European human rights activists are throwing their support
behind the mothers involved in the Santiago trial. Together with other
organizations, Ciudad Juarez’s Citizens Network for Non-Violence and Human
Dignity called the Inter-American Court case a “historic opportunity” for
femicide victims not only in Ciudad Juarez but in the rest of Mexico and
the Americas as well.
The Long Road to Chile
Many irregularities marked the Mexican government’s response to the
disappearance of the three young women, who vanished along with numerous
others in both Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City during 2001. The
disappearances followed a pattern of young, low-income women suddenly
disappearing in the northern Mexican state since at least the early 1990s.
Several suspects were investigated or arrested in the cotton field
slayings, but human rights activists and other observers widely criticized
government legal cases as lacking any shred of credibility.
The grisly discoveries of the eight cotton field victims on November 6 and
7, 2001, set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the
Inter-American Court trial. In 2002, the mothers of Herrera, Ramos and
Gonzalez filed a complaint with the Washington-based Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that charged the Mexican government
with committing human rights violations and denying justice in the cases
of their daughters.
After finally determining that the Mexican government never provided an
adequate response to the petitioners, the IACHR pursued the next step in
the OAS human rights system and referred the case to the Inter-American
Court in late 2007. The international legal institution is considering the
cotton field case based on the Mexican government’s alleged violations of
the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention
on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women
(Convention of Belem Do Para), international agreements that uphold
popular access to the justice system and the right of women to live
without violence. Under the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court,
Mexico is obliged to follow any rulings the legal body will issue.
Last year, Mexico filed a preliminary defense but did not submit all the
documents requested by the Inter-American Court, according to a statement
from the legal body.
The mothers seek reparations of damages from the Mexican government, the
launching of a serious murder investigation and the dismissal and
sanctioning of officials involved in allegedly botching their daughters’
cases, among other remedies.
Showdown in Santiago
On April 28 and 29, 2009, the mothers and Mexican government mustered
their respective forces in Santiago, Chile, for a legal battle that will
be heard around the world. Supported by Mexican and international lawyers
and human rights activists, the mothers from Ciudad Juarez spent several
hours retelling their stories to the judges.
In her testimony, Benita Monarrez accused Mexican government officials of
covering-up the murders for other officials involved in the crimes.
“This trial proves we are right. The state has never approached us, always
acting with a lot of hypocrisy and nothing has changed,” Josefina Gonzalez
testified. “I don’t believe anything is going to change if the court
doesn’t help us in the name of all the women of Mexico.”
For its defense, the Mexican government flew in a team from the Foreign
Relations Ministry and the PGJE, including Chihuahua State Attorney
General Patricia Gonzalez. Chihuahua’s top law enforcement official said
she was satisfied to represent the Mexican state and its “tireless work of
changing the logic of gender themes and the murder of women in my
Gonzalez admitted that numerous irregularities characterized the cotton
field investigations during 2001-2004, but insisted authorities cleaned up
their act afterward, reordered the investigation and moved forward with a
statewide legal reform- a project supported by the United States Agency
for International Development. The PGJE stands ready and willing to
provide additional reparations and assistance to the mothers, Gonzalez
“There were omissions and irregularities before my service,” Gonzalez,
said, “not only in these cases but other ones too that have since been
resolved and the mothers left totally satisfied.”
Gonzalez’s comments were reminiscent of statements made by previous PGJE
personnel, including former Ciudad Juarez special prosecutor Suly Ponce
(1998-2001), who frequently accused predecessors for widespread disarray
in the femicide investigations only to be later blamed themselves by
Rodrigo Caballero, a special homicide investigator for the PGJE told the
Santiago courtroom that Chihuahua legal authorities know of two men
involved in the women’s murders.
Currently, the state’s prime suspect is Edgar Alvarez Cruz, who was
fingered by an old friend, Jose Francisco Granados de la Paz. The two
young men came to public light in 2006 when Tony Garza, then the US
ambassador in Mexico, made a sensational announcement that US authorities
were cooperating with Mexican officials in what could be a major break in
the cotton field case.
A former Ciudad Juarez resident who had been living in Denver, Colorado,
Cruz was deported to Mexico to face charges based on a “confession” made
by Granados to the Texas Rangers.
Alvarez has since been convicted of the murder of another cotton field
victim, Mayra Juliana Reyes Solis, whose slaying is not part of the
Inter-American Court case. Alvarez lost an appeal in a Mexican court last
month, and is serving a 26-year sentence.
Alvarez and his family vehemently deny the murder charges, pointing to
contradictions and irregularities in the state’s most recent cotton field
In past statements to Ciudad Juarez media, members of Granados' own family
questioned the credibility of their relative. Reportedly prone to abusing
drugs and alcohol, Granados was emotionally disturbed and overcome with
hallucinatory flights of fancy, according to relatives.
Abraham Hinojos, defense attorney for Alvarez, said his client’s rejected
appeal was also a loss to society since “we continue in the same (legal)
David Pena, attorney for Irma Monreal, ridiculed the Mexican state’s
defense in Chile as simulation designed to “make it appear they are doing
With oral testimony completed in Chile last week, the Inter-American Court
will review legal documents and deliberate the merits of the case. A
decision is expected later this year or early next year. Typically, the
OAS court conducts proceedings in countries not involved in a legal
complaint. Hence the trail setting of Santiago, Chile, another continent
and an entire season removed from Ciudad Juarez.
Local Fall-Out from the OAS Case
In Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua, the Inter-American Court case
reopened a huge can of worms. Purported PGJE documents leaked to El Diario
newspaper, contended the Mexican government had provided generous
compensation to the families of the three cotton field murder victims
involved in the OAS case.
In a detailed piece published on the second day of the Santiago trial, El
Diario said the mothers and other named relatives of Hererra, Ramos and
Gonzalez, received money for funeral expenses, educational grants, homes,
and businesses including a tortilla shop and small grocery store. The
state support surpassed more than one million dollars, according to El
Diario. State government assistance also consisted of providing medical
and psychological services for surviving family members, El Diario
Besides the very personal details reported in the El Diario story, the
newspaper account was unusual in that it included information that
reportedly will be used in the Inter-American Court proceedings. Mexican
officials routinely deny reporters access to sensitive legal documents
which are part of ongoing cases.
Whether the story is accurate or not, it could refuel disagreements
between different groups of victims’ mothers.
Before it was quickly yanked from El Diario’s website, the story drew
sharp comments from several readers. An individual identified as Tararecua
questioned when Guatemala (scene of thousands of femicides) and the US
would be tried internationally for murders of women, including the 11
bodies discovered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last February. Another
writer identified as Esperanza applauded the Inter-American Court’s
action, but urged the OAS legal authorities to hold Mexican officials
accountable for allowing a violent criminal gang to run amok in the Juarez
Two other documents related to the cotton field case also grabbed media
and public attention in recent days. Portions of a PGJE report submitted
to the Inter-American court were challenged by a separate report from the
Argentine Anthropological Forensic Team, a group of investigators
contracted several years ago by the PGJE under pressure from activists and
relatives of disappeared women to identify the remains of unknown female
murder victims in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City.
The PGJE report contended the majority of 447 women’s murders in Ciudad
Juarez between 1993 and December 2008 have been duly prosecuted, with more
than 60 percent of the cases solved and scores of murderers brought to
justice. The Argentine forensic experts, however, questioned several
aspects of the report. Media reports indicate the true number of female
murder victims during the time covered by the PGJE report is more than
Chilean Judge Cecilia Medina Quiroga, president of the Inter-American
Court, requested the Mexican government turn over an accounting of all the
women’s murder cases supposedly resolved in the 1993-2008 period.
Ticked off by the contradictory reports, Chihuahua state lawmaker Antonio
Sandoval proposed last week that the Chihuahua State Congress pass a
resolution demanding the PGJE provide a report on its femicide report and
explain how much money the state agency has spent publicizing the
While new battles brew over old but unresolved issues, three mothers of
Ciudad Juarez murder victims await a verdict from the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights.
“There was no justice done in Mexico, and this the last opportunity the
mothers have,” said WOLA’s Maureen Meyer.
Additional sources: Norte, May 3, 2009. Article by Nohemi Barraza and
Guadalupe Salcido. Lapolaka.com, April 29 and May 1, 2009. El Paso Times,
May 1, 2009. Article by Diana Washington Valdez. El Universal, April 25
and 30, 2009. Articles by Silvia Otero and Notimex. El Diario de Juarez,
April 25 and 29, 2009. Articles by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, Gabriela
Minjares and Alejandro Salmon. Cimacnoticias.com, April 28 and 29, 2009.
Articles by Sandra Torres Pastrana, Nancy Betan, and editorial staff.
I'm reprinting here an important story just out by Kent Paterson of Frontera NorteSur concerning the Juarez femicide. Frontera NorteSur, based at the University of New Mexico, is a great service for anyone wanting news and analysis of border-related issues. However, the only way to get their reports in a timely way is via email (information at the end about how to subscribe.) - I think they should also be posting to a blog, but they're about 7 years behind at getting stories onto their website.
March 30, 2009
Women’s/Human Rights News
Stars Cast New Light on Mexico Femicides
Internationally-known music and film celebrities are casting new public
attention on the unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez and the state
of Chihuahua. In a March 27 meeting in Mexico City, a trio of English and
Mexican celebrities conveyed their concerns for justice during a personal
conversation with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Attending the meeting were legendary English rocker Peter Gabriel, Saul
Hernandez, front man for the popular Mexican rock group Jaguares; and
acclaimed Mexican actor Diego Luna, who had a role in the recent Hollywood
biography of the assassinated US politician and pioneer gay rights
activist Harvey Milk.
Also in attendance at the unusual encounter were Tamaryn Nelson, director
of the Latin American and Caribbean desk for Gabriel’s pro-human rights
organization Witness, and Patricia Cervantes, mother of 2003 Chihuahua
City femicide victim Neyra Azucena Cervantes.
In a press conference prior to the meeting with President Calderon,
Gabriel appealed to the Mexican government to support the justice campaign
for murdered women.
“We know that Felipe Calderon confronts many challenges in many areas of
his government,” Gabriel said. “We hope to inspire him to invest money,
muscle and interest in this campaign.”
Released after the meeting, an official statement from the Mexican White
House affirmed that President Calderon pledged that he will combat abuses
of authority, promote reparations of damages to the relatives of femicide
victims and struggle against impunity. Mexico’s president agreed to give
special attention to cases like the Cervantes murder via a joint Internet
page with Witness. Working together with local officials, federal forces
are attempting to clear up the femicides, President Calderon reportedly
told his guests.
Recognizing the work of human rights defenders, President Calderon said
that the conviction and participation of activists motivated the three
levels of the Mexican government to do a better job, according to the
statement from the presidential office.
The meeting between President Calderon and the international celebrities
came just weeks after a new fictional movie about the Ciudad Juarez
femicides, “Backyard,” premiered in major theaters in Mexico. The meeting
also took place one month before Mexico is scheduled to go on trial in the
Inter-American Court for Human Rights for alleged human rights violations
committed during the “investigations” of the slayings of three women found
murdered along with five others in a Ciudad Juarez cotton field in 2001.
As a member state of the Inter-American Court, Mexico will be bound to
follow the verdicts issued by judges.
Despite numerous high-level pronouncements by various officials from
different branches of government over the years, the murder of women
continues to be a grave problem in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of
Perhaps it will never be known with one-hundred degree certainty how many
women were murdered in Ciudad Juarez in recent years. Based on press
reports and information from prominent Ciudad Juarez women’s activist
Esther Chavez Cano, the US-based Mexico Solidarity Network reported 508
women were slain in Ciudad Juarez from 1993 to mid-December 2008.
A comprehensive list compiled by El Paso-based journalist and author Diana
Washington Valdez reported 440 women were murdered for varied reasons in
Ciudad Juarez from 1993 to 2004. If subsequent press stories are added to
Washington Valdez’s total, then at least 622 women were slain in Ciudad
Juarez between 1993 and most of March 2009.
The bloodiest year was 2008, when at least 86 women were murdered,
according to a recent blog posting by Washington Valdez. In addition to
domestic and sex-related violence as being leading causes of women’s
murders, narco-violence is now a major reason for the high rate of women’s
homicides. Ciudad Juarez press accounts signaled that the majority of last
year’s female murder victims, 55, were killed because of the gangland war
that raged in Ciudad Juarez.
Some officials downplay the violence, contending Ciudad Juarez is getting
a bad rap in the media. Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, for
example, was recently quoted in a maquiladora industry trade publication
as saying his city now had a distorted image it could not shake because of
negative publicity over the femicides.
“Something that was not precisely real and significant was left to grow
like a snowball,” Mayor Reyes Ferriz said.
A recent report from the latest incarnation of the Mexican Chamber of
Deputies’ femicide commission revealed that at least 2,232 women were
killed in all of Mexico during 2006-07, mostly due to domestic violence.
While the country’s main population center of Mexico City and the
adjoining state of Mexico accounted for the majority of women’s homicides
(543), the much more sparsely-populated state of Chihuahua, which includes
Ciudad Juarez, registered 84 slayings in the time period covered by the
study. The official report concluded that gender violence is keeping women
in a subordinate position in Mexican society.
“Violence against women, for the sole fact of being women, puts them in a
relationship of inequality, oppression, exclusion, subordination,
discrimination, and marginality,” the report stated.
Other Mexican states where women’s murders reached alarming levels during
2006-07 included Michoacan (202), Guerrero (129) and Baja California
(105), suggesting that where narco-violence was at an extreme so were
crimes against women.
The Chamber of Deputies’ report also noted a national pattern of
governmental indifference and denial of justice for the family members of
In Ciudad Juarez, meanwhile, disappearances of young women who fit the
profile of earlier femicide victims also continue unimpeded. In one of the
most recent cases, a young mother, 22-year-old Marisela Avila Hernandez,
vanished March 18 after going to a Bancomer bank branch where she had an
account to process an unemployment claim. The bank is located near the San
Lorenzo Curve, a section of the city where crimes against both women and
men have been frequent. On March 27, friends and relatives of a young
woman reported missing six months ago, 17-year-old Rubi Marisol Frayre
Escobedo, joined Chihuahua state law enforcement authorities in a search
for traces of their loved one.
Speaking to the Mexican press late last year, feminist activist and Casa
Amiga co-founder Esther Chavez assessed the situation for women in Ciudad
Juarez 15 years after Chavez helped alert the public to the rising tide of
femicides. For Chavez, generalized impunity and rampant police corruption
resulted in the creation of a monster that eventually reared its head
against the entire society. “Now we can’t control it,” Chavez said.
Nonetheless, activists like Esther Chavez, Patricia Cervantes, Peter
Gabriel and others keep up the fight to corral and vanquish the loose
Sources: El Diario de Juarez, March 28, 2009. Article by Luz del Carmen
Sosa. Presidencia.gob.mx, March 27, 2009. Press release. Lapolaka.com,
March 27, 2009. Norte, March 21 and 24, 2009. Articles by Arturo Chacon
and Pablo Hernandez Batista. La Jornada/Notimex, March 14 and 27, 2009.
Cimacnoticias.com, March 4, 2009. Article by Sandra Torres Pastrana.
Juarez-El Paso Now, March 2009. Dianawashingtonvaldez.blogspot.com,
January 26, 2009. El Universal/EFE, December 6, 2008. Cosecha de Mujeres,
Diana Washington Valdez (Oceana 2005).
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
For a free electronic subscription email
Via Mexico Solidarity Network: Ciudad Juarez registered 81 femicides so far in 2008, more than doubling the worst years of 1996 and 2001 in which the city recorded 37 women murdered. El Diario de Juarez provided the following accounting of femicides since 1993, when Esther Chavez Cano, a local human rights activist, first called attention to problem:
Year Femicides 1993 19 1994 19 1995 36 1996 37 1997 32 1998 36 1999 18 2000 32 2001 37 2002 36 2003 28 2004 19 2005 33 2006 20 2007 25 2008 81
Of the 81 cases so far this year, 55 deaths resulted from organized crime, while the Special Investigator for Deaths of Women (FEIHM) is handling the other 26 cases. Sixteen of these 26 cases remain under investigation while the other ten cases have been declared resolved. Two twelve-year-old girls are among the victims.
