April 21, 2008 at 2:59 am Leave a comment

The Killing Fields

Caprice Padilla / Adelante
Volume II, Issue 1 (Fall 2007)

A horrifying trend has emerged in the border town of Juarez, Mexico–the slayings, tortures and abductions of hundreds of women. After seven years of investigating the situation, journalist Diana Washington Valdez brings attention to the very complex and often corrupt relationship between politics, socio-economics, drug trafficking and organized crime in her book, “The Killing Fields.”

I was first drawn to this book because I was raised in El Paso, Texas, which shares its border with Juarez. Although one can literally look out their car window from the interstate in El Paso and see Juarez – the dirt roads, the poorly assembled houses, the Rio Grande River which separates the two cities – it always felt like the violence was millions of miles away. How is it possible that such savage and tragic crimes were occurring next door and being treated with such apathy?

Valdez’s eye opening book is based on thorough research with international sources, including politicians, law enforcement agents, families of the victims and anonymous sources. Valdez visited sites where bodies had been found, read through case files, information that had been leaked and various other documents to piece together the investigation.

Anecdotes from the victim’s families are included, as well as photos of victims and an appendix organized by year with every victim’s name, age and cause of death, when known. Valdez makes each case relatable and more realistic; each victim was someone’s mother, daughter, sister, wife, or loved one. This makes it much more difficult to turn away from what Valdez terms femicide, or the murder of women. The victims become people, not merely statistics.

Even more heart wrenching is the manner in which the women were tortured and killed. Almost sickening to read, Valdez includes descriptive accounts of the conditions in which bodies were found and details the common traits among the various cases.

Valdez also sheds light on the pervasive corruption within Mexico and reveals shocking information about the relationship between drug cartels and the government.

It is almost impossible for justice to be served. Police falsely prosecuted many individuals and employed tactics such as planting or losing evidence and intimidating witnesses and sources. Lawyers representing the accused were often forced to withdraw from cases due to threats or physical harm. Many who did not step down were murdered.

Women’s bodies were often misidentified and not allowed to be viewed. Because the majority of victims come from a low socio-economic status, families cannot afford to pay outrageous DNA test costs, and therefore never have proof. Valdez explains that she smuggled a collar bone across the border for DNA testing so that a woman could have answers about her missing daughter.

Journalists were also greatly fearful for their own safety, and often did not pursue cases. Valdez’s ability to overcome such fears in order to seek the truth is admirable. Her selflessness and desire to provide a voice to those who are voiceless is inspiring, not only as a journalist, but as a human being.

The portrayal of drug cartels and their immunity from any type of prosecution or accusation surrounding the cases and the apathy throughout all ranks of the government towards the cases are equally shocking. The Killing Fields seems more like an intense, complex movie script than reality.

Valdez explains that femicides have spread to other areas of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. A chapter is also dedicated to what she perceives must now be done to address the situation and what can be done to improve Juarez women’s future.

The Killing Fields, one of the most compelling and provocative books I have ever read, allowed me to grasp the emotion and understand the injustice in Juarez. Relating to the book brought the femicides into my reality; I could no longer brush it off as another news story. I’ve walked on the streets from which women were abducted; I’ve seen the Juarez police patrolling; I’ve seen both the extremely wealthy and very poor Mexicans. Valdez comments on the irony that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States, while minutes away Juarez is literally a killing field.

I feel incredibly lucky, but also greatly saddened by the fact that merely because I was born north of the Rio Grande, I am safer, more fortunate and have more opportunities than those who, by fate, were born to the south.

A cross reads \"ni una mas\"

Entry filed under: Fall 2007 issue. Tags: , , .


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