by Lourdes Cardenas \ El Paso Times
Although this article may not seem immediately relevant to the coverage of the drug war in Mexico there is an obvious connection in that “la inseguridad”, the lack of security, which is fueled by criminals filling the void left by police forces that are overwhelmed, infiltrated and in some cases defeated, by organized crime and drug traffickers.
One of the manifestations of la inseguridad are the disappearances and homicides of girls and young women which has been a fact of life in Ciudad Juarez since the 1990’s.
These crimes against women are now spreading into other regions of Mexico.
It is believed that organized crime is now kidnapping females for the purpose of sex trafficking.
Powerful Narcos are said to pick and choose their “prizes” whom they abduct with impunity....Borderland Beat
JUAREZ -- Wednesdays have become a special day for Luz Elena Muñoz. It was a Wednesday when her eldest daughter, Nancy Iveth Navarro Muñoz, 18, went missing. And every Wednesday, for some strange reason, she hopes her daughter will appear and be at home again.
Nancy Iveth's bedroom remains intact, as she left it on the morning of July 13, when she left her house to seek employment in a store selling fabrics in Downtown Juárez. There are her clothes, her shoes, her makeup and most important, there is Briana, her one-and-a-half-year old baby, who was still being breast fed when her mother disappeared.
"The girl was very close to her," said Muñoz, 36, while trying to calm the restless, crying granddaughter in her arms. "Every day I pray for my daughter to return."
Muñoz is not alone. The parents of Esmeralda Castillo Rincon, who now would be 16, and Perla Ivonne Gonzalez, who would be 17, also hold out hope. Their daughters disappeared in 2009.
"We are partners of pain," said Jose Luis Castillo, Esmeralda's father. "It is a very painful process, entering her room, looking at her photos, her notebooks É the pain kills you."
Amid the wave of violence plaguing the city since 2008, the increasing cases of missing women have lost relevance in the spotlight, activists in Juárez said. However, the reputation of the city as a place that isn't safe for women is as valid as it has been since the '90s, when the city was worldwide known for the highest rate of femicides.
"We can't protect our girls. No family can feel confident when their daughters are in the street alone. Anyone can take them away," said Marisela Ortiz, activist and founder of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa. "It is not just that there are conditions of possible human trafficking ... in many cases they take the girls away because they can."
According to Chihuahua's Attorney General office, there are 57 open investigations of missing women this year. The number has gone up from 16 in 2008, to 20 in 2009, and 27 in 2010.
Between January 1995 to October this year in Juárez alone, there are a total of 145 open investigations related to missing women.
This number shows just the ongoing investigations, but it is a clear indicator of the magnitude of the problem. In June this year, authorities opened investigations for 11 cases; in July there were 10; in August, eight; in September, 11; four already in October.
The vast majority of the cases involve women ages 12 to 18.
Cecilia Espinosa, member of the civil organization Red de Mujeres, said that 227 women have been reported missing this year. In 2010 the number was 389; in 2009 it was 259 and in 2008, 326.
The Chihuahua Attorney General's Office didn't confirm this number. An interview with the officials in charge of the missing persons unit was not granted by the time of this publication.
Like Nancy Iveth, many young women disappeared in downtown Juárez, an area that authorities have classified as a high-risk zone for women.
"It is very concerning that women continue disappearing beside an international sentence from the Interamerican Human Rights Commission) that obliges the Mexican government to create conditions to protect women," said Ortiz.
Elvira González Vaquero said her world collapsed when her l5-year-old daughter, Perla Ivonne, went missing July 21, 2009.
She is convinced that she was taken away by a parquero, a parking lot attendant on the streets of Francisco Villa and Vicente Guerrero in Downtown.
Perla Ivonne was working at a Golden Burger and she told her mother that the attendant offered her a mobile phone. "That man was harassing her," Gonzalez said.
Through her own investigation, Gonzalez learned that her daughter was seen walking away from the restaurant with the attendant, but nothing more. The authorities have provided no more information.
The same has happened to Castillo, Esmeralda's father. His 14-year-old daughter disappeared May 19, 2009, while waiting for a bus.
"I feel totally disheartened," said the 51-year-old man. "They (authorities) use a disheartened policy É they said the girls ran away with their boyfriends É They don't do investigations, and we, the parents have to do it."
Castillo has knocked on all the possible doors to ask for help. Although the authorities' lack of action wears him out, he said he won't give up.
"They don't understand that as parents, we are desperate," Castillo said. "When somebody tells me 'I saw your daughter,' I run to that place and spend hours looking for her."
Castillo said that in the neighborhood where he lives (Francisco y Madero) at least three other girls have disappeared in similar circumstances. All of them were heading Downtown, he said.
Last July, state and federal police forces conducted an operation in Downtown looking for missing women in bars and restaurants. As a result, they arrested more than 1,000 people, but just one reported missing person was rescued. The majority of the arrested people were freed in the following weeks.
Some social activists such as Imelda Marrufo, a lawyer and activist from la Red de Mujeres said the police operation was a media spectacle and not a real response to the claims of hundreds of desperate parents.
Castillo is convinced that behind the disappearance of his daughter there is a human trafficking network and some other organizations as Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa agree with that hypothesis.
"There is a pattern in many of the disappearances," said Ortiz. "In January this year we filled a lawsuit for human trafficking in a case in which we were able to identify one of the several groups that could be involved in this situation."
Ortiz fled from Juárez after receiving several death threats against her and her family. María Luisa (Malú) Andrade, legal director of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, was also threatened after her house was burned. She also fled Juárez.
One of the biggest difficulties faced by those who have lost their daughters is that disappearance is not qualified as a crime, which means that it can't be prosecuted.
"The only thing that they can do is to file a report (of missing person), but the authorities are not obliged to make an intensive search," said Ortiz.
For her, the most concerning is that the cases of missing women continue to grow and the magnitude of the daily violence of the city has taken away the attention to this problem.
"The authorities should recognize the magnitude of the problem and develop campaigns to prevent this trend from continuing," she said. "A campaign would help many parents when looking for their daughters. Many parents don't know what to do but the authorities don't want to recognize that the cases continue."
Every night, the neighbors of Lucy Muñoz join her at her house to pray for Nancy Iveth's return.
During the week, Muñoz goes out to handle fliers with the picture of her daughter. Some days, her family and friends accompany her to hang some big billboards (mantas) asking for help in finding her.
She said that she has become more courageous. "In the beginning I was afraid but now I feel anger and courage."
Between her housekeeping activities and taking care of her three other children (ages 14, 7 and 5), as well as Nancy's baby, Muñoz finds the time to continue looking for her missing daughter.
"I'm always thinking of her," said Muñoz. "There is not one single day in which I don't think of her."
Please keep these mothers, daughters, sisters, wives in your prayers