In other news, I am in the middle of reading Roberto Bolaño's magnum opus, his posthumously published last novel, "2666", which is largely a fictionalized account of the Juarez femicides (he sets them in a fictional city in the Mexican state of Sonora, "Santa Teresa", but it's an obvious stand-in for Ciudad Juarez). I'm reading part 4 of 5 of the almost 900-page book, and this part is basically a series of cold, almost police-report-style accounts of one murder after another, clinical descriptions of bodies found and what the police or neighbors know or find out. Hundreds of pages of that, with just a few side digressions into subplots involving Santa Teresa cops or a sheriff from Arizona. It's pretty grim. I keep thinking that if I hadn't already made a film about the murders, this book would have spurred me into doing so by now. The big criticism I have of the book and its treatment of the murders is that Bolaño heavily, though not completely, de-emphasises the corrupt role of the police in the crimes, and does not touch upon the larger societal forces that contribute to the killings, which is the main focus of my film. Still, it's formally an incredible book, with the first 3 parts before this "Part About The Crimes" covering a Pynchonesque panorama of odd characters and happenings, including a small gang of euroacademics obsessed with a reclusive German novelist, a frustrated Harlem political reporter sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match, and a slightly crazy Chilean philosophy professor who moves from Barcelona to Santa Teresa with his daughter, and decides to hang a mysterious geometry book out on his laundry line. Bolano is easily the most interesting and adept fiction writer to come out of Latin America in a generation, at least, in my opinion.
The brutal murder of young women and girls continues in Juarez. Here is a message from there about the last month of violence:
Please help publicize the disappearance of 15 year old Adriana Sarmiento Enriquez. She is a friend of one of our Amigos. She disappeared on her way home from school on Friday, January 18th. She is fifteen, 55 kilos, 155 cm, has hazel eyes and long brown hair. She was last seen by her friend when they departed from a bus stop on their way home from eating after school. Adriana disappeared sometime on her walk from the bus stop to her home.
Her mother, Tina Enriquez can be contacted in Juarez at 0115265666327463. She has a daughter, Veronica, who lives in El Paso and can be contacted at 915-564-5206.
Most recent murders
The level of violence in Juarez has escalated Since January 1, 2008, there have been 29 murders in Cuidad Juarez. Three of these were women. The latest murders are:
Jan. 18th, Maria Guadalupe Esparza Zavala died of stab wound to the heart. Her 12 year old daughter told police she and her stepfather had been arguing.
Jan. 20th, Mirna Yeremia Munoz Ledo Marin was found nude inside her house, stabbed several times.
Jan. 21st, Ericka Sonora Trejo, 38 and 8 months pregnant was found in the bathroom of her house. Police said her father-in-law allegedly bludgeoned her with an axe.
United Nations and EU meetings
Some members of Amigos [de Mujeres de Juarez] will accompany members of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas and Centro de Derechos Humanos de Mujeres de Chihuahua to Mexico City and meet with delegations from the UN and EU. Both groups have been involved in a bringing the continued injustices to the attention of these international bodies.
The podcast of my documentary about the Juarez femicide continues, with the 3rd installment posted yesterday. I'm getting quite a few hits on it, and a link from Narco News, and other good reaction, which is great to see. The podcast is really turning out to be a great way to encourage a "long tail" to a project, in addition to a "leading edge buzz" for a project in-progress.
My film "On The Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez", will become available, in sections, online over the next several weeks. I'm starting a podcast, so that every Monday, beginning this week, another of the 10 different sections of the film will be posted for anyone to watch and download.
The first section of the film, the 7-minute introduction, is available now, at http://panleft.net/cms/ote-podcast1
The podcast page is here: http://panleft.net/cms/taxonomy/term/186
And to subscribe to the podcast with iTunes or another podcast-viewing application, use this address: http://panleft.net/cms/taxonomy/term/186/0/feed
you can also watch it in-browser right here:
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
As if life in Ciudad Juarez weren't hard enough, things are heating up even more in Lomas del Poleo, the little colonia on the western outskirts of the city where government and corporate forces want to build a new highway and border port, thus obliterating the neighborhood of lower-income people. This struggle has been going on for a few years now but apparently it is heating up, with the Zaragosa family hiring armed thugs to even stop people from organizing. There are more details on this spanish-language blog, and an english translation of a press release about the Lomas del Poleo "Breaking the Siege" Forum.
The El Paso Times reports that the mothers of Juarez femicide victims are unhappy with the quality and/or fate of 2 recent Hollywood depictions of their situation, J-lo's "Bordertown" and Minnie Driver's "Virgin of Juarez". The latter went straight to DVD and the release date of the former still keeps getting pushed back again and again. Will anyone outside of booing Berlin audiences ever see it, I wonder? Will I ever even get the chance to hand out flyers at a theater that say "You've seen the inept and cheesy hollywood version, now read the facts..."?
The movie flop is the latest setback for the mothers-turned-activists and their Mexican and international supporters, whose global campaign to find justice in the face of endemic impunity is becoming a losing cause.
I'm not sure how long it's been there, but the entry for my film about the Juarez femicides is finally on the Internet Movie Data Base. I submitted it over a year ago, in March 2006, and for months afterward I repeatedly went back to check if it had been approved and posted, wrestling with the extremely irritating and difficult IMDB bureaucracy. There seemed to be some mysterious reason why they wouldn't post it and nobody to ask what that reason was. Eventually I gave up. Now suddenly I stumbled across the entry while searching for other Juarez information.
They also cite a review I had not seen before. In related news, the cheesy J-Lo movie about the femicide, "Bordertown," is supposedly being released into limited theaters at the end of this month. I have planned for a while to make flyers for people to pass out at screenings, explaining the real facts so people can learn that this isn't quite how the hollywood version portrays it. With my luck, the film won't even show here in Tucson.
What looks like a really great conference on Femicide is happening at Stanford May 16-19. I wish I'd known about it sooner. All the big names in the 'movement', both activist and academic, look like they'll be there. There's even a new doc about the femicide in Guatemala that will have its US premiere there.
I'm going to San Diego to show my film again twice, once at SDSU April 24 and then the 25th at San Diego City College.
Buzz is starting to pick up again about "Bordertown", the Hollywood thriller directed by Gregory Nava and starring Jennifer Lopez that is based on the real-life femicides in Ciudad Juárez. Stories are coming out about death threats and stolen eqiupment during shoots (but production was 2 years ago for this film, why is this news only being told now... hmm, oh wait, maybe because the premiere was last week?)
Last week the film had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Amnesty International gave Lopez an "Artists for Amnesty" award at the festival, but according to some reports, the premiere was met with boos and laughter at how bad and disrespectful the film is.
A user comment on IMDB says
If you regard this as a drama - zero points for bad script, bad actors (except Banderas, who's just great as always), bad directing, bad music, bad...etc.
But if you regard this as a comedy - 10 points. The whole cinema was laughing. This movie contains a very subtle humor. Especially in its dialogs. The whole script seems as if it was written in 10 minutes - as a product of boredom.
Nevertheless the film is creating further press attention about the situation, with Lopez getting interviewed and saying how important it is to tell the story.
But they still have no distribution deal, and Nava says it might not even be till after this summer, and that "Hollywood is just not interested in movies about social drama and social situations... They are more interested in making movies about super heroes -- escapist entertainment. And so we had to do this independently and it's going to be distributed independently." But if this is the case, why are films like "The Constant Gardener," "Blood Diamond," and "Children of Men" coming out on the big screen, and in high profile? Maybe because they're just better films that treat their subjects with more respect?
Another IMDB commenter makes the interesting (and debatable?) assertion that
Obviously the movie was so important to Nava he failed in the end. A good journalist should never be too involved with the topic he is working on. A good filmmaker neither, it seems. Still: If this movies actually helps changing things in Juarez, if it makes same movie-goers research a bit more - thumbs up to 'Bordertown'. I personally would recommend reading about the killings though.
Meanwhile J-Lo's first all-Spanish language music album is about to be released.
A very extensive review of my film appeared the other day in the webzine Pop Matters. I like reviews like this in which the author actually has obviously researched the topic of the Juarez femicides beyond just watching the film and reading the promo material. Cynthia Fuchs even cites some website sources that I hadn't even seen. Of course it's not a super glowing review of the film itself, but that's pretty much beside the point. It's getting people to write about the issue, and that (not pop) is what matters.
In this article in the Pasadena Weekly, the author discusses the situation in Juárez and its tip-of-the-iceberg status in the global problem of violence against women. She is the director of a new documentary as well, Beauty Bites Beast, which focuses on efforts to make self-defense skills accessible to women in Juarez and elsewhere and how important that is.
Violence against women, a pandemic as maiming and fatal as any deadly microbe, is not unique to Mexico. It's global. Ironically, Juárez may ultimately be useful by shining a spotlight on the ubiquity of violence perpetrated against women. It often takes a particularly blatant example of deadly misogyny to focus attention on more banal crimes perpetrated daily against women and girls worldwide
Yes yes yes.
The 57th Berlin Film Festival will include the world premiere of Gregory Nava's "Bordertown", the J-Lo film (also starring Martin Sheen and Antonio Banderas) about the Juarez murders that we've all been waiting to see if it will ever get a distribution deal. Rumors on the IMDB discussion board say that it has a distributor and release date is january 31, but don't say who or give any references to prove it. However I would think if it's showing in festivals it won't be out for another few months at least.
Hey, this worked out pretty well, an interview I did with Andrew McKibbin of The Red Alert about my film about the Juarez femicide, On The Edge. I especially like the snappy concluding remark I managed to make. oh and this was an actual phone interview, not one of those wimpy email interviews.
On the YouTube page for the trailer to my Juarez film, someone named NissanSkylineFreak left the following comment:
i have a samurai sword a black trench coat and i'm a black belt in tai quando[sic]..i swear to god that i'll handle those basterds[sic] for killing women and destroying peoples families
Ok. Good luck with that, dude...
Here it is. So, if you have a video-capable phone or iPod, you can throw this on there and show people wherever you go. yeah. yay.
The reviewer obviously was very effected by watching it, which is really gratifying to see.
In addition to putting together a presentation about an important problem that simply isn’t getting enough attention, Hise has produced a moving body of work. His camera becomes our eyes, and he triggers the questions we have as we learn more about the murders and the conditions that exist in Ciudad Juarez.
I certainly got more than I’d intended when I asked to review this DVD. It’s something that’s going to stay with me for a long time, and probably something I’m going to write about again.
This review in the LA Weekly mentions a possibly interesting play with the Juarez femicide as a backdrop:
IPHIGENIA CRASH LAND FALLS ON THE NEON SHELL THAT WAS ONCE HER HEART (A RAVE FABLE) Loosely based on Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, Caridad Svich’s ambitious play with music is set near the killing fields of Ciudad Juarez. Facing a tough election, General Adolfo (Richard Azurdia) plots the murder of his daughter, Iphigenia (Sharyn Gabriel), to secure the sympathy vote. She escapes, soon meeting up with the Fresca Girls (Alexander Wells, Jonathan C.K. Williams and Azurdia), three ghostly maquiladora workers who lead her to a rave where she encounters Achilles (Doug Barry), a drug-addled pop star. (All of this is set against the background of the unsolved murders of young female factory employees in Ciudad Juarez.) Matthew McCray’s stylish direction more than compensates for the occasionally awkward juxtaposition of rave aesthetics, social commentary and Euripides.
here are my photos from the Border Social Forum, which was 2 weekends ago, October 13-15.
I'm finally getting around to writing about this. I wish I had time to write in more detail about it but i will say that the forum's official existence was largely a waste, and very frustrating, in my opinion, but it was great as an opportunity to meet people and build connections. For that it was worth being there. The organising of the forum was inept at best. They also, in my opinion totally dissed me and indirectly anyone who does work around femicide, regarding the showing of my film, such that the Juarez premiere of the only film about the Juarez femicides to be shown at the Forum ended up being shown in a small classroom with a tiny portable speaker system rather than in a real theater or lecture hall with proper equipment and space.
I was happy to show it there anyway, especially because some mothers of victims were able to be there and see the film. But it really should have been given more priority - or they should have at least properly screened some other, better film about the subject. It's not like I'm just saying this because it's my film. It's a matter of prinicple.
Today is the day that j-lo's film "Bordertown," based on the real murdered women of Juarez situation, was supposed to be released, according to information from this summer that MGM and the production company put out. But it's obviously not in theaters. I did some research and found out some important information.
I just sent this information to the mailing list i have for informing people with news about that film and my film.
An interesting review in the Austin Chronicle of my film:
Just across the border from El Paso, Juárez holds countless secrets. A major center of drug trafficking and the scene of hundreds of unsolved femicides in the past 13 years, the industrial hub of northern Mexico is a nest of corruption. Producer/director Steev Hise takes an international perspective on this localized tragedy with his low-budget documentary. Through a rough-and-tumble filmmaking technique, Hise overmanipulates his footage, using color saturations and unrelated archival material to punctuate some of his points. But despite having a filmmaker at the helm who was a little too trigger-happy with his aftereffects, the movie tells a heart-wrenching story that remains ignored in any significant international capacity. Since 1993, more than 400 women have been murdered. The victims are predominantly young women (ages 15 to 25), students, and employees at maquiladoras (assembly plants that manufacture finished goods for export to the United States, i.e., cheap, outsourced labor). In most cases, there were signs of sexual violence, abuse, torture, and in some instances, mutilation. Wading through the social, political, and economic effects of these crimes, Hise asserts his position: Using the femicides as the lens, the film contemplates international issues of malfeasance, free trade, drug trafficking, and poverty. Clearly operating with limited resources from a grassroots perspective, Hise interviews mothers, activists, scholars, and writers to paint the portrait of a city in a state of severe crisis. Footage of and interviews with mourning mothers thrust into the role of activists is both agonizing and compelling. However, Hise's breadth is so far-reaching that it's difficult to maintain a through line. I started to tune out when the film began to make its case for the legalization of marijuana. But multiple agendas aside, the subject matter is devastatingly honest. Indeed, the film attempts to make everyone more aware of a harsh reality, and for that we should all take notice.
This is the nice review of On The Edge that will appear in the forthcoming issue of Resonance magazine:
ON THE EDGE: THE FEMICIDE IN CIUDAD JUAREZ (ILLEGAL ART / DIR: STEEV HISE)
It sounds more like a folk legend than a news story. In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, more than 400 women have been murdered since 1993, with each case shrugged off by authorities more interested in narco graft than justice. This isn’t the work of one crazed suspect, but rather a community diseased by violent drug trafficking, pervasive poverty and a general culture of misogynistic indifference in which taking a female life isn’t anything to sweat over. Often resembling an impoverished 60 Minutes episode, On the Edge is less documentary than screed, exposing the long-range effects of American drug appetites at the expense of crafting a pretty picture. Cinematic weaknesses aside, it’s a haunting story that might make viewers reconsider that next line of coke. FRED BELDIN
Stop Smiling Magazine recently published a review of my film. It's nice, except that it's the first review to complain about the soundtrack. Perhaps the most edgy thing about the film, the soundtrack is quite 'experimental' to some people's ears, so i'm not surprised that it would irritate a few. oh well.
It turns out that my film will have its Juarez premiere screening at the Border Social Forum, this Saturday at 11:15 AM. It will be at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, Building K, Audiovisual room. A complete schedule of the Forum is not even posted yet on the forum's site, which isn't even a real website but just a blogspot blog. And it's less than a week away. I only found out because someone posted the schedule to Houston Indymedia.
It's been extrememly frustrating dealing with the "organizers" of this Forum. They have not been very communicative at all. I was all ready to buy a little projector and go anyway even if my film wasn't being shown, and do some guerilla screenings around the campus. But I'm happy that it will have an official place in the forum. It really only makes sense. I wonder if any of the other filmmakers who have done recent films on the subject, like the 3 I met in Las Cruces in April, will be there?
Anyway, if you're going to the forum, I hope you make it to the film and say hi.
I'm appearing at a screening of my film on the U of A campus tonite. Three of the interviewees will be there too. Should be cool.
I also recently got confirmation that it will have its Juarez premiere soon, at the Border Social Forum, October 13-15. This is exciting.
