Cheli Buriel
Graduate Student
Georgetown University


February 9, 2002

The Maquiladora Murders

Imagine working a 12-15 hour work shift, sitting on a small stool, hunched over all day sewing pieces of fabric together until your eyes become blurred, and only having a ten minute break for lunch, if even that much time. 

Imagine getting out of work at one or two in the morning, catching a bus for a 30-minute ride to the next town where you have to walk 20 minutes to catch a second bus for another 30-minute ride and then walking another hour to your home.  

Sounds all right for maybe one day, yes?  

Now imagine working 12-15 hours a day, six sometimes even seven days a week, finishing work late at night, catching one bus ride, and then walking through a red-light district filled with drug-addicts, drunks and gangs, in order to catch a second bus and walking another hour in the dark, through the desert with absolutely no light to guide your way home. 

This is reality for many young Mexican women, mostly teenagers, who work in the foreign-owned “maquiladora” factories that occupy much of the land in Cuidad Juárez, Chihuahua, México.  Maquiladoras have sprung-up in Mexican towns situated along the United States-México border since 1993, but even more so since the initiation of NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) in 1994.  Along with the emergence of maquiladora factories has come the brutal rapes and violent deaths of 260 Mexican women since 1993,  the most recent occurring in November 2001. 

How? Why?  The answer is clear.  These women are forced to work in the maquiladoras due to the fact that they provide jobs for the thousands of unemployed people in Mexico. However, maquiladoras also provide few amenities to the cities where they are established, such as Ciudad Juárez.  The maquiladoras coerce these young women to travel hours both to and from work with no compensation or safety during their commute.  Arriving to work has thus far posed no problems, considering that it is still daylight.  However, once these women leave the maquiladoras at night, they automatically become prey to rapists and murderers that hide in the desert ready to attack their next victim as she walks home alone with only her memory to guide her.  Most of the dead bodies have been found in the desert near cotton fields and in nearby ditches with their heads crushed and some even run over by a car.  

Vicky Caraveo, leader of an advocacy group called Women for Juárez gave a synopsis of the murders when interviewed on ABC’s 20/20, “I think we’ve got more bodies hidden in the desert.  They rape them, they kill them, they throw them away, like this bucket, like this paper.  We try to imagine the horror.  They can scream at the top of their lungs, and no one – no one – is going to hear them.”

Despite the fact that dozens of arrests have been made, the killings continue to remain largely unexplained.  Numerous suspects have been detained and sent to prison, though the killings have never ceased.  Among those detained have been bus drivers, who initially confessed to murdering women and then later claimed that Mexican authorities used torture to force them to make false confessions.  In addition, Mexican authorities continue to state that the rapists and murderers are now behind bars for good.  If this is so, why do dead bodies continue to appear in the desert?  The fact that these brutal and violent deaths persist demonstrates the deeply flawed justice system in México as well as the underlyinging cultural issue of misogyny.

A growing number of activists and organizations critical of the authorities’ handling of the crimes have grown since 1993 but nothing major has been done to protect the women of maquiladoras from rape and murder.  As the number of dead bodies in the desert increases, so too do the cries and heartaches from the victims’ families who were lured to the border towns in hopes of finding jobs and better wages for their families.  One can only ask if the time and effort is worth working in these factories and if so, is the risk of being murdered worth it as well?  

For most of these young maquiladora workers and their families, they have no other options.

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