When Neyra Azucena Cervantes didn't come home from work one day in 2003, her family went looking for her. But the 20-year-old resident of Chihuahua, Mexico, was never seen again; two months later, some bones turned up that tested positive for her DNA.
Cervantes is one of nearly 400 young women killed in the past decade in Chihuahua and Juarez, border towns known for drug trafficking as well as the maquiladoras, where goods are made for export to the U.S. Now Neyra's mother, Patricia Cervantes, and the mothers of other victims are crossing the border, too. As part of the International Caravan for Justice in Juarez and Chihuahua, Patricia Cervantes speaks on Oct. 22 at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse about the murderous violence gripping her hometown.
The maquiladoras are more than just part of the landscape. About half the victims have worked at these factories, which recruit women to travel far from home for poverty-level wages, but which according to critics provide employees with little security. Kate Chanton of U.S.-based tour organizer Mexico Solidarity Network (www.mexicosolidarity.org/juarezcaravans.html) says maquiladoras often further endanger workers by refusing them entry if they arrive even minutes late for a shift. Meanwhile, say critics, police and government authorities have done little to help. "There haven't been any real investigations to date," says Chanton. "There's no consequences for anyone who wants to murder women."
Neyra Cervantes worked in a men's clothing store, not a maquiladora, but her case has fared no better. Speaking by phone from Buffalo through interpreter and Mexico Solidarity Network National Coordinator Tom Hansen, Patricia Cervantes says the only person arrested for the crime has been her daughter's cousin, a "scapegoat" who was tortured in prison. She charges that in some cases the government has even destroyed crime-scene evidence.
Cervantes belongs to Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas ("Justice for Our Daughters"), one of six Mexico-based groups that organized the 59-city tour along with Mexico Solidarity and Amnesty International. She urges pressure on Mexican officials, including President Vicente Fox and Chihuahua's newly elected Gov. José Reyes Baeza (who she says has refused to meet with victims' mothers), to seek justice. Mexico Solidarity is also soliciting Congressional support for proposed House and Senate resolutions encouraging increased U.S. involvement in solving the crimes. Cervantes' current U.S. tour culminates Nov. 2 with a Day of the Dead rally and vigil in Juarez.