I'll also be showing it at Arizona State in a couple of weeks. There are various other potential dates too. keep watching the film's site for news.
In personal news, things are starting to get a little better, gradually. Whew.
What a perfunctory blog post. sorry. too busy today. gotta get out of the house. now.
Sorry for that silly reference to the Wall of Voodoo song. I just had to do it, because I was just interviewed for a college radio station in Mexico City, talking about my Juarez film. It went really well. She spoke excellent english, luckily. I really wish I had been keeping in practice with my spanish for the past year. Anyway, the station is Ibero 90.9 (because the school is the Iberoamerican Unversity, I think). I'll try to link to their stream soon. They also want to try to bring me down there to show the film and talk about it. Exciting.
Reviews are starting to slowly trickle in after the release last month of the DVD. This one from a Salt Lake City magazine is mixed.
They seem to like the content but not the form, which is something I'm very used to hearing by now.
Full of face-to-face interviews and statistical analysis, On the Edge offers much as far as explanations, but little in terms of feeling. It presents numerous first person accounts, but you never get an inside look at the problem. There is an element of theatrics within filmmaking that must be administered in order to capture attention and then hold on to it, and while the makers of On the Edge should be commended for their efforts, their film comes up just short of quality.
Excellent story on Thomas Paine.com about the media, child murder/rape, and racism. It's mainly about the new attention given to the JonBenet Ramsy case while simultaneously the story of U.S. soldiers raping a young Iraqi girl is getting almost no coverage. The author mentions the Juarez murders as well.
I had the same thought over and over last summer as I worked on my film about those poor Mexican girls disappearing and dying and meanwhile had to sit through the inordinate amount of media about the young pretty blonde Utah girl who went missing in Aruba. It made me furious.
An actual review of my film that doesn't just cut and paste my copy, in the Canadian music ezine "Exclaim." They obviously actually watched the film. Cool.
Via Amigos de Las Mujeres de Juarez:
Sadly, another woman’s body was found today in Juarez.
From Ester Chavez Cano of Casa Amiga [domestic violence shelter in Juarez]:
A young women’s body was found. She was the 27 year old mother of 3 children. Her body was found thrown in a pool of water in a colonia of the city, wearing a black brassier and pants. The authorities do not know the name of the victim nor her cause of death.
You may have seen the news – The Mexican federal government returned all the cases back to the state after the release of their final report. DEMAND a binational INVESTIGATION.
Visit our website http://amigosdemujeres.org to read news reports on the Mexican government’s dereliction of duty. Also see It’s not a myth the response to a concerted media campaign by the elites of Juárez to portray the victims as the criminals.
Amigos de las Mujeres de Juárez is asking those of you who live in border states to contact your state representatives and governor and ask that a binational INVESTIGATIVE body be constituted to begin an investigation that was never done by the Mexican government on the femicide cases. We hope to have this presented at the Border Governors meeting August 23rd to 25th.
Yes, I'm done with my tour and I'm back in Tucson and things are going well for me, but things are worse than ever in Juarez. Remember.
Well, the screening tour is over and I am about to head to the airport and catch my plane back "home" to Tucson. In this case "home" just means the place where most of my belongings are stored - I don't know what the future holds. I need to couch surf a little and find a new place. Annoying, but, oh well. And I need to figure out so many other things, too. sigh.
Anyway, the last 2 screenings, on Friday and Saturday, were both interesting in their own way. One was in Tijuana for a group of sex workers who organized to resist police abuse, called the Mary Magdalenes. Most of these women are peasants from the south of Mexico who were recruited by pimps and brought up to TJ. They weren't mislead or told they were getting maquila jobs, they new they were coming to El Norte to be prostitutes. Wow. Anyway they seemed sort of shy and still processing the film afterward so there weren't a lot of questions, but the leaders were appreciative. I also got to meet Victor Clark, from the Comite Binacional Derechos Humanos. He's a major major figure in human rights work in Tijuana and he is who set up the show for the Mary Magdalenes. He has a bodyguard, who went to the screening with us, gun tucked under his shirt at his waist, scanning the surroundings constantly as we walked down the street.
Saturday evening was a pretty different event. I rented a car and drove 2 hours to El Centro, a small town about 10 miles from the border, north of Calexico/Mexicali. A group called MANA arranged the screening. They are a local chapter of a national organization that is sort of professional/career group for white-collar latina women. Or that's what I understand it to be. Anyway, they were really good people and judging by the record number of signatures on the mailing list signup sheet that I always have out, people were really enthused. I also signed my autograph on like 4 copies of the DVD, and sold about 8 copies, all the rest that I had on me. Interestingly, all these purchases were made with checks except for one in cash from a high-school girl. At all other screenings combined only 1 other purchase was by check.
Anyway. Just got back from the beach, my first San Diego beach experience. was fun. now off to airport. back to tucson. I hear it's been raining A LOT there. 7 inches in the last 7 days. crazy. wetter than Portland lately! Hello global warming! Hello chaos!
I just want to travel all the time and life to be one constant adventure. But I also want to just sit still and lie in someone's arms for a long long time. suspira.
Things have been going really well here in San Diego. I've had 2 screenings, one here on Wednesday and one last night in Tijuana. Both were great, both attended by about 80 people, which is the record for this tour (interestingly, the only screening I've done so far with bigger attendance is the one in Albuquerque at The Guild. 105 people. My theory is that this is because that's the one screening I've had in a "real" theater, in other words, a place where the general public is conditioned to expect to go to watch movies. A church, an infoshop, a dance theater, lots of people just don't go to those places to see a film, or to those places at all).
Not only that but both these screenings included the involvement of local groups. The San Diego one even had donated food and beverages for the audience. The Tijuana screening had 2 mothers of girls who'd been killed or almost killed in Tijuana and had been experiencing similar problems that the mothers of victims in Juarez have been facing.
So this is a shout-out to San Diego Indymedia Center. Especially to Yolanda, Miguel, Jonathan, Jenny, and Mark. They have all really been super enthusiastic and dedicated to making these events happen and they did such a great job, promoting and organizing. It's just incredible and touching to me, to see that something I've made inspires people enough to put real work into getting other people to see it. So, thank you, everyone. And thanx too to Lotus and Kat and Matthew and everyone else at the 2-house compound where I've been staying. Your hospitality is much appreciated.
By the way, last night's screening was the Mexican premiere. It was really nice to see that a Mexican audience really got something out of the film, and it was fascinating during the question and answer period to hear pretty much a completely different set of questions and comments than what I get from gringo audiences. There was much more of a sense of personal responsibility for the cultural and social factors. There were people who talked about how important it was for parents to protect their daughters and educate them about dangers, and a few men that mentioned gender roles and family and how men needed to work on improving how they treat their wives, their daughters, other women. It was amazing.
One young hombre who looked like an art student or something asked how I felt about art and media being able to change things. I replied that of course since I was doing it I believed there was some possiblitiy for a positive effect from it, but the important thing to remember is not to make art in a vacuum but to communicate and collaborate with grassroots people who work on and are effected by the issues that you're addressing, and make sure you're actually serving their interests and telling their stories accurately and compassionately.
Toward the end someone said, I wish there was a film by a mexican about this. I told them there are at least 2, "Batalla de Las Cruces" and "Preguntas Sin Respuestas," both done in the last year by Mexican directors. I think for Mexican audiences either of those films would be better than mine, but both of them appear to be in pretty limited availability.
The evening really re-energized me, I think. It was great to show it. I want to show it in Juarez soon, though I'm a little nervous about safety concerns. I wonder how scared I should be.
Tonite, I screen the film again in Tijuana, in a private event for a sort of union of prostitutes; a bunch of sex workers who got together to organize. they're called the Mary Magdalenes, because there are theories that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. That's pretty cool, and it should be very interesting.
Then tommorrow I go to El Centro, a little town about 90 minutes from San Diego, to show the film there to a Latina women's group called MANA.
I still need to get to the beach one of these days.
After 5 days in San Francisco I have now zipped down to the City of Angels on a plane and am ensconced in the Los Feliz home of friends José and Ana. It was an extremely short flight without incident. The Burbank airport is extremely small and convenient to here.
San Francisco was great, for the most part. The two screenings went really well. One was attended by less than I expected, and one by more, so things evened out, I guess. The first one had some music beforehand by 2 of the musicians who did the soundtrack. So it was interesting because some fans of theirs came, and then there were people who came just to see the film, and I'm happy to kind of mix up those 2 demographics and jostle some expectations. Sadly most progressive activist types are culturally regressive, in my experience, so the music was a little "challenging" to some people. oh well.
It was really nice being back in SF. I got to spend one great afternoon at the beach with a friend. Put my DVD on consignment at 3 different places. Saw several people again that I like to spend time with. Sadly one person that I most wanted to see refused to see me, and that made me sad. She's my ex who has continued being my good friend for 4 years since we broke up, but now it looks like we won't be friends anymore and that sucks. I only got a couple hours of sleep last night because I was upset about that and talking to other friends about it all night. Tough times.
Well, now to explore the neighborhood. I want to see if I can impress myself with L.A. this time. I lived here for a year, 10 years ago, and didn't like it, but I think I just didnt go to the right parts, maybe.
After a 24-hour train ride that was only supposed to be 18, I finally reached Oakland a couple hours ago and then took the BART into San Francisco. Noticed for the first time that in the tunnels all down Market Street stops, there's perfect cell reception, but as soon as the train heads into the Mission the signal disappears. Talk about digital divide.
Anyway, I'm sitting in a cafe feeling slightly grotty after the trip and waiting for my friend Wobbly to meet me here and bring me to his place where I'm crashing. He's one of the musicians who did the soundtrack for my film about the murdered women of Juarez - the reason I'm in town. At the screening tommorrow night (sunday) at ATA at 8pm, he and Thomas Dimuzio will be playing a live set before we show the film. Then monday night there's another screening at Station 40 ( 3030B 16th Street, (across from Mission bart plaza) )
I'm so very happy to be in San Francisco. It's such a pleasure, in a way, to travel to places you once lived, places that you're very familiar with. There's no stress after getting off the train or bus about how to get somewhere. It's just a great feeling of familiarity and comfort and homecoming. And yet it still has the thrill of travelling, though not quite as intense as some brand new foreign city.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the 2 screenings here and if you're in the bay area you should definitely come to one or both.
A blog called Fishbowl NY mentions the Juarez situation in the process of commenting on the NPR program "On The Media" (which I've listened to before and I always thought they were saying "Omnimedia;" Hah!). The blog and the program's latest episode (July 7, which has 2 segments about the issue) talks about how journalists can actually help make things better in the process of being journalists:
Or how the journalistic objectivity we Americans profess to hold so dear might not always be what best serves humanity. Sometimes, if something's wrong, you can try to fix it, and maybe even still be a good journalist. To wit:
"A border town sustained by multinational factories that draw workers from across the country, Juarez has seen the kidnappings, rapes and murders of some 400 girls and women since 1993. Many locals say if the Juarez mystery is ever solved, it will be because reporters have stretched the boundaries of their jobs. Local coverage has attracted international attention and the murders are slowly becoming a worldwide human rights issue."
Last night was the Portland date on my film tour. I'd say it was a success, for some definition of success. There was a much better turnout than I'd feared, 50-60 people, the donations were generous, and the Q&A was very good, with really intelligent and dedicated comments and questions, some of which were fairly challenging. Most of those were of the type "Why didn't you cover ______ or cover it more?" I think I managed to answer everything without sounding defensive.
On the subject of intelligent questions, this is a sign of people already familiar with and dedicated to the topic. I think I'd prefer, actually, to have audiences full of people who were totally or mostly unaware. Comparing notes with fellow activists is one thing, but activating brand new people is the most important. However, I'm not sure how to get that sort of audience.
Anyway, last night was a good start to the tour. 5 more days in Portland just hanging out and connecting with friends, and then I take the train south to San Francisco...
Tonight is the first screening in my west coast tour of my film about the murdered women of Juarez. I'm a little nervous about what the attendance will be like, because Portland Indymedia folks that set up the show have done next to zero promotion for it. I actually felt the need to staple up a couple hundred posters myself yesterday. Ya know you haven't really hit the big time when you're postering for your own shows the day before an out of town event. (What if all tours were like that, and all bands and artists had to hit town a couple days in advance to flyer their own shows?) Of course this isn't about "hitting the big time," this is about getting as many people as possible to learn about this issue. Never forget that, Steev.
In other news, the opposite effect seems to be happening in San Diego. Colleagues there are promoting the screening there and some have set up all this stuff in Tijuana for me - radio appearance, 2 or maybe even 3 screenings.... it's incredible. That will be the Mexican premiere, and i'm a little nervous about that. I've always been nervous about how a Mexican audience will perceive it, ever since the fateful night I showed the rough cut to some people from Chiapas Indymedia and Chiapas Media Project in San Cristobal. That night changed the course of the film, made me go and make it something I know I won't be embarrassed to show to Mexicans, but I still feel like it might meet with some unique criticism from Mexicans that I'm still ill-equipped to deal with.
Off the topic of the film, last night I sat in for a while on a jam session with some friends. they're in sort of a party band called the Golden Greats, and they were asked to play at a party tonite, but their horn players are out of town. so they decided to do a more "experimental," improvisational incarnation of the group, and they asked me to do some laptop stuff with them.
It didn't work out for me. I keep forgetting that the definition of "experimental" for lots of people is pretty different than the one I'm used to, the one that comes out of the academic and art world tradition. For a lot of people who haven't made a life of making experimental art, experimental just means maybe a little less planned, with maybe a little stranger instrumentation. Let's throw in a circuit bent casio keyboard! yay! let's band on some miced metal! But let's still play standard, 4/4 time in a standard tonal key signature and let's never sway from a groove and for god sakes let's not annoy anyone at the party, keep that beat going.
At least the experience didn't turn me off to the idea that I've been thinking of lately: forming a band. I just want to form a band on my own terms with plenty of communication about what the goal is. It might not even be "experimental," but it will be something very concious and aware. (once again I'm reminded of how much bands are like relationships. )
Anyway I ended up bowing out and going with some other friends to see a band downtown called Gin Gang. They're a sort of gypsy eastern-europe folk-rock-goth band. I couldn't understand most of the words, sadly, cuz of the acoustics, but the guy that leads the band had an awesome alto croon. One of the songs for some reason was partly understandable, the chorus came through loud and clear and I could hear him sing over and over: "I know you're not in love but listen to me...."
If my blogging software permitted, this post would be marked not only in the personal category but in every other category that I've defined, and more. That's because this entry is about how many different things I'm involved with and how that's a problem.
But before I get too far into that I will link to a post i just published on another blog that I seldom use, on the delete the border site, relating recent news about arizona border crossing deaths and stuff.
Now I move on into saying this: I'm doing too much and I need to figure out how to jettision some stuff if i intend to feel better about myself and stay sane, because very little of it is getting done in a quality way. Here's the list, or everything i can think of now:
The most important things are 2, 7, 11, and 12. A few other things are impossible to get rid of right now. The rest I need to just tell people "sorry, I can't be there." Sigh.
The nice thing, though is that, as usual, just making a list of everything makes it seem like a lot less of a problem. so, yay....
An excellent article details the rise of sexual murders in Guatemala and discusses the simliarity to the Juarez situation, though the numbers are much worse. One interesting thing to note:
In May, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights brought Batzibal to New York to testify before a committee at the United Nations, which was evaluating Guatemala's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW.
Widely seen as an international women's bill of rights, CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the U.N. and ratified by Guatemala in 1982.
i was just interviewed about Juárez films for tommorrow's issue of:
It's interesting how there's now this whole little sub-topic of "more and more films about the Juarez situation", separate from "the Juarez situation," itself. I guess this is good because it means journalists on the Entertainment beat can and must write about the Femicide.
Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love how spanish-language newspapers and magazines use the word "Espectaculos" for Entertainment. Literally, "spectacles," right? underlining the fact that these things are things for us to view, not participate in, not even to neccesarily enjoy, as the english "entertainment" would tend to imply more of, but just to be held in rapt awe by the flickering light on Plato's cave wall. Hi there, Guy Debord... is it any wonder why you were an alcoholic?
