Advocate for Women Susana Chavez Ambushed, Killed and Dismembered

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Susana Chavez’s mutilated body was found in an abandoned house five days ago. After three days of searching, her parents recognized her in the morgue with her left hand dismembered, apparently by a saw.

The 36-year-old woman was a fierce critic of the failure of authorities to halt the murders of women in the city, and a well-known poet who back in the ‘90s coined the phrase, “Ni una más,’’ (Not one more), referring to the incompetence of local authorities to find the killers of more than 500 women murdered in this city in the last decade.

The details of Chavez’s grisly murder and efforts by authorities to smear her name after her death have sparked widespread outrage locally and internationally. The news has refocused attention on why a decades-long crisis of violence against women in Juarez persists.

Details of Chavez’s killing are beginning to emerge. Last Wednesday night, a traditional date when Mexicans celebrate the mythical arrival of the Three Wise Kings, Chavez was ambushed a few blocks away from her home, as she was driving to meet friends at a local restaurant to celebrate.

“I waited for her all night long, but she never came back. On Thursday, we began to search for her. Then we learned she was dead. [Authorities] showed us some pictures and that was the way we could identify her,’’ a middle-aged woman who said she was Chavez’s mother told local media.

Authorities have already identified three suspects, at least two of them under 18 years old. The announcement was rather surprising, since up until now 92 percent of these crimes remain unsolved.

Some have cast doubts on the investigation because authorities initially reported that the victim had met the killers in the street, near the empty house believed to have been the scene of the crime. Authorities said Chavez joined the suspects for a drink and later refused to grant them sexual favors. The reason she was tortured, maimed and later killed by suffocation, using a plastic bag to cover her head, is still unknown. This version has pretty much been dismissed, and no clear reason for the killing has been found, except for the fact that for years she had been very vocal about the executions of women and the failure of law enforcement to find the perpetrators.

Local media have reported that authorities tried to conceal the identity of the victim, fearing the death of the beloved figure would spark protests in the community.

Chavez’s grisly murder has refocused attention on the deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez, where 14 of the 17 murders in the country since the beginning of the year have occurred.

Chavez’s killing happened less than a month after the murder of Marisela Escobedo, the mother who set up shop in front of the state governor’s office to demand the arrest of the killer of her 16-year-old daughter. Escobar alone investigated the whereabouts of the perpetrator, who was eventually set free by a panel of judges, despite confessing to the crime. The judges are currently being investigated for the decision.

The case is bound to set a legal precedent in the country because it is the first time a panel of judges may stand trial for apparently ignoring evidence presented by the state’s district attorney.

“The penal justice system in Chihuahua has collapsed, and now we can’t even demand justice for our dead because we can be killed for doing that,” said Gustavo de la Rosa, an official with the state of Chihuahua’s Human Rights Office.

Chavez’s body was transferred to the local forensic office last Saturday -- even though she was found days earlier. Her family located her on Sunday and finally got her released on Monday. Her dismembered left arm was found nearby and was attached by morticians who also applied make-up to her face. (Those who knew her say she didn’t care for make-up).

Her friends, still in disbelief, remembered the woman who walked the streets of Juarez chanting her battle call of “Ni una más.” In tears, they say they fear that they could be next. Then, they remember Chavez’s words to them, reciting the opening lines of one of her poems: “Blood of my own, blood of sunrise, blood of a broken moon, blood of silence.” The words, like a battle cry, fortify them in a struggle that so far doesn’t seem to have an end.


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