In a conversation with Miguel Aragon; a young artist I know who grew up in Juarez, he told me that after the North American Free Trade Agreement, and actually long before it, American companies like GE, Levi and others scoured Mexico for cheap labor, posting notices all over the country and Central America, promising jobs–jobs in the Maquiladora-style factories. Miguel’s own aunt has worked in the factories for no more than 30 dollars a week in Mexico for two decades.
NAFTA allowed American companies to break American labor unions and outsource their manufacturing to Mexico where labor was abundant and they could pay poverty wages. American politicians got behind this and the only voice out there against it was H. Ross Perot and everyone thought he was crazy.
Most of the work was for seamstresses and circuit-board assembly which meant that most, if not all, of the work was better suited to women employees who would also be more docile about being fucked around. In the meantime, whole families moved up to the state of Chihuahua to pursue employment. These policies left a great many men unemployed and some found a new life with the narco-mobs and the gangs. Others drank more and nursed their anger while their wives worked at the maquiladora jobs.
Around 1993, these women started turning up dead–murdered–around human rights groups think as many as 4,000 women have been raped, murdered and discarded in the state of Chihuahua, mostly around Ciudad Juarez.
Miguel says women got hired because they had smaller fingers and could do close, fine assembly and sewing. He also says his own culture is a big part of the problem. He said the macho males couldn’t bear not being the breadwinner and a growing sense of independence among the women provoked violence in the men. He told me, sadly, “It is us–we’ve done this to our own.”
Police have made relatively few arrests in these murders and former President Vincente Fox attempted to dispatch this crisis with the quote “It has been blown out of proportion –the news keeps rehashing the same three or four hundred murders.” Really? Even if the number were that lower number and not the 4000 women’s groups in Mexico are saying it is, it is an astonishing homicide rate for a town the size of Juarez, and that all of the victims are working women is appalling and beyond the pale.
Both Presidents Fox (and Calderon, his successor) acknowledge the Army cannot even police Mexico, with the narco-mobs and proliferation of gangs (WAY up since NAFTA) like the Aztecas, La Linnea, and Los Rebeldes. What they’re NOT saying, and what many fear saying, is that a great much of this slaughter is domestic violence unchecked. Men murdering their wives, girlfriends, lovers. There have been many attempts at misdirection. First, authorities tried to paint the victims as bar girls and prostitutes. Then the gangs were convenient scape-goats and some of them were even guilty, which made selling this easier. Then the omnipotent serial killer theory got passed around with the help of a bus driver who drove the route many of the victims took home. These were all compelling scenarios…real-life boogey-men…because the truth of it is SO much more despairing and inhuman–men murdering their women in domestic quarrels, and getting away with it. For Mexican leaders it is apparently too awful to even admit.
What I wonder in all of the speculation, is what did American companies do in order to safeguard their female employees? Did they do anything at all? I’ve read lots and lots of accounts and have not seen any evidence of American maquiladora-style factories doing anything to protect the young women they lured from all over Latin America to work for stoop wages. As Americans, we bear some ownership in this furious spate of “femicides.” This is what happens when we allow our businesses to make people tenants in their own countries; when a population of humans can starve to death while standing outside a grocery store. We become the beating heart of the Beast.