It's always so exciting when a CD or DVD, or a zine or whatever, is done and you finally see a huge number of copies all folded and packaged and wrapped the way they're supposed to be in their final form. Wow. Now I'm excited to start sending them to everyone that I owe one to. If you've helped in any way and I don't have your address already, send it to me.
What looks like some sort of NMSU student web zine called The Merge has done a special feature covering in great detail the symposium on the women of Juáurez that I attended back in late March. The design is really nice and the articles are well written. There are descriptions of just about every panel discussion. (via Stevie)
This article was going to mention my film but according to the writer her editors cut that part out. oh well, it's still an interesting piece. i'll paste it here:
400 Dead Women: Now Hollywood Is Intrigued
By PAT H. BROESKE
Published: May 21, 2006
THE killings, nearly everyone agrees, began in 1993. The victims, all poor women, were raped, strangled and mutilated, with signs of ritual murder. Because they were a particular type — young and slender, with brown skin and long brown hair — there was speculation about a serial killer.
The crimes took place in Juárez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, and they have continued for 13 years, with no end in sight.
With a body count now estimated at some 400, the killings have been called the maquiladora murders because some of the victims worked in the city's factories, which are also known as maquiladoras.
Given that kind of sensationalism, it was inevitable that Hollywood would enter the picture, and now it has, twice. "The Virgin of Juárez," a drama with a supernatural subplot starring Minnie Driver, was made for just $1 million and is playing the festival circuit. Meanwhile "Bordertown" — an action-thriller with Jennifer Lopez budgeted at $35 million — is in post-production, though a release date has not been set. The scripts for both were read in advance by Artists for Amnesty, the Hollywood arm of Amnesty International, for suggestions about the depiction of the case facts. But based on a screening of the former and the screenplay for the latter, neither movie suggests the scope of the issue.
For the mystery of the murdered women of Juárez has evolved into more than a crime story. Words like "femicide," "machismo," "misogyny" and "impunity" have entered a much broader debate about the city and its connection to issues of race, class and gender. And, less predictably, Juárez has become the heart of an impassioned grass-roots artists' movement.
"I realized I could put something together to echo the voices of the victims," said Azul Luna, a Los Angeles photographer and digital artist who traveled to Juárez to document the scene. The founder of an artists' collective that raises awareness about the crimes and the larger issue of violence again women, she once led a caravan of artists from California to El Paso and across the river to Juárez.
In Los Angeles, Rubén Amavizca's play "The Women of Juárez" ("Las Mujeres de Juárez") has become a staple at the Frida Kahlo Theater, with performances in both English and Spanish. Several books, both fiction and nonfiction, are in the works, and there have been songs about the killings by the Mexican groups Los Tigres del Norte and Jaguares, and by Tori Amos.
The Juárez violence has also become the subject of treatises in scholarly journals and university symposiums and has galvanized human rights and women's rights activists. And American celebrities have become involved: on May 9, Jane Fonda and Eve Ensler were among those who participated in a Mexico City reading of Ms. Ensler's feminist work, "The Vagina Monologues," with proceeds benefiting a women's shelter in Juárez. Two years earlier Ms. Fonda, Sally Field, Christine Lahti and Ms. Ensler led a much-publicized march from El Paso to Juárez.
Juárez, Mexico's fourth-largest city, with a population of about 1.3 million, is a teeming industrial center dominated by hundreds of multinational assembly plants. Women drawn to Juárez from villages across Mexico provide the majority of the cheap labor, typically for about $6 a day.
As bodies continue to turn up, so have a host of theories. Satanists, organ harvesters and drug cartels have been among the suspects. (Juárez is a major drug conduit to the United States.) So have the sons of wealthy men, who, it has been said, hunt and kill women for sport. Even husbands and boyfriends have been suspected. But so far the only consensus is that a phenomenon once attributed to a single serial killer has become a wider crime wave involving multiple murderers.
"Now it's a monster," the actress Vanessa Bauche said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. "You can cut off one head, and there will appear three more. This is one of the darkest stories in Latin America."
The founder of an artists' group that works with relatives of the Juárez victims, Ms. Bauche, the star of the Mexican New Wave film "Amores Perros," is co-producer of a documentary that will include interviews with victims' relatives, some of whom have received threats. "The only way we have to protect them is to make them famous," she said.
The killings have been the subject of numerous Spanish-language television programs in both Mexico and in the United States on the Telemundo and Univision networks, as well as several lurid direct-to-video movies. On a more literate front, the acclaimed Mexican playwright Sabina Berman has recently completed the script for "Backyard," a film based on four true stories. "My screenplay is very social minded, political minded," she said. "It talks about the politics of globalization. Juárez is just one example of what can go wrong with globalization."
Ms. Berman said she applauded Hollywood's interest in Juárez, "not just the crimes, but the wave of violence against women," adding, "Of course it would be better to not trivialize and sensationalize, or sexualize, the story."
Debbie Nathan, a journalist who has written extensively about border issues and sexual politics, questioned Hollywood's tendency to simplify. "This situation is about so much more than serial killers," said Ms. Nathan, who worries that movies about the murders "could be a kind of reality porn."
The Australian director Kevin James Dobson said he shared some of that concern when making "The Virgin of Juárez."
"Did I worry about exploitation?" he said. "In a word, yes. The attacks I showed are fictionalized, but the facts spoken are true."
Mr. Dobson said he first learned about the murdered women while searching a Web site about serial killers. "I had the idea to bring Joan of Arc to Juárez," he said, referring to a victim (played in the movie by Ana Claudia Talancón) who develops stigmata and has visions, and who is befriended by a feisty female reporter.
"Bordertown" is also about a female reporter, played by Ms. Lopez, who befriends an attack victim (Maya Zapata). Gregory Nava, the film's writer and director, who previously teamed with Ms. Lopez on the 1997 film "Selena," declined requests for an interview. And the publicist for Ms. Lopez, who is also the film's executive producer, did not respond to requests for an interview with the star.
Marisela Ortiz, a former teacher of one of the Juárez victims and an advocate for victims and their relatives, said she welcomed the prospect of a Hollywood movie about the murders, "in spite of the film presenting a different premise from reality." She was referring to scenes in "Bordertown" pointing to a group of bus drivers as the culprits, a theory that has since been debunked.
The catalyst for many of the artists, filmmakers and activists involved in the Juárez mystery was a 2001 documentary titled "Señorita Extraviada" ("Missing Young Woman"). The veteran Bay Area filmmaker Lourdes Portillo spent 18 months on the project, which received a special jury prize at Sundance four years ago and was broadcast on PBS in the United States. To this day it grips a viewer's attention, from the opening narration, "The desert is full of secrets, some of them buried in the sands," to its accusations of police and governmental negligence and cover-ups.
"You are talking about a very complex problem involving a culture that diminishes the role of women in life," said Ms. Portillo, a native of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico.
A number of new documentaries from both sides of the border are in the works, including Lorena Mendez-Quiroga's "Border Echoes" ("Ecos de Una Frontera"). A freelance television reporter and the founder of the Los Angeles-based Justice for the Women of Juárez, Ms. Mendez-Quiroga made more than 30 trips to Juárez and mortgaged her house to complete the film, which looks at the crimes through the eyes and investigative work of Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter at The El Paso Times who has long been at the forefront of the Juárez story. Ms. Valdez has said she is going to be "naming names" of suspects in the film, which Ms. Mendez-Quiroga hopes to screen at the next Sundance Film Festival.
Another project in development is an HBO feature written by Josefina Lopez, a playwright and screenwriter whose credits include the screenplay for the 2001 film "Real Women Have Curves." To research her project Ms. Lopez visited a desert area near Juárez called Lomas de Poleo, where the bodies of eight young women were found. "I'm very sensitive in that sometimes I can pick up energy," she said, "like ghosts and stuff like that. And as I stood there, I could feel the souls of the women, their spirits."
Ms. Lopez went on to talk about the women who ventured to Juárez from central and southern Mexico in search of work, only to die gruesomely. "When I stood and looked where the bodies had been dumped, I kept thinking, these poor women, their spirits, they're wandering," she said, raising a question that filmmakers and other artists are now left to answer. "How are they ever going to get home?"
There are a few recent developments regarding my film about the Juárez femicide that I haven't blogged about so I thought I would do so today.
So, things are busy with the film. yay. keep checking the film's page for constant updates.
Interesting article about how the 2 hollywood cheesefest films about the Juarez situation have been competing, and the one starring Minnie Driver has apparently been forced to go straight to DVD because everyone is choosing the one starring Jennifer Lopez instead. J-Lo is a bigger draw to theaters, of course. Her film is more realistic, but I think it's extremely bad that there won't be 2 films out there in the wide public eye. Having only one will make it more likely that audiences will not realize that there's a true situation behind the film.
Apparently even the J-lo film is having trouble finding a distributor. We'll see how long it takes for it to finally come up. One person I talked to said it would be late summer or fall, after the summer blockbuster season.
Well, the screening of my film in Albuquerque went incredibly well. The owners of the theater, the Guild Cinema, were very impressed with the turnout: 102. Apparently this is highly unusual, especially for a monday night and for an activist documentary. They want to show it again in a few months. The Peace and Justice Center here in town wants to show it, too.
I sold all the copies of the DVD as well.
Afterward a bunch of us went out for drinks and I received some very good comments, including some really helpful, filmschool-style critique from another filmmaker, who in fact is in grad school for film in Ohio and was back here in abq to shoot some final pickup scenes for a student piece he's finishing up. He was especially interested because for his next project he wants to make a narrative feature film about the border that touches on the Juarez situation, the Minutemen, drug and human trafficking, etc. He said my film has made him realize he has to totally rewrite the script.
Anyway. I head back to Tucson this morning in a few hours.
Last night I set up a new Flickr group for photos relating to the murdered women in Juárez and Chihuahua. It's located at http://flickr.com/groups/femicide/.
If you have photos that are relevant and you use or want to use Flickr, I invite you to join.
Hello from Albuquerque. I arrived here last night after a day spent with my Tucson homies over in Ciudad Juárez. We lucked out and had a really productive day. We'd been wanting to meet with some community activists in Rancho Anapra called Las Hormigas. But it was proving difficult to arrange something for Saturday and we had sort of resigned ourselves to not being able to see them.
However, as we wandered around Anapra we just stumbled onto their community center. Although it was closed, we had even more good luck. As we stood there reading their posters on the outside of the building, a volunteer drove up after finishing their daily cheap lunch program for the day. She gave us a bunch of literature and we talked a bit about what they were doing, including the resistance to a new highway that is slated to be built through the community and displace thousands of already poor residents of this neighborhood of shacks.
We said we'd follow up with the organizers later, and then drove into el centro. I showed my friends just a taste of what downtown Juarez is like and then we headed for the border bridge. We felt pretty happy with our visit. At the border, the guard gave me, the driver, the full round of questions about where i was from, why we were there, ran my license, etc. I explained we had been in Juarez for the day after being at a conference in Las Cruces for 3 days. He asked what hotel we stayed at and then what was the conference about. I told him the truth, it was about the murdered women of Juarez. I consider it a subtle form of activist information-spreading. It's not illegal to be interested in the femicide, so why not bring it up, keep it on people's minds as much as possible? I'm sure everyone in El Paso knows about it, but many choose to keep it tucked under the rug of their brains.
The conference, for me, was really about people coming together to help each other and help each other work on this cause. Almost everyone who was there already knew most of the facts about the situation, other than a few updates and perhaps some obscure numbers. It was in the form of an academic conference, but it was important not for imparting facts and figures, theories or findings, but for updating our emotional batteries. It gets so easy to work on these kinds of things and become almost desensitized, to work on it and know what it's about but disconnect from the real emotional reality. But by seeing and hearing the mothers one gets an inspirational recharge. One gets sad but then filled with renewed determination to try to make a difference and help. The mothers are the constant reminder, the reality check, the coming-down-to-earth connection.
This is not another academic topic to just write papers on and then go home. This is a real, constant, continuing, horrific situation that needs real action in response to it. Seeing the mothers speak, returning to the city and seeing the pink and black crosses still painted on poles, you know it's still there, that these women are still waiting. In fact, it was announced during one panel that a new body had been found just this week, the first day of the conference, right near the International Bridge. Was this a message, one of the many apparent messages sent using mutilated bodies in Juarez? Was someone trying to say, using "un lenguaje que no entendemos todavía" (as Marisela Ortiz said in my film), that you can have your little conference and give your little speeches and show your little films but the killings will continue? Was someone taunting us from the border while we sat in Las Cruces watching powerpoint presentations?
It's chilling to think like that but it may be true. I hope not, but it may be so, and it may also be so that there's no force on earth that can stop this. But judging by the growing tide of people working to fight it, I'm actually optimistic. It will be stopped. The final measure of the horror will only be determined by the time it will take to finish it, but it is a matter of time now. Eventually enough people will know, about this injustice as with many others, and it will not be able to stand.
For the last 2 days I've been in Las Cruces, New Mexico for a conference on the murdered women of Juarez. It's been a crazy, dizzying blur of panel discussions and networking. I sold or gave away many copies of my film. I talked to many people about my film, about screening it, about how to get it, open sourcing it, and other things. It's been so exciting and so intense too. I will post photos soon but for now check out this post on San Diego Indymedia from DJ Pepperbox, who is also here, she posted a good photo of the "redressing justice" exhibit.
Tommorrow we're going to Juarez. Then I'm heading up to Albuquerque that night.
I'm too frazzled to write more detail. It's just been incredible.
Nobody seems to know when "Bordertown," the Hollywood J-lo vehicle about the murders in Juarez is going to be released, but it's fairly certain now that it won't be in March, which is what IMDB still lists as the release date. I did find a silly movie-tracking site/blog with production stills. Hard to tell much about the film from them, other than it will be typically sensational, with exploding colonia shacks and all, it looks like. To date I don't think any young women killed in the femicide were killed by burning down their house. But, y'know, J-lo looks good, that's what matters, right?
And in other news, good news, I just got an email from a New York Times writer who wants to talk to me about my film. More on that after it happens.
Reporting on a delegation of Latin American activist women who came to Washington D.C. on International Women's Day, this excellent article about the increasing trend of femicide across the area contains a lot of good information and points. There's the definite concensus emerging that the Juarez situation has raised awareness of a regional problem for which it is only the tip of the iceberg. And there are very serious related consequences:
In the view of Adriana Beltran, the power of organized criminal groups and the persistence of femicide serve to undermine the democratic transition Guatemala was supposed to experience after the peace accords. In former military dictatorships like Guatemala where civilian government institutions are still fragile, the security threats posed by organized criminal bands and their impunity are paradoxically reviving the former national security state apparatus as the military is being drawn into law enforcement. Beltran believes that this is a temptation that should be resisted at all costs. "We strongly believe that the lines between police and military should be kept separate, especially in countries that had armed conflicts," she says.
Yesterday I sent out a mass mail to everybody I know that's ever shown interest, so you may already know this- but anyway, I'm trying to raise funds so I can manufacture a whole bunch of copies of the DVD of On The Edge (my film about the femicide in Juarez). You can donate and get a copy, or even order one for your school or organization. The more money I can raise the more copies I'll be able to have made, meaning the more people will see the film.
And in related news, there are only 3 sections of the film left to translate into spanish. Thank you to everyone who's been helping with that. Just a little more and we'll be ready!
Hmm. Well, I guess if they do the whole thing and I have time, I'll put German subtitles on the DVD too. Except that would be a lot of extra work. Hmm.
I made a new version of the trailer for my Juarez doc. It's basically the same as the old one, I just took out all the people titles, so viewers don't have to try to read them in such a short time, and changed the end title so it's not time-specific (it used to say "coming soon in fall 2005." hah..) A couple other little visual things are spruced up too.
I've finished posting to the Indymedia Translation Tool all the english transcriptions of my film. If you're a native speaker of latin american spanish and would like to help translate, please click the link, and then pick a section.
If you've never used the Translation Tool before, you may want to read the instructions. The TT is a really wonderful thing - many people, when they hear about it first, think it is another crappy machine translator like babelfish or google translations, but it's really a web application that handles online collaboration, enabling the management of little translation projects - allowing those with texts needing translation to propose them, and volunteer translators to agree to do them and post their finished translations, as well as revise translations.
