Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Feminicidio, Narcoviolence, and Gentrification in Ciudad Juarez: The Feminist Fight

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Feminicidio, Narcoviolence, and Gentrification in Ciudad Juarez: The Feminist Fight

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

"La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar, porque no tiene, porque le falta, marihuana que fumar." [The cockroach, the cockroach, now he can't walk, because he doesn't have, because he needs, marijuana to smoke.]

La Cucaracha, an old Spanish folksong, gained popularity during the time of the Mexican Revolution when soldiers from competing factions adapted its lyrics to match their experiences. Determining the precise meaning of its protagonist--la cucaracha--can involve high-spirited discussions covering a range of well-worn questions. Is the cockroach the poor soldier who smokes marijuana to ease the pain from marching? Is it a stand-in for Pancho Villa's unreliable Model T? Does it refer to las soldaderas, the Revolution's female soldiers? Or is the song really about a cockroach that likes to smoke dope?

The jingle popped into my head in the middle of an interview that our research team was conducting in May 2012 with the official in charge of public security, Lt Colonel Julian Leyzaola, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua (Mexico) when he referred to the city's violence problems as a result of "las cucarachas". (1) This interview took place within the research project "Landscapes, Barriers and the Militarization of Everyday Life along the US-Mexico Border", a collaborative project with Dr Hector Padilla at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez and with Dr Juanita Sundberg at the University of British columbia. In this interview, "las cucarachas", as Leyzaola made categorically clear, referred to "delinquents" and "narcos" (drug gangs), the words commonly used by public and private leaders to describe the problematic elements of Ciudad Juarez society, especially in its crime-ridden downtown. Leyzaola was hired in April 2011 to lead the city's strategy for fighting the drug war that the federal government had declared in 2007. From 2008 to 2011, the federal army and then the federal police had assumed responsibility for the city's public security, and Leyzaola was restoring it to the municipal government. Since the drug war declaration in 2006, thousands had died violently in Ciudad Juarez. The majority of those murdered had come from the city's working poor, especially from its male youth; the majority of those doing the killing had come from the same population (Padilla, forthcoming). This is also the population hardest hit by the city's economic crash in 2010 as unemployment spiraled to over 20%.

Leyzaola was hired from Tijuana, where he had been tasked with a similar job. His well -founded reputation as someone who used torture and turned a blind eye to flagrant police abuse did not tarnish his credentials in Ciudad Juarez (Human Rights Watch, 2011). Shortly after his arrival in 2011, he described the criminals he sought to catch as "cockroaches that like to live in filth", who "need filth in order to survive" and who were "not of woman born" (Bustamante, 2011). This terminology of cockroaches has spread along with warnings that firm policing in Ciudad Juarez could lead to an undesirable "cockroach effect" for other nearby communities as, in The Economist's words, "there are plenty of signs that the pests are already scuttling off to new homes elsewhere" (2011). While Leyzaola uses "cucaracha" to refer to "narcos" and "delinquents", the victims of the violence are also associated with the label as they are widely presented by Mexican officials, along with their US counterparts, as criminals themselves. As a US official stated in a 2009 interview regarding the violence and its policing in the country, "The Mexican people are paying a very high price because drug-fueled organized crime groups are killing each other. But I believe, and I think the Mexican government believes, that only through this sort of very effective, systematic work can they retake the streets" (in Whitesides, 2009). In a political climate in which, according to the Mexican Commission on Human Rights, fewer than 1% of homicides attributed to organized crime are even investigated, the discourse of cockroaches, narcos, and delinquents overwhelms more specific information about the impoverished youth caught up in the violence. …

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