Ciudad Juarez Serial Murders

Ciudad Ju?rez (or Ju?rez) is a city in Chihuahua, Mexico, south of El Paso, Texas. The fourth largest city in Mexico, it has been termed "the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones." After the establishment of the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) in Mexico, maquiladoras (or maquilas) were introduced to the region. The maquilas were foreign-owned factories operating in Mexico for the purposes of cheap labor to assemble imported materials and then export the assembled materials back to their country of origin. The advantage was that the company only needed to pay a value added tax while saving substantially on labor costs. Operations such as these provided much-needed jobs in these border areas, resulting in the population of Juárez growing as much as fivefold.

Prior to the 1990s, the majority of workers in the maquilas were women, preferred for their high tolerance of poor working conditions and their dexterity and agility in assembling parts. Workers were generally in their mid to late teens, earning a wage of about $26 per week (plus an additional $30 to $40 in grocery vouchers and health care benefits). Labor unions were rare, present in less than 20 percent of the plants and often ineffective against the rampant employee migration and turnover, which ran as high as 100 percent annually. Since the 1970s, the city has been plagued with gruesome drug cartel violence. The Ju?rez cartel controls the main transportation route of illegal drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine and marijuana) entering the United States from Mexico and is known for its intimidation tactics such as decapitating or mutilating the corpses of their rivals and depositing them in public locations.

Beginning in 1993, dozens of women annually have been found murdered, "Jack the Ripper-style" in the city. One of the first victims found, Alma Chavira Farel, 13 years old, was strangled, raped and sodomized. The bodies of eight more young women were found in the same year. The number of deaths increased steadily until by the summer of 1995, bodies were discovered several times a week, discarded without humanity in shallow graves or trash dumps. The common link with most of the murders was the women's backgrounds: young and slender, with shoulder-length dark hair, generally from poor families and employed in the maquiladoras.

The culture within the maquilas has been criticized as a contributing factor in the objectification of these workers. Sociologist Leslie Salzinger, who worked for a time in the maquiladoras, noted flirtatious conversations and behavior between the all-male supervisor staff and the female work force. Outside the workplace, female workers often participated in swimsuit and evening gown competitions titled "Sefiorita Maquila." Local bars sponsored events among their women customers such as "Most Daring Bra" and "Wet String Bikini" contests.

[Note: While the sociopsychology of serial sexual murder has not been linked to the recreational habits of the victims, it is known that the perpetrators of such heinous acts are driven by extreme hatred of women and desire to inflict suffering on their victims. It is unavoidable, then, not to make note of the social environment that enables such a predator to perpetrate such acts repeatedly and brazenly without detection or capture].

Sociologist Pablo Vila suggests an even broader factor contributing to Ju?rez as such a breeding ground for antifemale violence. He notes that in the minds of some border inhabitants, the infiltration of foreign industrialization and capitalization is metaphorically akin to sexual penetration and exploitation. He concludes that it is not coincidental for a border economy and the resulting transient culture to be coupled with overt sexual degeneracy.

For the first two years, the deaths of these women went mainly unnoticed by the mainstream media. In 1995, a small local women's rights organization, Ocho de Marzo, began to organize a campaign to get justice for the victims. In October of that year, Abdul Latif Sharif, an Egyptian national with a history of violent crime against women, was arrested, charged and convicted of the murder of Elizabeth Castro Garcia in 1995. The murders, however, did not end with the imprisonment of Sharif, and several other suspects have been arrested, including members of a local street gang in 1996, residential bus drivers (Los Choferes) within the area in 1999 and Garcia Uribe and Gonzalez Meza in 2001.

Ciudad Juarez Serial Murders: Selected full-text books and articles

Murder in Juarez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line
Livingston, Jessica.
Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, January 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Death Comes to the Maquilas: A Border Story
Nathan, Debbie.
The Nation, Vol. 264, No. 2, January 13, 1997
Letter from Juarez
Karzarova, Mariana.
The Nation, Vol. 278, No. 12, March 29, 2004
Mexicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands
Rosa Linda Fregoso.
University of California Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of the Ciudad Juarez serial murders begins on p. 2
Critical Theories, International Relations, and "The Anti-Globalisation Movement": The Politics of Global Resistance
Catherine Eschle; Bice Maiguashca.
Routledge, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of the Ciudad Juarez serial murders begins on p. 139
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