The wonderful Jenoun, who also helped me translate the spanish interviews into english, has already done the first section. I'm hoping I can get the rest done in the next couple weeks, in time for me to add the subtitles, have the DVD replicated, and take the DVDs on my little screening tour of Las Cruces, Albuquerque and San Diego, March 30 through April 5. Anybody who helps will of course get a copy or two.
Things are really picking up speed here regarding my film. It's almost as if as soon as I decided to stop meekly and passively waiting for various festivals to bestow their validation upon me and my work, things started to really get going in a nice way. It's exciting, and makes me wonder if it was a mistake to try the festival route at all. I guess it was good to try this once, but I may not bother the next time. Lots of activist filmmakers, Greg Berger being a good example, are going around that whole process because there are other ways to do things. DIY!!! I'm still waiting to hear from a few more festivals but I'm going ahead with other plans while I do that.
I just heard from the organizers of the Justice for Women symposium at New Mexico State University that they want to screen the film during that event, March 30. I'm also working on getting screenings in San Diego and Albuquerque around that time. I also just recently signed a non-exclusive license with Free Speech TV and they will probably start airing it in late March. That's a potential 11 million viewers so that's really exciting.
Further exciting things coming up - I'm planning to attend the symposium at NMSU and bring along some friends from Tucson, and we're going to go visit Juarez afterward and hopefully meet with some community members. There are also plans brewing for showing it in Arivaca in April, and also again in Tucson, perhaps with some of the musicians that did the soundtrack playing live the same night.
Meanwhile I continue to work on transcribing the English parts of the film, so that they can be translated to Spanish for subtitling. I hope to get the transcription done today and start posting sections of it to the Indymedia Translation Tool. Then when the translation is done I can have a bunch of copies of the DVD made, I start getting it out there even further.
We had a V-day event at the Dry River Space tonight, dedicated to the women of Juarez. I showed my film, and we also had speakers and we showed the short film that PMS Media did about the 2004 Juarez VDay.
There was a really good turnout, like, packed. And we sold several copies of the DVD, a little booklet that Mexico Solidarity Network published, and many patches and t-shirts that some dry river folks silkscreened yesterday. There was a really great discussion and Q&A at the end, and lots of great one-on-one interactions I had afterward with people, getting really good feedback and discussing possibilities for showings in other places in the future.
So, I'm pretty happy. Friday I'm going to Tempe for the Local To Global Teach-in, where I'll be giving a videoactivism workshop on behalf of Pan Left and Arizona Indymedia. I think it will be cool. I look forward to meeting Arizona IMC people from other cities. I know one or two from Phoenix but that's about it so far.
I just read a great Reuters article about the political gains that women are making lately in Latin America, marked by the recent election of the first female president in Chile, but marred by the fact that machismo and sexism and a backlash against independent, strong women is still going on.
Diana Washington Valdez of the El Paso Times reports that yesterday afternoon in downtown Juarez a well-known lawyer was shot and killed. He was lawyer for one of the bus drivers who was falsely arrested and tortured for some of the murders of women there. He mentioned recently that if he is killed he would blame a local police official who'd been harrassing him. Journalists from Spain are in town to report on the murders and were scheduled to interview him soon.
The El Paso paper reports on the current situation with the murders in Ciudad Juarez. Basically there's some improvement, especially on the Chihuahua state level, and no new reports of tortured arrestees, but the murders continue, there were more in 2005 than in 2004, and locally the police and judges are still negligent and/or incompetent.
In June when I was there the count was over 427. It must be over 440 now. Yet I still see newspapers all over the world still using numbers like 300 or 350. Don't any of these writers ever think to themselves "hmm, ongoing problem, so maybe I should see if the number is higher."?
A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Reps has passed a resolution condemning the femicides in Juarez and Chihuahua City. If this goes further and is passed by the whole House and Senate, it could really help. Although it wouldn't be binding legislation, this sort of thing tends to put real pressure on other governments.
According to the Philledelphia Inquirer (remember to use bugmenot.com to log in!), A native of the El Paso-Juarez area has just written a fictionalized account of the Juarez femicides called "Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders". From this review it sounds like a relatively well-done book. This has the same risks as the Hollywood films coming out about the issue, but overall at this point I think that as long as something doesn't completely misrepresent the facts, anything that increases awareness is good.
I'm declaring my Juarez doc to be at "release candidate" stage - In other words, it's done, unless I notice some glaring mistake or glitch. I will sigh a big sigh of relief if i watch it a couple times and don't see something crying out to be fixed.
The last few days have been a haze of waiting for final renders and wandering the industrial wasteland around where the studio is, looking for sustenance while the clouds dump drizzle on the city. Right now i'm waiting for the DVD of the final video to render. It's frustratingly slow to turn a DV file into a muxed mpeg2. I wish I understood why. There's almost nothing slower in my computing world.
If only there was internet at the GAVEL (the studio) then i could while away the waiting getting and sending email, doing other stuff needing to get done. I had to bike over here to the Back to Back cafe where they have a computer, while my laptop sits in the video dungeon working away...
I'm still not quite done with "On The Edge", my documentary about the femicides of Ciudad Juarez, but last weekend I made a trailer for it. I'm not entirely happy with the trailer, and I will probably make a better one soon, but this one I am putting up there just to whet your whistle.
The New York Times published a major story about the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez yesterday. Their focus is on the corruption or incompentence of the police and state government. It's pretty impressive. oh an remember that if you dont have a NYT login and don't want to register, use bugmenot.com
I just found a long article (which I've only skimmed so far) about Amnesty International's recent trip to Juarez and Chihuahua to revisit the femicide situation there and assess if progress is being made. Sounds like they have, and that the new governor is actually visibly better than the old one. Amazing.
I blogged a couple weeks ago about all the movies being produced about Juarez. The El Paso Times has more about that, reactions from people in Juarez and El Paso, and information about a few other films by independant filmmakers from the area. The didn't mention any that were documentaries.
In related news, over the last 4 days I got a lot done on my Juarez film, and finally shortened it to just barely under an hour, though it should be another 2 minutes or so shorter, really. I got a lot done because I was staying alone at a house of some friends that were out of town, so I had no distractions and could borrow space and equipment (monitor, mouse, table, TV, airon chair) to make a little temporary editing workstation. But now I've moved on and I need a new place to work.
A San Antonio TV station published a story about how there are a few different films, dramas, being produced about the Juarez situation. It's really quite incredible when something you've been following, a story so underreported in the media, suddenly seems to have piqued the interest of Hollywood.
I suppose a bright side is that when there's more than one movie coming out into the public eye it will signal to viewers that the situation is real. The fact that there are all these movies about the same thing will make people think, "hmm, it can't be a coincidence, this must be a real problem."
The thing I always wonder, though, even with documentaries, and even those that get huge exposure, like Michael Moore's work, is how much they actually influence anyone to do anything? Of course the reason I do what I do, that I'm involved with videoactivism at all, is that I definitely do think exposing more people to facts about things going on like this DO make a difference. I'm just not sure exactly how much of a difference.
Well, I am really close to being done with the Juarez documentary, but I think it's just not going to possible, or even advisable, to finish it, or even call it finished, by the time I head back to Portland this Thursday. I think tommorrow is going to basically be the last day I can work on it, and then I have to relax a little, then prepare to travel back to Portland.
I still don't quite have all the spanish bits translated. Very close, though, actually only 3 clips that I really need help with. It's been so amazing and gratifying to receive all the help that I did, something like 8 people pitched in, and some of them completely out of the blue. It's a great example of the power of the internet for collaboration, as well as tools like Backpack (though Backpack isn't quite perfect for the job, but it did help, and it was easier than setting up my own wiki or something).
As I work on final touches, like the intro sequence, I've been wracking my brains for a better title, a final title. The working title for the last 4 months was "The Multi-layered Enemy: femicides in Juarez." Now I guess I've decided, for now at least, to go with "On the Edge: The femicide in Ciudad Juárez." I'm not super super excited about it, but I like it all right. What do you think about it? Got a better idea? Let me know in a comment. What I like about "On the Edge" is that the metaphor of "edge" works in a lot of ways, the border, the economics, the violence, but also the hope for improvement as we see more and more activism around this issue. So, it works, but I am definitely open to other suggestions.
My other problem is the film is still just a little too long. I would so love it to be 57 minutes, but it's 64. That's one reason I need to wait and really finish it back in Portland, because I need some other people to give me advice on what can be cut so I can get it down to that 58 or 57 minute mark. Why that lenght, you ask? Because I want to get it on television. I want this to be seen by as many people as possible, and fitting it into an hour broadcast television slot is one way to do that.
Well, the film is really coming along. Translations are slowly trickling in from various people helping out, thankfully, though there are still several clips left to do. Now I'm busy making subtitles from the translations I do have, and as I go, tightening up the editing. Hopefully I can still reduce the total length, but I've decided not to be so worried about that anymore. It's about 72 minutes, and I wanted it to be more like 57, but we'll just have to see. I thought it might be interesting to list here the different sections of the doc, not neccesarily in order:
Well, I am slowly but steadily progressing on my film about the femicides in Ciudad Juarez. Some days I feel like, yeah, sure, I can wrap it up in 2 weeks. Other days I think, omigod there's still so much to do.
Definitely though, the big thing that is holding me back is translation. I still have several bits of interviews that I can't accurately, fully translate myself into english, and hence, can't really even make a final decision about what to use or how to cut. A few people have responded to earlier requests, and 2 have actually followed through, and it's been great to get back those translations and feel like I can now fully take advantage of the corresponding footage.
But I need more help! So if you are good at spanish and english and would like to help, go to the Backpack page I've set up to manage the task, and follow the directions there. If you're fluent it should just take a few minutes to do one clip, more if you want to do more. If you have questions email me at steev AT detritus.netNOSPAM or leave a comment here.
Interesting new article in the El Paso paper about how teenagers keep going into Juarez even though they know it's dangerous. Two El Paso high school boys were offed in the last 10 days. Meanwhile as usual we got Juarez officials saying, nah, Juarez isn't violent, it's about as violent as, say Houston.
Uh, yeah, but in Houston the police probably actually investigate and solve some violent crimes.
A story in the Houston Chronicle tells of a bus driver in Juarez who was just released from prison because a judge found him not guilty after being tortured into confessing to the rape and murder of 8 women in 2001.
It's a mostly pretty good article overviewing the torture side of the Juarez situation. What I continue to find interesting is the way such a huge variety of numbers for the killings keeps being reported. Somebody says 300, somebody else says 360, somebody else says 400, the government says, oh, only 100 of them were sexually motivated so there's only 100.
This has always been a problem with this issue. It's not a surprise that there would be different counts, given the many layers of incompetence and corruption, and attempts by the government to minimize the problem by creating different categories for the murders. However what annoys me is that the media seldom mentions this problem. It would only take one extra sentence. Instead of saying, "the total is X," it would be easy to say, "the total number of killings, according to the government, is X, but other sources put the amount at over Y." The number I'm probably going to go with in my film is "over 410", but I'm going to acknowledge that this is just one of many counts. The other disputable thing in this article is that they mention the count since 1994, but everyone else I've talked to always says this problem started in 1993. So that shaves a bunch of murders off right away (I think about 19 in that first year).
I've been working for so long on this documentary about Juarez. I have a month left, exactly, till the deadline I set for myself to finish it, but it seems like there's still so much to do. The enormity of the task is just incredible. Working the new interviews that I shot into it is the big problem. There's a lot of excellent material and it's a huge task figuring out how to fit it into what I already have, what old material to chop out to make room for it and that sort of thing.
And the task is made harder by the fact that all the new material is in Spanish. I still have trouble with some people talking. In fact a few of the interviewees, even if I spend an hour playing 30 seconds of an interview over and over I still can just barely make out what the hell they're saying. Others, it's totally easy and clear, like as easy as listening to someone talk in English. Totally amazing how there can be that much variation. And it's not even regional accents. It could be 2 people both from Chihuahua, one talks nice and slow and clear, the other talks like insanely fast and all slurred together.
Luckily I think I might be getting some help. Jacob from San Diego IMC has sent out a great callout to his peeps there. Maybe you'd like to help, even, if you know spanish. I wish there was some sort of global Indymedia mechanism for translating stuff that is audio. The Translation Tool is great for written text. Maybe it could be tweaked by some tech people so you could upload an mp3 clip and people could work from there.
While working on this project I took a short detour last weekend and did a small video for Indymedia Newsreal about deportation, which I've just uploaded to Vimeo. Vimeo is a neat little site, sort of like Flickr for videos. Lots of college kids with camphones just throwing up random silly shit, but whatever. I guess if I wasn't so old and bitter and serious I wouldn't mind that, but para mi, ahora, el toda parece tan .... priveleged. Dude, while you're in Mallorca on spring break taking videos of wet t-shirt contests there are people starving to death right over the next hill... suspira...
Well, back to work...
I've been working away on editing my Juarez doc, and when I take a break I've been reading one or the other of 2 books, both of which are related to Juarez: either the brand new book by Charles Bowden, "A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior", or "Cosecha de Mujeres," by Diana Washington Valdez.
The first is a difficult yet tantalizing read. a sort of impressionistic biography of a real DEA agent, all names and places changed to protect the innocent/guilty, describing his long career in the depths of the underworld of narcotrafficking. Bowden's prose has inspired and enthralled me before, and this is no exception, yet I'm not sure what to make of this book - it's written perhaps like if Faulkner wrote crime thrillers, extremely nonlinear, but gritty and noir-ish, dreamy or nightmarish, vague and disturbing, and yet we are told that it is all true. I find myself wishing for the interludes filled with raw statistics that alternated with the real life stories in his earlier book, "Down by the River."
The second book, which I blogged about before when I first found out about it, is a detailed and disturbing account of the Juarez femicides. It's written in Spanish and published in Mexico just a month ago. I bought it in Mexico City and have been gradually working my way through it. I've found it easier to read than, for example, most articles in La Jornada, but harder than, say, the emails I've been getting lately from Peruvian and Bolivian and Mexican activist [email protected] The grammar is fairly straightforward, but I still find myself needing to look up unknown words quite often. There are still so many words to learn... suspira... However, many times I'm only looking something up to confirm my guess that I've made based on context, and I've realized that I'm expanding my Spanish vocabulary in the same way that I accumulated, starting from a very young age, such a prodigious (in all modesty) English vocabulary - by reading, and picking a lot up from context.
Anyway, in addition to being good spanish practice the book is a really good work, and a great source of statistics and reference data about the murders. It's also frequently the source of really disturbing, even horrifying, information. For instance (Warning: the rest of this paragraph is not for the squeamish!): At one point in the book Washington describes how several of the women murdered in 2003 were found with their necks broken, all in the same particular way. Unless I'm getting the translation wrong, forensic experts told her the theory that the killer or killers were purposely breaking the victims' necks in that certain way because it causes convulsions in the victim that increases the sexual pleasure of the killer, who is raping the victim at the moment of death. How sickening. I find it hard to imagine how anyone could be that evil and sick.
Also of interest, I've just seen in the El Paso Times that:
That's pretty sick, too.
The Mexican government recently requested that the U.S. government conduct an inquiry into "Cosecha de Mujeres" because it contains information that is considered confidential by both governments.
The request came from the office of Carlos Borunda Zaragoza, Mexico's liaison to the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. The office also has lobbied Congress against resolutions that call for a binational commission to investigate the border murders.
In other somewhat related news, I just read that the Mexican government claims they've caught the leader of the Juarez drug cartel, Vincente Carillo. Carillo is the brother of Amado Carillo, who was discussed extensively in Bowden's "Down by the River" that I mention above. Amado supposedly died during plastic surgery, but there are rumors, according to Bowden, that he actually faked his death so he could retire and that he's actually living safely in Chile now with his family.
This is fascinating stuff. Is it any wonder that there's a whole subgenre of music, the narcocorrido, about the drug lords?
In July a book called La Frontera by French-born writer Patrick Bard is coming out. It looks like it might be pretty good, for a dramatized but truth-based thriller. The danger is two-fold: that it makes the stituation into a whodunnit mystery, which is exactly what people need to know it is NOT, and second, that a fictionalized account will elide the fact that it IS factual. Of course these are the 2 things that every fictionalized story based on this situation seems to screw up every time, including the upcoming J.Lo blockbuster movie.
