Ciudad Juárez Demands: No More Abuse

August 25, 2014

Once again, gender violence is a hot topic of the day in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. On Sunday, August 24, hundreds of people marched from the “X” monument near Chamizal Park to the San Lorenzo area in a demonstration against domestic and other forms of violence.

Billed as “The March for Laura, for You and for Me,” the public action was called in response to the brutal beating a week earlier of Laura Guerra, a U.S. citizen and University of Texas at El Paso graduate who resides in Juárez, allegedly by her boyfriend, Fernando Vargas.  Bloodied and disoriented, the young woman was reportedly rescued from a park early on the morning of August 17 by a group of young people who were up late partying nearby.

University students, members of civic groups, motorcyclists and concerned citizens of all stripes rallied for Laura Guerra this past weekend. Many of the demonstrators wore white t-shirts and held purple balloons to symbolize their repudiation of violence.

“It is a peaceful march to advocate for everyone who has ever been a victim or survivor of abuse,” Martha Guerra, sister of Laura Guerra, wrote in an e-mail to FNS prior to the demonstration. “The march is to raise awareness against violence. The march also represents our right to speak up against abuse.”

According to the Ciudad Juárez Women’s Roundtable, a non-governmental group, at least 2,500 cases of physical attacks arising from domestic violence have been registered in the city since the beginning of the year.

Laura Guerra is currently at home recuperating with family members and expected to make a full recovery, according to her sister. As a result of the physical attack, the full circumstances of which are still unclear, Guerra required nose surgery and needs follow-up treatment, probably in October, her sister wrote.

The violent attack suffered by Laura Guerra stoked public outrage and made Mexican national media after Vargas was arrested by Ciudad Juárez municipal police but then quickly released by Judge Apolinar Juárez Castro. According to Martha Guerra, Vargas was freed because he was detained without an arrest warrant and her sister’s statement was missing information.

“And the reason it was incomplete was because it was taken minutes after she was released from the hospital and still under the influence of medication,” the sister stated in her e-mail to FNS.

Free for the moment, Fernando Vargas is an employee of the national oil company PEMEX as well as a student at the Autonomous University of Juárez (UACJ). He is a practitioner of boxing.

Dr.  Leticia Chavarria, member of the Ciudad Juárez Security Roundtable, a citizen law enforcement oversight panel, was among the numerous voices sharply criticizing the response of the justice system in the Guerra case.

“Things got off on the wrong foot ever since the new criminal justice system was implemented, because they don’t have trained personnel or adequate installations,” Chavarria told the local press. “It’s been four years since the case of Marisela Escobedo and the police still don’t know how to do detentions, and neither do those who are supposed to apply justice.”

Escobedo was a Juárez mother who waged a highly-publicized justice campaign for her murdered 16-year-old daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo. The mother escalated her struggle when the prime suspect in the murder was freed by a Juárez court. In December 2010, Escobedo was murdered near the offices of Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte while demanding the detention of the suspect, who was linked to organized crime.

Ciudad Juárez Public Safety Director Cesar Munoz Morales said he did not know the full reasons for the release of Fernando Vargas, but defended the actions of his officers.

“In regards to the police, we helped out the young woman who was attacked,” Munoz was quoted by the local press. “In terms of the legal issues the judge saw, which he determined as not grave, that is not our question.”  The police official said he hoped Vargas would be re-arrested soon.

Munoz’s version of events differed somewhat from other reports in that he credited an off-duty officer for alerting other officials about Laura Guerra’s predicament on the street.

“If this (officer) had not passed by the place and did not have a sense of citizen responsibility, who knows what could have happened?” he added.

Vargas still faces legal problems, but has initially been processed for domestic violence- much to the chagrin of Laura Guerra’s supporters who argue that the woman’s assailant should be charged with attempted murder.

The young man did not show up for a hearing on Saturday, August 23, and might not be back in court until October 31, according to press accounts. Vargas’ lawyer attended the August 23 hearing, contending that his client had not been personally notified of the court date as required.

Relatives, friends and supporters of Laura Guerra worry that her attacker will get off the hook.

Last week, Chihuahua state lawmaker Rogelio Loya got his colleagues to question State Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas about the Guerra case during an appearance at the state congress in Chihuahua City. Gonzalez told the legislators that Fernando Vargas was let go because the local prosecutor could not show that the detainee was dangerous to the public.

Delivering his comments before the legal hearing at which Vargas did not attend, Gonzalez said his office now had the legal elements to jail the accused man while a trial progresses.

State legislator Loya noted a contradiction between political discourses and law enforcement.  “It has been said in various speeches that the state of Chihuahua is a state of justice, and we have before us this regrettable situation, in which the citizens and students of the UACJ are taking it up as a matter of justice,” he said.

For now, the attack on Laura Guerra has revived the public conversation on the persistence of gender violence and the measures needed to eradicate it. Activists from the Ciudad Juárez Women’s Roundtable are demanding that Public Safety Secretary Munoz and Special State Prosecutor Ernesto Jauregui publicly disclose how police protocols are applied to serve female victims of violence.

Imelda Marrufo, the organization’s coordinator, called for an “exhaustive revision” of all the government institutions and agencies that had a role in the immediate freeing of Laura Guerra’s aggressor.

According to Martha Guerra, law enforcement officials have assured her family that “justice will be made” for Laura.

A Facebook page in support of Laura Guerra has been set up at:
https://www.facebook.com/justiciaparalaura

Additional sources: Proceso/Apro, August 24, 2014. Article by Patricia Mayorga. El Diario de Juárez
, August 24, 2014. Article by Josefina Martinez. Arrobajuarez, August 23 and 24, 2014. Norte, August 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 2014. Articles by Miguel Vargas, Herika Martinez Prado,  Claudia Sanchez, and Mauricio Rodriguez. La Jornada, August 22, 2014. Article by Ruben Villalpando. Lapolaka.com, August 21 and 24, 2014.  

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