President Vicente Fox's administration, while downplaying its failure to resolve the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, has taken additional steps to address the situation. In late May, the administration made two announcements that imply a stepped-up effort to try to bring some resolution to the murders.
On May 26, the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) announced that it would assume a direct role in the investigation of all the murders that have taken place since 1993. Some estimates indicate that close to 400 women have been murdered in Juarez in little more than a decade, including 18 cases in 2005.
A few days later, the PGR removed Maria Lopez Urbina, the special prosecutor assigned to investigate the murders, and replaced her with Mireille Roccatti Velazquez, a former president of the Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH).
Critics call PGR's intervention a publicity stunt
The PGR's decision to intervene in all the Juarez cases represents a shift for federal prosecutors. The administration had taken the position that Chihuahua state authorities were responsible for all but a handful of the investigations (see SourceMex, 2004-06-23 and 2005-02-09).
The PGR's decision is in part the result of strong pressure from human rights advocates and organizations representing relatives of victims, as well as a change in leadership at the PGR. In late April, Fox appointed Daniel Cabeza de Vaca to replace then attorney general Rafael Macedo de la Concha, who resigned because of fallout resulting from the effort to oust Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (see SourceMex, 2005-05-04).
Human rights advocates questioned the Fox administration's true intentions regarding the involvement of the PGR in the Juarez cases. "This appears to be a publicity stunt on the part of this government," said the Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles Todos los Derechos para Todos, which represents 54 human rights organizations.
Edgar Cortez, executive secretary for the organization, said the announcement might have been a reaction to strong criticism from the international human rights organization Amnesty International (AI).
In a report released in May, AI said human rights violations were still commonplace in Mexico despite some efforts by the government to bring Mexican law in line with international standards on human rights. But the report, which also criticized the judicial and legislative branches for their shortcomings in protecting human rights in Mexico, raised concerns about continuing reports of arbitrary detentions, torture, abuses in the judicial system, and murders of human rights advocates and journalists.
The report made a special mention of the lack of resolution in the Juarez murders, a responsibility ascribed primarily to the executive branch. "The victims are being betrayed by this government, which had made a commitment to defend them," said the AI report.
"This is not the first time that the government has resorted to a 'rapid response' when faced with criticism [from Amnesty International], about the continuation of impunity in Juarez," said Cortez.
Removal of special prosecutor elicits mixed reactions
In a second announcement relevant to the Juarez case, Cabeza de Vaca removed Maria Lopez Urbina from her post. She was appointed in early 2004 to investigate and prosecute the Juarez cases (see SourceMex, 2004-02-04). Lopez Urbina came under criticism from victims' families because of the lack of results in the investigations.
Just two days before her demotion, two major human rights organizations--the Comision de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (COSYDDHAC) and the Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH)--made statements sharply criticizing the Fox government for failing to fulfill a commitment to guarantee an end …