So today is my last full day en la frontera, and a few minutes ago i was
heading toward el mercado en Juarez when I met this Mexican guy who told me a sad story. At first I thought it was the typical, 'hey i'm stranded, give me some money', story you hear on the streets of everywhere, in whatever language. But it was far too detailed and convincing this time for me to think it was fake.
The guy, Angel, said he'd been living in San Jose for 5 years, and elsewhere in California before that, but he got his driver's license suspended because his friend had an open container in his car. So then Immigration got hold of him, and flew him to San Diego for a hearing. The judge suspended his green card, and said you can either stay in jail and fight this in court and it would cost lots of money, or you can voluntarily be deported and have a better chance of reapplying for your green card successfully later.. So he chose the latter, but then they didn't just take him over to Tijuana, where he has family. They flew him all the way to El Paso and deported him to Juarez, where he's never been before.
Now he has to get a job, and meanwhile try to survive in Juarez, so he can get a bus to Tijuana, which is like 100 dollars or more. I gave him some money in exchange for letting me interview him, and he told his story on camera.
Okay, maybe the driving thing is a white lie. Maybe he was DUI. But even so, that's not a reason to deport someone who's been living peacefully and lawfully, with girlfriend and kids, for over 5 years in the U.S. And then to fly him halfway across the continent is ridiculous - he said they do that a lot because they think people will just try to cross again if they deport them straight south, where they might have family, friends, etc. So they take them far away, so its harder for them to sneak in again. This is cruel and unusual punishment, especially since this guy was legal. Absolute bullshit.
In other news, yesterday I did 3 interviews with members of Nuestras Hijas Regresso A Casa (May Our Daughters May Return Home), a group of mothers of murdered women in Juarez. I first met with Marisela, who is the co-founder and a leader of the group, and I think a lawyer too(?). She was extremely helpful: she called up 2 mothers and then drove me to their houses. The first was the home of Ramona, who is the mother I was with on the Caravan last fall. Her house is also where the office for the group is. It was great to see her again, and she seemed happy to see me. She asked about the other people who were on the Caravan with us and I interviewed her with a few update questions and things we hadn't talked about before. During the interview I kept thinking of how much better my spanish was than back then, when I really couldn't have an actual conversation with her.
After that she and Marisela showed me a little pirate radio station that they had built in back of the office. It was incredible. A little table with microphones, a mixing board and other gear, and the whole room covered with egg cartons for sound dampening. We went back in the office and I got some footage of the 2 of them pointing out where bodies of murder victims have been found, on the big map of Juarez that I had brought with me. They explained where the famous places were like Lote Bravo, Algodonero, Lomo Prieto, etc. Then after interviewing Marisela she drove me over to the house of Josefina, another mother. She was a little sick so we made her interview short, and then she explained how to get a bus back into the center of town, because Marisela had to bring her husband's car back.
I got back to el centro without difficulty, then found a place for lunch, and shot a bunch of b-roll of the streets, the long line of cars waiting to cross the border bridge, etc. Finally I walked back across that same bridge to my hotel and my foot hurt a lot, so I ended up just resting and going to sleep early. Since it was Saturday night I had had visions of going back into Juarezland (the central, party-area right across the bridge where El Paso youth go for underage drinking and other vices), and interviewing people on the street, getting some vox populi accounts. But I couldn't, I just stayed in, read and watched TV.
This morning I got up early and went to the campus of University of Texas El Paso, because I'd heard that it was right across the river from Rancho Anapra. Anapra is one of the poorest neighborhoods, on the west outskirts of Juarez. I took a bus up to UTEP and sure enough it was perched high on a hill looking over the muddy and grassy Rio Grande right into western Juarez. Kids were swimming in the river, even though it's horribly polluted. I got some good footage. Had lunch, came back to the hotel for a siesta, and then came into Juarez. Tommorrow I fly out of El Paso, so this is my last chance to do any more footage gathering that I want to do.
Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty positive about the film now. I think I really got everything I need to make the improvements in the documentary that it needs. I was feeling rather discouraged yesterday morning after reading email from a compañero and activist in Portland who said some possibly correct but kind of depressing things about the project. I had sent him a copy of the rough cut, asked him for his thoughts, and I think that even though he means well, ultimately his opinions about what I'm doing are colored by a certain jaded cynicism; but at the time I was bothered. now I feel okay. I think this is going to work out, and I'm going to have a great doc soon.
Well, I am back in the U.S.A., just barely. The border is really quite weird, in many ways. It is indeed a mixture, a culture of its own.
Yesterday I took the bus from Chihuahua City 5 hours north to Juarez. It was, in a way, the worst touchdown in a new place that I've had for my whole trip, probably, I realized, because I let my guard down. I thought to myself, subconcioiusly at least, 'oh, hey, i'm almost back to the States, it'll be easy.' So I didn't plan my arrival that well. I knew I wanted to stay on the U.S. side, because I had read hotels and food in El Paso are a better value than the ones in Juarez, but I wanted to be close to the border crossings, so i could go back and forth easily.
(I'm reminded of a story Subcommandante Marcos told, of talking to a migrant from Guatemala headed through Chiapas on his way to Gringolandia. Marcos asked, why don't you just stay here in Mexico, why go to the U.S.? The Guatemalteco said are you kidding? Mexico is the worst of both worlds: pay as bad as in Guatemala, but prices as high as in the U.S. For the North of Mexico, especially the border region, this is pretty true, I think. )
Anyway, so I didn't think too much, plus my guidebook has no map of Juarez, just a rough description of how to get into el centro from the bus terminal. So I got on the first city bus I saw headed for el centro, but where it dropped me off was not that close to the border, and i had no idea where to go exactly. I asked around, bought a map, and eventually slogged my way to the bridge - keep in mind, with my 70 pounds or so of stuff (I started with about 50 but with souvenirs and stuff my cargo has grown) on my back. I wish I had a photo of what I looked like when I finally found my way to a hotel in El Paso - dripping with sweat and disheveled as hell with my giant backpack and other bags. But before getting there I had to walk to the bridge, over the bridge (I didnt have quite enough pesos to get a taxi and I knew there was a branch of my bank in downtown El Paso. Why not just walk? hah.), several block from the bridge into downtown proper, find the bank, get some dollars, then find a hotel. There's lots of sort of rundown sad looking hotels down here, but i found one that's not too bad called Gateway Hotel. insanely expensive by the standards of what I've been paying (anywhere from 2 to 11 times more expensive) in Mexico and Guatemala, but I get a lot more. Water from the tap that I can drink! Hot showers! All day long! Toilet that can flush down toilet paper! Air conditioning!
AC? you bourgeois pig, you're thinking about me. Wait, listen - it was in the high 90s here when I walked across the border yesterday, and today, and for the next week, its supposed to hit about 104 F. That's hot. You pretty much have to have AC, or you die, here. And many do. Meanwhile I saw on TV this morning that the Pacific Northwest is in the middle of a cold wave with lots of rain and even snow in some parts. Wow. I'm sorry, my Portland friends, but that is good news for me. It makes me happy to be sweating my ass off in the nice hot dry Frontera....
So here I am, and its weird, hard to tell when to speak which language, sometimes. And this morning a funny a pleasing thing happened. I was eating a cheap breakfast in the hotel's cafe and I bought a copy of one of the Juarez newspapers, El Diario, which they sell in El Paso - in fact they have a Juarez version and an El Paso one, both in Spanish. Anyway, regular non-intellectual newspapers I can read pretty well now in Spanish. I still take forever to get through an article in La Jornada, cuz its more highbrow. But anyway I was reading El Diario and eating breakfast and the waitress said in spanish that they dont get many gringos reading the Juarez paper here, where are you from, Spain? And I said no, the U.S. and she was really surprised and said usually gringos read the El Paso Times, wow, you know spanish, and I said, well, I'm still learning.
It kind of surprises me that more gringos in a border town like this don't know more spanish. Actually, I bought that paper because I wanted to see if there was any recent news of any murdered women in Juarez. Nope, not today. There were lots of men killed in various parts of town, though, including the owner of a big bar called El Mango. Some guys just drove up and blasted him and then zoomed off, bullets ricocheting through the window toward the neighboring children's nursery.
Anyway. Today I have errands. Go back across border, call some potential interviewees. Go to a bank to pay my Mexican border exit fee (i think it's 13 bucks). Wander around, think about where to shoot more footage. Try to find a high building to shoot a panorama of the city from. But basically I'm not in a rush. Yestereday I realized I have a day longer than I thought. For the last week I was thinking, for some reason, that my flight out of El Paso was Sunday, but its monday. So I have 3 full days here. Hopefully that will be enough time to get all the footage I need. I think it will be.
This article from El Paso talks about the dissappearance about a month ago of a young school teacher in Juarez. Its the first thing I've read, amazingly, that suggests there are links between certain specific areas of town and certain stores, namely 2 music stores, where victims were going or coming from or in when they disappeared. Muy interesante.
Wow, if someone ever told me I'd be spending 2 nights alone in Chihuahua City, Mexico a few years ago I would have been baffled. There is a reason I am here that I will get to in a moment. But seeing it, you would understand why I wouldn't have expected to ever go here, unless you thought I was really into cowboy boots - there are about 200 boot stores here, supposedly one of the best places in Mexico to buy cowboy boots - there just is not really any tourististic reason to be here at all. Actually, it is the terminus of the Copper Canyon rail line, so people are probably passing throuh. But there's very little that caters to foreign visitors.
It's not an unpleasant town. There are several very nice plazas in el Centro, and a pedestrian walkway a few blocks long, though it has virtually no benches to sit on, and no coffee culture presence or any other sidewalk sit-and-hang-out restaurants or bars or whatever. Here in Chihuahua eople seem to like to buy ice cream and walk with it, rather than sip lattes while sitting at sidewalk tables. In fact in the whole downtown area I only found one coffee place where you can sit down and drink real coffee and relax. This is specifically Chihuahense, or maybe of el norte, because in D.F. and in San Cristobal there was definitely a coffee culture, even apart from tourism.
Anyway, the reason I AM here is to interview people regarding the femicides of Juarez and Chihuahua. About 5 hours south of Juarez, this city, capital of the state of Chihuahua, has seen similar killings of young women, and an activist group called Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters) has arisen and is based here. Late afternoon yesterday I rolled into town on a bus 17 hours or so out from Mazatlan and checked my email. Macrina from Mexico Solidarity Network had come through for me and had arranged with Alma Gomez, one of the leaders of Justicia Para, for me to do some interviews. So I called up Alma and we have made plans to meet at her house. Two mothers of victims from here, and also perhaps another woman who is a main leader of the group, Lucha Castro, will meet us there.
So I'm pretty pleased. 3, maybe 4 interviews in one day. Now I just have to find my way to Alma's house, which is outside of el centro.
There's so many other things I'd like to blog, so many thoughts and observations, but I think its best to start with just what's going on, and if I have time, after checking my email and other tasks, maybe I'll blog again with some other random themes. hasta loo...
A new book is just out about the Juarez murders, called Cosecha de Mujeres (Harvest of Women), by Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter for the El Paso Times who has been following this subject for many years. Even though it's in Spanish only, I may get it, it sounds like an excellent analysis of the situation. And it would be good practice. Nothing like practicing reading spanish with something you're really motivated to read.
In other news, I made it Mexico City with no real troubles. I'm staying in the area of the city called Roma, at the Centro Medios Libres (Free Media Center), sort of like an indymedia center but different. I'll explain more when I understand more.
The worst thing about getting there was the metro here in D.F. It's actually a really nice, modern transit system, but its insanely crowded, especially when I got to town, which was about 9am, rush hour. Trying to fit me and my bags on a train absolutely full to bursting with people was not fun. I waited till the rush started dying down and finally made it.
Anyway, so far D.F. is way nicer than I expected. I had visions of a pollution-choked hellhole but the air quality, at least today, is not that bad, and the central part of the city is pretty pleasant. I visted the Palacio Nacional this afternoon, where a bunch of Diego Rivera's famous murals are. Really great.
There's a story from yesterday's El Paso newspaper that's sort of interesting about the new special Juarez prosecutor, Mireille Roccatti Velásquez, appointed (and replacing the old one, Lopez Urbina) by the new Mexican attorney general last week (whose name translates literally to 'Cow Head'). I'd hate to have her job. It's a hard one but I guess for the Mexican Government someone's got to pretend like they're doing it. (was that too cynical? I'm sorry....)
I just found out that a film called "Bordertown" is supposedly starting production this July and stars Jennifer Lopez (and maybe Antonio Banderas?) as an american reporter from Juarez who goes back to investigate the murders there.
I of course have my misgivings about a Hollywood film treating this issue with any accuracy or respect. But at the same time, wow, imagine how much attention it could bring to the actual situation. It is vital though that they stress that it is based on REALITY. And of course they need to respect the wishes of the families of the victims and not exploit them.
Wow, I can hardly believe it. I need to finish my doc soon!!
In other news I will blog in a little bit about whats up with me. i´m fine. tengo mucho calor, (hot), but fine.
I have pretty much been spending 90% of my time working on this documentary. It's really a good feeling, actually, especially now that I'm done with all the not so fun preliminaries: the logging, transcribing, paper edit, capturing, etc. On Saturday I finished capturing all the footage I needed. What a huge project. On Sunday I started doing the first edit, simply following the paper edit. Of course lots of problems have surfaced but that's good. Today I think I'll finish the first assembly, the very very very rough draft, and I can watch it all the way through and really get a feel for what I have here.
Sunday I thought about going to the anti-war manifestacion in Iowa City, but I really felt like I should just keep working on the video. Plus, I realized that I'd be burning 120 miles worth of gasoline to go to a protest of a war that's about oil, so I decided that was not right. But I was very curious to see how big the thing would be in Iowa City.
Anyway, like I said I feel really good about just spending ALL my time working really hard on this Juarez project. This is what I want to be doing; editing video, full time. (For a project that's mine and that I care about a lot. I'm sure if I was editing cooking shows, like a friend of mind does in San Francisco for a living, I would be less into it.) It's really been great to take this time, sort of like an artist's residency at my parents' house, where there's very few distractions, and just concentrate on this project and bang it out. There's really nothing to do, nobody asking me to go to a movie or have coffee at a neighborhood cafe, just me editing video, or looking out the window at the dead cornfields.
I only wish it was possible to completely finish it before I leave here, but in less than 2 weeks I'm flying to Guatemala. However, I think I can get a 2nd or 3rd draft done, and then think about how to finish it as I travel, and send copies to a few people to comment on.
I should have been at this stage a couple of weeks ago, but at any rate, today I am doing the paper edit of my documentary about the femicides in Juarez. For the last 2 days I've been cutting photocopies of my footage logs into little slips of paper and categorizing them into different subtopics, with an envelope for each of those subtopics.
Now today I'm arranging all this stuff into a rough flow for the film. It's overwhelming, in more ways than one. For one thing, it's the most technically ambitious video project I've ever done. As you can start to see in the photo, there's hundreds of footage fragments and more than a dozen subtopics. I'm going to run out of table soon.
Secondly, it's emotionally staggering to deal with this subject, and has been from the beginning, but as I see it start to come together and get focused into these concentrated facets, with all my interviewees starting to talk in unison about the same dark subjects... it begins to really hit me almost harder than ever before. I think the only harder time was actually being in Juarez at the Day of the Dead mass or at the Algo Donero where 11 of the bodies had been found. If I finish this film the way I intend, it's going to be really good but it's also going to be really gut-wrenching. Hopefully I will succeed in making it inspiring and motivating as well.
I tried out Google's new video search tool and typed in "juarez" and found this, a recent episode of Cops. The google search gives a transcript and frame grabs of the segment that contains the search term, so i get this minute-by-minute record of these cops from El Paso who hear about a shooting on one of the bridges to Juarez. So they look for where it happened and eventually find blood on the U.S. side, so they know it's their jurisdiction. Interesting. I'm sure full segement doesn't even begin to touch on the femicides or larger context of what is happening in Juarez.
