Mar 4, 2007

British news reports on Bordertown

London Sunday Mirror

18 February 2007


By Sarah Arnold and Barry Wigmore in Mexico

IT'S the city where no woman is safe. At least 400 have been found dead. Many had been raped, tortured and horribly mutilated.
Another 400 - perhaps 600 - are still missing from Ciudad Juarez, near the border that separates Mexico from Texas.
But there has been not a single conviction for the appalling crimes. In fact, since the first of the murders in the city, 13 years ago, the Mexican authorities have done their best to play them down.
Now, finally, the light is being shone on this catalogue of terror... by an actress better known for her bottom than her civil rights campaigns.
Jennifer Lopez is doing such a good job of bringing the appalling horror to the world's notice that this week she received an award from Amnesty International.
Gigli and Maid In Manhattan star Jennifer, 38, is co-producer of £25million movie Bordertown, also starring Martin Sheen and Antonio Banderas. It's a real-life horror story more gruesome than anything its scriptwriters could have dreamed up.
And she says: "This is a story which was screaming to be talked about and brought to the surface. I really couldn't believe this was happening. Making this movie changed my life."
In the film, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday and being released in Britain later this year, J-Lo plays a US journalist who arrives in the city to investigate the rumours she has heard about the murders.
Her portrayal mirrors the story of real-life journalist, Diana Washington Valdez, 51, who risked her own life in Juarez to follow the trail of murders. Diana believes some are carried out by drug gangs.
But she is convinced many more are victims of a grisly cult that only exists in what is being called the City Of Lost Girls, where young men hunt women and kill them just for kicks. They are known as Los Untouchables. Powerful multi-millionaire businessmen, the sons of influential families, spoiled rich kids with a fetish, who have learned they are above the law and can pick their victims - young, pretty and poor - without fear of ever being arrested.
"The fact is there are several sets of killers on the loose," Diana says. "One or two individuals are serial murderers. Then there are violent drug gangs, who will kidnap and execute sisters or daughters as a way of forcing new recruits to join them. "But as well as them are the groups who murder women simply for the sport of it. Girls told us stories about escaping from orgies where some of these men were present. But they have no fear of ever being brought to justice, because of their family connections."
Many of the victims that have been found show signs of being tortured in sadistic rituals. Three teenage girls, whose bodies were discovered within the space of a week, had had their nipples cut away.
Other women had been assaulted with knives and wirecutters, before being hacked to death. One of the youngest, a five-year-old girl, had been gruesomely tortured. Her captors began cutting out her heart while she was still alive. Diana's book, Harvest Of Women: A Mexican Safari, has made her a target for life, she is convinced. The drugs barons have sworn they will get their revenge. At book signings in the States, she is guarded by the FBI.
The film-makers, too, had to defy death threats. It was too dangerous for J-Lo, Martin and Antonio to work in the town, so their scenes were filmed on a set closer to the border.
The crew who did venture into Juarez were harassed by police and locals. On the first day of filming, a production assistant was arrested and questioned, their hotel rooms were ransacked, and a camera truck was stripped of £100,000-worth of equipment.
The mayor's response was to tell them that they weren't welcome in town, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. "This is a city out of control," says Bordertown's director Gregory Nava. There's an enormous clash of cultures. It's the only place where the First World and the Third World meet, and that point is radioactive." The killings have become known as the maquiladora murders, because most of the victims were girls who worked in the maquiladoras - the factories and foreign-owned sweatshops that have sprung up in the poorer parts of Juarez making everything from toothpaste to TVs. The factories have brought wealth and great mansions to the businessmen, but a surge of decadent violence and shanty town squalor on the doorstep of the USA.
"These were human beings with dignity, with lives, with hopes and dreams," Nava says. "Yet in this great global economy it doesn't seem to matter - a few hundred young women get killed, let's just cover it up and hire some more." At first, the murders were assumed to be the work of one serial killer. Then, as more and more women disappeared and their bodies were discovered in the desert, it became obvious there must be blood-lusting gangs hunting them like prey.
In one incident alone, 17 dead girls were left close together. They all looked similar - pretty and slim, with long, straight, dark hair. They had all been bound with their shoelaces and strangled.
Oscar Maynez, a former chief of police forensics, examined a group of victims found in a cotton field. They were positioned 10ft apart, head to toe, with their legs apart, all strangled. It had the classic appearance of a ritual killing, he reported.
Soon afterwards he was forced to resign, rather than fabricate evidence against suspects he knew were innocent. Some of the victims' families have condemned Bordertown, complaining that Hollywood is making dollars out of their suffering and grief.
But most have welcomed the movie. It will cast a light into the dark corners of their city, they believe. Ahead of its launch, J-Lo hosted a screening for victims' relatives who are members of the campaigning group Bring Our Daughters Home. "Jennifer met with us and showed us the film before anyone else saw it," says Norma Andrade, whose daughter Lilia was kidnapped, raped and murdered six years ago. "When I looked at the screen it was as if I was seeing my daughter again. She was raped and killed for no reason, except that these men know no one will stop them."
Paula Bonilla Flores, whose daughter was one of the victims found in the cotton field, says: "When they hand you your child in a plastic body bag, the officials think that it is over. But for the families, the struggle is just beginning."
Occasionally, the police have arrested suspects, but seemingly just for show, on the flimsiest evidence. An Egyptian scientist died in prison before he was tried - most people believe he was innocent. Two bus drivers were held in jail before being released, and a bewildered American couple were imprisoned for 18 months, without any charges.
And still the murders continue. More victims for the police to file away and forget.
But no longer... if Jennifer Lopez has anything to do with it.