Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Maquiladoras & femicide in Juarez

Ciudad Juárez, MX, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world despite being considered one of the most murderous cities in the world “outside of declared war zones" (in 2009). El Paso, TX (just across the Rio Grande River) & Cd. Juarez form a contiguous megalopolis & regional economy--combining Juarez’s maquiladoras (sweatshops) with El Paso’s research & technological resources. The mutually predatory relationship between elites is worth well over $55 billion a year from tax-free imports & dirt cheap labor (workers earn $25 to $50 a week). There are now over 400 maquiladoras employing upwards of 300,000 people doing assembly work for 70 Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric, Alcoa, DuPont, Electrolux, Bosch, Delphi, Johnson Controls, Lear, Boeing, Yazaki, Sumitomo, & Siemens.

The exponential growth in the maquiladora plants along the US-MX border is due, of course, to the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA), passed in 1993 under Clinton & by Mexico in 1994. For Mexican working people it was the equivalent of buying swampland in Florida but for the ruling elite, a bonanza. Since tens of thousands of Mexican farmers & farm workers had already been displaced by neoliberal agriculture models, many of them moved to the northern border to find work in the maquiladoras, including thousands of women--some unaccompanied, some with their families.

After the implementation of NAFTA, there was a noted & overnight increase of violent crime & homicide in Cd. Juarez--an explosion of violent crime, reaching during some years well over 3,000 homicides a year & now over 2,000 people a year out of a population of 1.6 million. The violence has affected both men & women but that against women is clearly gender-based, involving rape, torture, mutilation, dismemberment.

There are umpteen narratives & just as many conflicting statistics about what is going on for the women of Cd. Juarez. Briefly, one narrative is based on racist ignorance & propaganda against Latino men & women: the commentators claim the perpetrators are infected with ‘traditional Mexican machismo’, want to retain domestic control over women, regard working women as prostitutes, are carrying out a backlash policy--&  Mexican women are responding like doormats.

Another narrative is that as a frontera/border city, Cd. Juarez is on the front lines of the drug war. That’s why President Calderon poured 8,000 troops (out of 45,000 deployed nationally) along with federal police into the city as part of the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative bankrolled by the US. They were posted there to interfere with two competing cartel gangs (the Sinaloa & Juárez cartels). Despite the occupation of troops, the violence has only increased & by no means has drug trafficking been impeded. Calderon claimed soldiers were unable to find the thousands of acres growing marijuana & opium because they were too busy patrolling the cities. But they appear to be a failure at both ventures since violence in Cd. Juarez has only grown. It has not escaped the notice of many that violence began to recede after many soldiers & federal police started to leave the city. Business figures & maquiladora agents have now begun to call on the UN to send “peacekeepers” to quell what they call the “drug-related violence.” A public opinion poll last year by the Autonomous University of Cd. Juárez showed that 97% of the population felt unsafe & 52% disapproved of & distrusted all Mexican authorities.

The international media, many feminists, & several human rights groups (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) have accepted the drug war narrative & protest quite rightly the refusal of Mexican authorities to even investigate the unspeakably violent deaths of hundreds of women & the disappearance of thousands. None of these groups will touch with a ten-foot pole the relationship of maquiladoras to the murders of hundreds of their employees. Some academics & other free-lancing journalists do, however, because only a tendentious halfwit could deny it.

Most of the women murdered are young maquiladora employees who must walk long distances to bus stops to & from night shifts through dimly lit, isolated areas. If they arrive a few minutes late for their night shift, the doors are locked & they must return alone to the bus stop. This is where most of them are thought attacked & kidnapped but they are later found in dumpsters & in fields. It has been reported (but is doubtful) that some large maquiladoras now provide bus service to & from their premises but this has not proven an effective preventive security measure so that suspicion has often fallen on the bus drivers. If the management was truly interested in the safety of their employees, they would develop a plan with every possible contingency to provide safe passage--including not locking young women out when tardy. The steadfast refusal of Mexican police & government authorities to do anything to force maquiladoras to protect women is explained by the “pay-off,” police corruption & collusion at the highest levels of government.

On the job, these young women are subjected to the most demeaning practices like random pregnancy testing, demonstrating proof of menstruation, & interrogation by supervisors about their sexual lives & contraception use. It has been reported that women are deliberately punched in the stomach by managers to make sure they are not pregnant or to damage any unborn child--because the companies do not want to pay  pregnancy benefits as mandated by Mexican law. In addition, women are subject to all manner of sexual harassment & insult by supervisors as a personal & corporate means of control. One frequent narrative to explain the femicidal rampage is a serial or serial killers. If that is a possibility, they should certainly look for suspects among the managerial staff at these corporations.

These shoes symbolizing the missing women were a part of a protest last week (Dec. 10th) by relatives outside the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office in Cd. Juarez demanding authorities investigate the deaths & disappearances of thousands of young women. Our deepest sympathies for their loss & fullest solidarity with their struggle.  (Photo by Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images)

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