I wonder if anyone at Cops has considered working with foreign law enforcement? They could do a whole new series called "Federales" or something. I'm moving off into surreal joke mode here I guess, but imagine if Fox gave out so much money to Mexico's police in order to have them on the show, that it actually decreased corruption? Hah. Of course it would replace it with a different kind of corruption. Is the U.S. entertainment industry bigger and more powerful than the Mexican drug industry?
A Washington Post story tells of a former elite force of anti-drug commandos in Mexico, called the Zetas, are now working for the drug cartels. In their periodic news and analysis mailing, the Mexico Solidarity Network adds that the leaders of the Zetas were trained at the School of the Americas in the U.S.
The Post article mentions again the State Departments warnings to U.S. citizens about Northern Mexico and the various abductions, as I wrote about a couple weeks ago. In my interview with Bill Conroy while I was in Austin, he stressed further the idea that the drug cartels don't do anything if it doesn't earn them money, and kidnapping gringos is not a big money-maker.
I just had a great idea. What if Mexico simply disbanded all of its law enforcement agencies? No one trusts or relies on police anyway, there, it seems. Why not just make an announcement that there is now no such thing as a Mexican cop? No more corruption, since you can't corrupt something that doesn't exist. No more drug thugs impersonating cops. If you're dressed as a cop, that would prove you're a criminal. Unrealistic, I guess, but an interesting thought experiment.
An article by Al Giordano, publisher of Narco News Bulletin, and another by Bill Conroy, point to the U.S. State Department's recent warning to U.S. citizens about Mexico border kidnappings and murders. The warning appears dubious - misguided at best, politicking at worst, and we see politicking in response coming from Mexico City, as Giordano points out. Apparently every time the U.S. gets too tough on Mexican drugs, the Mexican government responds with hints of legalization, to get the gringos to back off. It's happening again in this case.
Here in Tucson the border is way high on the list of important issues, with good reason. Nogales is only 90 minutes away. It's just fascinating how much spanish is spoken/written here, and how the border influences almost everything. My friend Shawn is having tooth problems and a tucsonian friend, when asked where a cheap dentist is in town, said "in Mexico." To us Northwesterners this seems totally bizarre, driving 90 minutes to go see a cheap Mexican dentist. But tons of folks do that. now are they going to stop because some bureacrat in Washington tells them the narcos are going to grab them for ransom? I doubt it.
Related news is that today, in a few hours, I'm going to go over to the house of Charles Bowden to interview him about narcotrafficking and corruption. He is a longtime resident of Tucson and has written many amazing books about the border and Juarez and the drug war which have been very inspring to me.
Most notably, he wrote the amazing book "Down by the River" (which I thought I had written about here last summer but I guess not) which is a nonfiction account of an El Paso family and how the drug war effected them, when one brother is killed and another, who is a DEA agent, thinks it's a message to him from the Juarez drug cartel. He proceeds to try to investigate the crime on his own time, since the agency forbids him to do it on the job, and his life gradually falls apart.
Anyway, I'm really pleased that Chuck agreed to an interview and am looking forward to meeting him.
Another email from Mexico Solidarity Network just now reports that a couple, tortured and wrongly accused of one of the Juarez murders, are free. This is one of the cases that was discussed at length with the president of the Supreme Court of the state of Chihuahua when our delegation met with him November 4. It's one of the cases that he made calls about to other judges while some of the victim's family sat in his office. Wow.
Here are the details:
Cynthia Kiecker and Ulises Perzabal have been found innocent and have been freed from prison!
U.S. citizen Cynthia Kieker and her husband, Ulises Perzebal, were arrested in May 2003, and charged with the murder of 16-year-old Viviana Rayas. The couple has been incarcerated ever since and tortured into making confessions, which they later retracted. The couple also claims that their lawyers have been threatened. One of their lawyers, Chihuahua resident Miguel Zapien, was recently attacked by an unknown assailant. The arrests of Kiecker and Perzebal are part of an alarming trend in which local authorities appear to be targeting "counter-culture types." This serves two purposes: first, it gives the appearance that authorities are actively investigating the crimes, and, second, officials are able to arrest relatively powerless people who are out of the mainstream and generate little public sympathy with claims of torture.
In June 2004, President Fox visited Kieker's home state of Minnesota, assuring US Senator Norm Coleman that Kieker would be released soon. However, months later Keiker and Perzebal had not been released and Fox?s office now claims he mis-spoke. The parents of the young victim, Viviana Rayas, believe that Kieker and Perzebal are innocent, and have publicly denounced the investigation, saying officials are using the couple as scapegoats.
I just found out that my rough-cut short video about the Caravan to Juarez will be showing at the Borderland Film Festival on December 3, at Coyote Studios,
2390 Mission St. 3rd Floor, San Francisco. I wish I could be there. The whole festival looks really interesting and great. But I can't afford to just fly down there next week.
At this moment I am logging footage from Juarez. I'm on tape #8 out of 12. I have a lot of footage but I'm starting to fear that I don't have enough of the right footage for my longer documentary - I need more interviews with certain people talking about certain topics. I'm starting to fear that I'll have to travel to talk to more people, which I can't afford, and I'm worrying that this project will stretch on, when I really would like to wrap it up in a timely manner.
As I explained in my last report, The International Caravan for Justice in Juarez and Chihuahua City reached Juarez on October 31, 2004. This group of activists, teachers, students, researchers, and journalists from around the U.S. and Mexico had finally reached its destination, and we now had 5 days of activities and meetings to attend. As I mentioned before, on Saturday, the 31st, after our border crossing march and rally and the press conference at the cotton field where 11 murdered women had been found, we went to our ironically named lodging, the Hotel Colonial. After settling in at this very un-mexican, Holiday Inn-like establishment, we had a short orientation conducted by staff of the Mexico Solidarity Network. The purpose of this was to brief us on the situation in Juarez, for those who were not already familiar with it, and to make sure that everyone was aware of the reasons we were there and how we should deal with the Mexican press and officials. The basic rule or idea was that we were there as observers, to put quiet but noticeable pressure on the authorities, but we were not in charge of the campaign for justice in Juarez and Chihuahua - the family groups and other Mexican organizations were in charge; they know what they want, they are organized, and it's not up to us gringos to come down and lead the charge or show anyone what to do. We were there simply to be present, to learn, and stand in solidarity and witness the events and meetings with the Mexican officials, and then go back to our own communities and organize further solidarity efforts there. This, in my opinion, is a very enlightened attitude, and is the only way to conduct an international solidarity campaign.
Next, we attended a meeting that night at the hotel between the family groups and 4 deputies from the Mexican Federal Congress, who were on a special congressional committee to investigate the murders. The small conference room filled rapidly with the families, our delegation, and the media, all waiting till the congresspeople finally showed up. The meeting commenced with long speeches by the deputies, but they finally gave the floor to the mothers who were there, who took turns telling their stories and voicing their demands, displaying a variety of different levels of emotion and outrage (from tired disillusionment to fresh anger).
In the end, the deputies made conciliatory remarks, mentioned a new resolutoin in Congress, but seemed bored during most of the meeting. We were told afterward that this seemed to be the usual runaround. The families had been experiencing this sort of thing for 10 years, with a parade of different politicians pretending to care, appointing special commissions and prosecutors and investigators, saying nice things, but nothing ever really getting done. So the local groups did not have a lot of optimism for this evening's meeting.
On November 1, the next morning, we attended an all-day conference, also at the hotel, organized for our benefit, in which each local organization in Juarez involved in the this fight for justice gave a 90-minute presentation, with english interpreters provided for us dumb spanish-impaired types. firsts were the two main family groups, Para Nuestras Hijas Regresso a Casa (So that Our Daughters May Return Home), and Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daugters). Several mothers of the murdered women spoke, including the 5 who travelled with the 5 legs of the Caravan through the U.S. Also the lawyer who represents many of the mothers, Lucha Castro, gave a speech. Needless to say, the morning was an intense experience, listening to these women talk about what they had been through, struggling for up to 11 years with the corrupt and inept police and government.
After lunch was Mujeres de Negro, or Women in Black (not the same as the U.S. group Women in Black), who formed specifically to address the murders in Juarez and Chihuahua. At the conference they showed a video about their work, called Ni Una Mas!, which showed many actions and protests they organized. One thing that they do that I feel is very visually and symbolically powerful is when several of them wear one huge black tunic, which looks like a giant tent or drapery with holes in it for the women's heads and arms to stick out. As they march in this tunic the viewer quickly realizes that there are several empty holes - this symbolizes the missing women, and the tunic itself stands for the unity of the women who remain and struggle.
Next was a presentation by CETLAC ( Center for Labor Studies and Workshops), an organization devoted to workers in the maquiladoras, the border factories in Juarez where many of the murdered women worked. These factories and the underlying free trade conditions that brought them to the Mexican border (and especially Juarez) are heavily linked to the murders. In Juarez there are roughly 315 maquilas ("maquila" is short for maquiladora, and the 2 terms are used interchangeably), with over 200,000 total employees, and over 57% are women. The common myth is that more women are hired at the maquilas because they have smaller, more nimble hands for working on delicate tasks, like assembling car stereos and other consumer electronics for Delphi Corporation, Lear, and RCA. However, the real reason is more likely to be that women are more easily exploited, less likely to resist and organize, and attractive to factory supervisors who would like an easy extramarital affair with a pretty young employee. The director of CETLAC, Beatriz Lujan, spoke first, followed by women who work or recently worked in maquiladoras. They told their personal stories that confirmed all the accounts that one reads about the maquilas: the long hours, the low pay, the exposure to toxins, the sexual harrassment... detailing all the statistics and details is beyond the scope of this article, but there is a lot of information out there.
The final presentation was by Esther Chavez Cano, the director of Casa Amiga, the only battered women's clinic in all of Juarez, a city of almost 3 million people. This was a truly moving talk, and here is where I will repeat some of the numbers: every 7.42 days, a woman disappears in Juarez; every 12.8 days, a woman is assinated; every 40.34 days, a woman is raped, tortured, and assasinated. Doctor Cano confirmed a horrific story that I had heard before: in recent years, the shelter is hearing more and more from women that their husbands, while abusing them, mention the femicides as a threat, saying things like "If you tell anyone I'll dump your body in the desert like those others and I'll get away with it." And yet in response to this situation the Attorney General of Mexico once said, "To be a woman in Juarez is like wanting to go out in the rain and not get wet." Since opening its doors in 1999, Casa Amiga has served a total of over 134 thousand women. Their website has more statistics and information.
The next day, November 2, we were released from our captivity in the hotel. (the hotel, I learned later, would soon be host to a very different group, some of the attendees of Maquila Expo 2004, foreign businessmen being persuaded to move their companies' manufacturing to Juarez!) It was election day, but to us it was Dia de Los Muertos. We had all voted before leaving home, and now our attention was here, on the border. We started the morning with a visit to Casa Peregrino, a shelter for women and their children. One of the staff there talked about the kinds of women that they served and then we met one of the mothers staying there with her 5 children. Many of the women at Casa Peregrino are either on their way to crossing the border, or are one their way back, having failed to get across. Many are also victims of domestic violence.
Our next appointment was at noon at a Day of the Dead Mass at the border, in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Juarez called Rancho Anapra. Anapra is a shantytown, basically, a chaotic jumble of shacks made from pallets, cardboard, and other scraps, scattered over the desert between dirt streets, built by people who moved to Juarez and couldn't afford anything better. In the midst of this sqalid environment that literally squatted at the edge of the "Third World," the mass we attended was truly inspiring. I'm not a religious person, at least not in the sense of organized religion, but this catholic ceremony was extremely moving to me, because of its unique circumstances: first of all, it was here where "Los Muertos" included hundreds of people whose deaths may never be explained or met with any closure.
Second, it was right on the border, which is moving enough: I had never been to the U.S. Mexico border prior to 3 days ago. crossing a bridge is one thing - bridges are a symbol of free communication and movement, but here we were at the opposite symbol - The Fence. Here is what I had seen many photos of and heard a lot about, but what nothing prepared me for actually seeing in person: The Fence, the fine-meshed chainlink metal barrier, about 15 feet high, stretching in a straight line in both directions for as far as the eye could see. Here I was, on the Mexican side, looking through a steel screen into my country, and thinking about the fact that even if I decided to climb over and jump to the other side, I could be arrested and prosecuted; trying to imagine what it was like for those who could not legally cross, even at the bridges a few miles away, who had family on the other side who they were now talking to and touching fingers with through this fence.
The third amazing thing about the Mass was that it was an incredible example of, literally, international cooperation. The ceremony happened on both sides of The Fence, with Texan and New Mexican priests and activiststs on one side, Chihuahuan ones on the other. The level of organization and cooperation was incredible: the priests and other speakers took turns, back and forth, speaking in Spanish and English, and musicians on both sides took turns providing music for the hymns, which were sung by all in unison. There were probably a couple of hundred people on each side, and the event truly made the fence seem to be what it represented - an imaginary and unjust line in the sand. As if to underscore this point, after the ceremony, as people began to pack up and leave, several young boys on our side scrambled over and dropped to the U.S. side. We franctically looked around for any sign of Border Patrol, but no immediate consequences of this transgression appeared, and the kids melted into the crowd.
The next day we got up early to get on a bus to Chihuahua City, capitol of the state of Chihuahua, where we had meetings planned with various government officials. Six hours later we found ourselves at the Palace of the Governor, José Reyes Baeza Terrezas, who had just recently taken office. Amongst us were several mothers of murdered women from Juarez and Chihuahua City, as well as Lucha Castro and Alma Gomez of Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas.
We filed into an ornate meeting room, along with the usual host of media people, and waited around for quite a while till the governor and 2 minions arrived, wearing the finely tailored wardrobes I had come to expect from Mexican officials but which seem so fancy compared to U.S. counterparts. The mothers gave their testimonies one by one and the 3 functionaries sat there and occasionally took notes - each of them had one tiny piece of paper, about the size of a post-it note, on which they were, incredibly, writing names and details of the 6 or 7 cases that were being discussed. Most of the time the advisor to the governor's left was tapping his fingers and twiddling his thumbs, while the female assistant to his right was totally impassive, like some sort of Stepford wife.
This set the tone for 2 of the 3 other meetings we had the following day. First we saw the Mayor of Chihuahua City, who came out and greeted everyone in the room with a handshake and a smile, speaking in impeccable English to those of us who were obviously from north of the border. But when the meeting began he gave no sign that anything was really going to change. Like the governor, he kept saying things like "We're on the same team" and "I'm on your side." We left this teammate and moved on to our next meeting at the state congress, where 5 representatives of different congressional committees sat behind a raised table and invited the mothers to tell their stories again. Again, boredom and indifference were the dominant vibe, though some deputies were better than others at acting concerned and emotional. I was beginning to get discouraged. I wanted to stand up and ask each of them how much money they accepted per year from the drug cartels. Of course, for most of these mothers, this was something they'd been through for close to 10 years and a rotating parade of different politicians.
At our third meeting it seemed at first as if we would receive similiar treatment. We went to the Supreme Court of the State of Chihuahua and met with its president, José Chávez Aragón, who had been newly appointed by the new governor. Out of all the officials we had seen, he seemed the most nonchalant and openly disrespectful, often interrupting the women and repeatedly shrugging, as if to say "this is not my problem." Indeed, that's what his main point was, that the investigations and cases that had been mishandled before were the jurisdictions of other judges - and yet the fact remained that those judges were now his subordinates.
However, as the mothers and other activists continued to pressure him and give him more details, he gradually warmed to them. They focused on 2 cases where innocent people had been tortured into confessing to 2 of the murders: David Meza, accused of killing his cousin, and Cynthia Kiecker and her husband Ulises Perzábal, also the subject of a very weak prosecution for another killing. Eventually Aragón said that he could review these cases in his office with the family members. "Vamanos," he announced several times. He left with Lucha, Alma, and relatives, and the rest of us went to lunch. In a little while they caught up with us at the restaurant with good news: the judge had talked with them about the details of the cases and had admitted that if tortured confessions were the only evidence, the cases should be thrown out. He made 3 calls, apparently to judges under him who had tried these cases. We must hope that he will follow through and make sure righting these wrongs continues, but this was very possibly a very positive development. The women who had talked to the Aragón were excited, and Macrina, from the Mexico Solidarity Network, told us "You are lucky to be here at a historic moment." Score one for the Judicial Branch, zero for the Executive and Legislative!
And so concluded the Caravan, on this positive note. At this point, it is still not known what the long-term effects of the pressure we placed on Mexican officials will be. In the United States Congress, house and senate resolutions on the femicides are still working their way toward a vote. Meanwhile, we know that the murders continue; in fact, there was another femicide on November 3, the day we travelled from Juarez to Chihuahua City. Dealing with this problem is a huge task that will require international cooperation and major changes in policy on both sides of the border, but with increasing awareness and pressure on the part of people in the U.S., Mexico, and elsewhere, one can be optimistc that justice will one day be achieved.
[As a videographer I documented the Caravan, and now that I'm back in Portland I'm starting the laborious process of going through the 12 hours of footage I shot and creating a documentary. While still travelling I already produced a brief 5-minute piece that summarizes the Caravan and the situation, which will appear in the December edition of the Indymedia Newsreal, which airs on Freespeech TV and is screened by indymedia centers around the U.S.]
Here and now I'm going to continue to catch up on describing events during my time in Juarez and Chihuahua. But first, I need to mention a little bit about where I am right now.
I just arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I'm sitting at a beautiful little café called Longetivity which has wireless access. The place is obviously heavily influenced by eastern philosophy, new age mysticism, and money, but oddly enough the other customers here right now seem pretty down-to-earth, non-yuppie, and almost scruffy. Places like this in Portland and the Bay Area are usually inhabited by upscale pretentious hipsters and such, but the kind of people here would more likely be found at a crusty worker-owned hangout like the Red and Black Cafe in southeast Portland. So, yeah, New Mexico is different. I feel like it's a weird mix of cultures: Mexico, California, Texas, and a little Colorado.
Now, about Juarez:
The 5 legs of the International Caravan for Justice in Juarez and Chihuahua arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour from the border, on Friday, October 30. A variety of non-governmental groups are involved with addressing the problem of the hundreds of murdered women of Juarez and Chihuahua, on both sides of the border, in Las Cruces, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and in Juarez and Chihuahua. Las Amigas de las Mujeres de Juarez were our hosts in Las Cruces on that night. The following morning we joined with members of Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Nuestas Hijas Regresan a Casa, CETLAC (a Juarez labor organization), and many other activists, along with other members of the Juarez delegation who had just flown in to El Paso on Friday. We all had breakfast at an El Paso YWCA and then headed to one of the several bridges that cross the Rio Grande and the border.
We assembled at the bridge (see stills from my video footage), the 5 mothers who had accompanied the 5 legs of the Caravan (west coast, east coast, east, southwest, and midwest) standing in front. Hanging from each of their necks was a sign with the photo and name of their murdered daughter. Behind were local Mexican activists holding banners and signs. Behind them were gringo Caravanistas and delegates. The corporate media mobbed the mothers and the cameras, competing for the best shot, making it nearly impossible to actually see the assembled marchers. Eventually the press backed off and the march began, taking up one whole lane of the bridge as it progessed slowly toward the Mexican customs booths on the south side. Gathered there was another huge mass of Mexican activists from a variety of organizations showing their solidarity (labor groups, Bracero groups, human rights groups, etc) with signs and banners, chanting and yelling things like "¿Que Quieremos? ¡Justicia!" ("What do we want!? Justice!") The mothers and caravanistas reached this group and the whole mass continued marching, turning onto the main street that runs along the river. The scene was very chaotic, with reporters and cameramen running around, people shouting into various megaphones, cars honking at the blockage of the street, and everywhere pink signs with black crosses.
The march ended at Puente Santa Fe, another border-crossing bridge where a huge sculpture had been erected months ago by the family groups. The sculpture consisted of a cross built out of railroad ties with a pink background into which hundreds of railroad spikes had been hammered. Hanging from each spike was the name of one of the murdered women. A simliar, smaller cross had been built in this location earlier, but was destroyed one night. The family groups built this larger one and announced publicly that they would continue to build even bigger versions each time one was removed. After that this second cross remained, unbothered.
When the march reached this spot, speeches began by the mothers and other activists, demanding justice and an end to corruption and impunity. Interspersed with these announcements were various songs and chants, and the honking of cars trying to get by the crowd so they could cross the border. After an hour or so, the rally ended and the crowd slowly dispersed. Those of us on the delegation got on a bus which took us to a press conference at the spot where 11 of the murdered girls were found, in an overgrown cotton field. On the way, we passed through many industrial parks full of maquiladoras, the border factories where many of the killed had worked. Across the street from the cotton field was the huge building that housed the headquarters of AMAC (in english, The Association of Export Manufacturers), the organization that represents and lobbies for the maquiladoras. At the press conference were more speeches informing the public of the demands of the allied groups and the plans for the delegation. This was watched closely by the press and by a squadron of Mexican Federal police. One officer even videotaped the whole event with a tiny camera, for some reason.
Returning back toward the center of Juarez, we checked into our hotel, a nice business-class establishment ironically named "Hotel Colonial." After a short rest and an orientation, we attended a meeting in one of the hotel's many conference rooms between the Juarez family groups and representatives from the Mexican Federal Congress. All 4 deputies seemed bored during most of the proceedings and mostly responded to the mother's demands with empty rhetoric that was identical to what they'd been saying for many years.
This concludes the first day in Mexico. Stay tuned tommorrow for more...
This might be my last post till I return from Mexico on November 5. Here is our plan: today in Tucson in about an hour we of the Caravan will join local activists here for the annual Dia de los Muertos "pilgramage" - which is a 7-mile walk from a local church to the San Xavier Mission. I'm not sure exactly what it is all about but I believe the walk at least partly is symbolizing the walk of illegal immigrants across the Sonoran Desert coming from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona, USA.
After that we get on the road and head east down Interstate 10 to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we are meeting some (or all?) of the other Caravans and spending the night. Then Sunday we head to El Paso, meet all the delegates and other activists for a border crossing in Juarez. From that point on we'll be staying in Mexico. My cell phone will stop working and I don't know if I'll have time to get on the Internet. Wireless access points are probably rather uncommon in Juarez.
On November 3 we head 5 hours south into Mexico to Chihuahua City, and then on the 5th we come back to El Paso. Then my next adventure, touring with my Bolivia videos, will begin.
I'm getting lots of good footage and I'm very excited about making a documentary about this Caravan and delegation. I understand that there are other filmmakers on the delegation as well, so maybe we could collaborate somehow.
Anyway, gotta go pack and get ready to go....
The Caravan continues, and has been quite an adventure. It kind of sucks that rain and cold has been following me since I left Portland. Today I woke up in this place that's hosting us in Tucson called Borderlinks and looked out the window to see foggy outside, and cold. And I mean thick, peasoup kind of fog. In Los Angeles and San Diego there were bizarrely heavy and unseasonal rains, and even as we drove across the desert yesterday to Phoenix it rained off and on, alternating with beautiful sunny spells. I heard it was snowing in Flagstaff already.
Is this El Niño? What do I have to do to get some nice hot weather?
Anyway, now to talk about the Caravan.
It has been proving to be quite the adventure. Yesterday especially was fraught with stress and weird mishaps. Some people on the trip are not used to hectic and stressful travelling. They are more the hippie back-to-the-land type (and I mean that not in a negative, derogatory way at all! I have fantasies about drastically changing my life and moving to some remote wilderness to grow vegetables. But when you do that and then you come back to Babylon, you have to be very prepared). So the very fast pace of this trip has been taking its toll on some, and the stress sometimes gets taken out on the rest of us, sadly.
Anyway, the events have been good, for the most part. In San Diego we had an amazing turnout at this big world music center. We were treated very well by the local organizers, as well, in terms of food and stuff. That afternoon we also went to a manifestaçion at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. It was a big success, I think - the Consul came outside with his assistants to talk to us, because we wanted everyone to be present, and they said there wasn't enough room inside. He and his people were wearing very fine suits, better than any U.S. politicians or bureaucrats I've seen up close. The poor guy was really on the spot and visibly nervous and uncomfortable. We gave him studies from Amnesty International, a bunch of statistics, reports on very recent killings, and a recent article from the Washington Post about Juarez, which he seemed to be suprised about. He made all these stupid comments about how there was progess being made and how President Fox's new commission was an important first step. Jessica, our fearless leader from Mexico Solidarity Network, basically said no, the commission isn't doing anything, it's toothless. The guy was like a deer in the headlights. One other amusing thing was that as I filmed the whole thing, during the introductions the Consul turned to me and said "and who are you?" I kept shooting and just said "I'm with the Independent Media Center." He paused briefly, looking confused. He obviously had never heard of Indymedia. Then he just said "okay," turned away and his weaselly assistant took a photo of me with a tiny digital camera, and I taped him taking my photo.
The important thing with an action like that, as Jessica explained, is not what information we give him and or what we even say to him, or what he says to us, but what he says to his boss, President Fox. The idea is for Fox to hear about people in the U.S. showing up, in numbers, hear that we care very much about this issues and are going to keep pressuring him till he does something.
So yesterday we went to Phoenix, did our show and then immediately got back on the road and drove to Tucson, to avoid morning Phoenix rush hour, which is supposedly hellish. So at 10:30 at night we're half an hour away from Tucson and one of the vehicles runs out of gas. I go with Luma in the other truck to go down the road and get some. We eventually found a gas station that was open and that sold gasoline jugs and we brought a gallon back. Finally we got to our resting place here in Tucson by midnight - and we had skipped dinner.
It is only 8am and Jessica has already run off somewhere to do a TV interview. Ramona Morales, the mother from Juarez that is with us, has another interview at 9:30. Then at 2 we have an event at the university, and then the main one for the public at 6 tonite. This has been pretty much what every day has been like. Crazy hectic fast. I don't even like to travel this way. I know it's for the sake of the success of the Caravan, but I wish there was another way, a way to live values of peacefulness and awareness and care while also fulfilling the goals of the Caravan. The problem is always that time is money, I guess, and time is time. Every hour we relax is an hour not getting closer to an event, or to Juarez itself, or giving an interview, or what have you.
Well, at least I'm getting good footage. I kind of wish I was some kind of muckraker that could tape all the trials and tribulations we're going through too, and reveal some of the inner workings, so as to make the documentary a sort of drama with interpersonal tension and stuff. But I'm too nice of a guy to do that, and also I'm PART of the Caravan, not just covering it. I guess one might say I'm "embedded." Oh well.
Things are so rushed. I wish I had more time to report on what is going on as it happens. I wish I had time to post to multiple indymedia sites as we go. News is developing all the time. well, anyway, here are the Juarez Caravan Routes for you to look at.
We are rushing off to San Diego in about an hour....
I am typing this, offline, sitting in a meeting room at a Catholic retreat center called Casa de Maria, near Santa Barbara. It seems like there should be internet access here, but there is not, at least in this building. So I am typing this now and hopefully later today I will be able to post it. I’ll be at the UCLA campus this afternoon so I imagine I will get wireless access then
I am here because I am now part of the Caravan for Justice in Juarez and Chiuhuaua(sp?) City and this is the second day I’ve been on it, though it is the 8th day since it began in Seattle. We had an event in Santa Barbara last night at the Casa de la Raza, and we’ve been hosted for the night at this retreat center, which is beautiful. It’s in the middle of a grove of live oak trees, there’s a babbling brook and quiet paths that wind between the buildings and trees.
(update: now I’m at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A.! The hotel has donated 2 rooms to the Caravan! there is wireless access here in the room but only if I sit on the floor by the bathroom. hilarious. They also appear to have given us the cheapest rooms they could, it’s pretty small and basic. my opinion of the Biltmore’s opulence has decreased today.... but hey, it’s better than sleeping on a floor in some activist’s tiny apartment or something...)
My involvement with the Caravan began sunday night, actually, with the caravan’s presentation in San Francisco at New College. It was a moving and inspiring event, with Ramona Morales, the mother of one of the many murdered women in Juarez, giving a detailed and personal testimonial of what happened to her daughter and what the situation is. The next morning I packed my bags and left Station 40, the wonderful collective housing warehouse space that hosted me for 3 days, and I walked a couple blocks over to meet the rest of the Caravan. We got on the road at about 8am and headed south on the 101 (or as non-Californians say, “highway 101”).
On this leg of the Caravan, the west coast leg, are 2 cars carrying 7 people and a cat. There’s Ramona; me; Jessica, who is a staffperson at the Mexico Solidarity Network; Swaneagle, who lives in rural northeastern Washington; her 11-year old daugther Taina; Luma, from Arcata; Luma’s cat, Ruba; and Nicole, from San Francisco.
It’s exciting and very interesting participating. The drives each day are not a large number of hours at all, and with such interesting people to talk to the time goes quickly. Ramona knows no English at all, and so I am in the position once again to be wishing that I knew more Spanish, and kicking myself that I have not really practiced my Spanish or learned anything else since I returned from South America 7 months ago. I hate myself for this, and I find myself thinking constantly of it, and how I would like to do something drastic to force myself to learn more, like go to Chiapas right after the Caravan and my tour are over, and study at the spanish school in Oventic.
Last night at the Santa Barbara event this desire to entiendo español was even stronger because it was attended by almost all latinos. In fact only 2 people in the audience out of about 80 admitted to needing translation into English of Ramona’s speech. Of course I do know enough Spanish to get some things, like the chants that were being chanted afterward during the march and vigil down the street (like “women united, will never be divided”, etc), which was beautiful and inspiring, to see 50 or 60 people with candles, out in force in their community, showing their solidarity with the women of Juarez. The event was so different from the one in San Francisco, which was much more academic and white.
I was and will be trying to cover this event and all the events on the Caravan and Delgation as a videographer and independent journalist, but also trying to be part of them, to bear witness and stand with the others in solidarity. I believe it is so important for men to be part of this too. I was surprised to be the only man on this leg of the Caravan, but I’m glad I can be presente. I feel as though perhaps I am not emotionally prepared, as a man, as a white male middle-class privileged activist, to do this, but I am trying and I’m sure I am learning.
In a few weeks I will be on another travel adventure southward. I'm going to try to write about what my rough plans are and what the details and background is.
This time I will not be going quite so far, but I still, again, have this feeling of being about to drop off the edge of the world. Of course it's really just the edge of my little "world as usual," and of course that usuallness is one reason i go on these trips.
My main destination is one of the largest border communities in the world, El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. Believe it or not, I've never been to Mexico; the closest I've ever been to it is El Paso. I remember, on our way moving from Austin to Los Angeles in the summer of 1995, my girlfriend and I stopped in El Paso for lunch or something. It seemed to be mostly a city of strip malls. And I could look across the Rio Grande and see the sort of brownish-grey blur of short buildings on the other side: Juarez.
At that time the issue that is my reason for going there now was just getting started: hundreds of mysterious murders of women in Juarez in the last 10 years. No one knows who is doing it or why. Most of the women were workers in maquilladoras, the border factories that serve the free trade sweatshop needs of U.S. companies. So there are several theories about why: perhaps something to do with the women trying to organize in the maquilladoras, perhaps men jealous that the women were hired instead of them... recently the Mexican police were reportedly rounding up random criminals and blaming them, just to appear to be doing something about the killings. And the latest news is that the state government seems to be trying to buy off the families of the victims.
The Mexico Solidarity Network is organizing a caravan from points all over the U.S. to converge on Juarez, and then a 5-day delegation to various locations and events in Juarez. I've decided to go on both of these. I'll be joining the west coast leg of the caravan in San Francisco.
First, though, I will be spending a week in the bay area., starting October 16. I'll be attending a friend's wedding, and presenting my collection of Bolivia videos at ATA in San Francisco, on October 21. I'm also looking for a place to show a collection of Portland bicycle videos that a friend and I have put together. I'd also like to meet with some bay area indymedia people.
After the delegation, my plans are quite a bit more vague. I'd like to show my Bolivia videos in some other places, so I'm trying to set up a little tour in the southwest - Albuquerque, Santa Fe, maybe Tucson and Phoenix. I'd also like to spend some time in Mexico and study Spanish and travel around. Ideally, I'd like to spend all winter there, but financial concerns and other factors are going to make that a little difficult, I fear.
If you're reading this and you live in any of these places and would like to help in any way, please add a comment. thanx!