Apr 8, 2007

Las Cruces Sun-News article

[Author's book is at COAS in Las Cruces. A book signing is scheduled next month at Barnes & Noble in West El Paso. New print book title is The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women and the the ebook title is Harvest of Women: Safari in Mexico.]

What: "Virgin of Juarez" (Minnie Driver movie) and discussion.
When: 1:30 p.m., Saturday, April 14.
Where: Mesilla Fountain Theatre, Mesilla, N.M.
Cost: $3 per person; Mesilla Film Society members free.

Juarez murders:
Reporter sheds light on dark story across border

Las Cruces Sun-News
By Jason Gibbs

LAS CRUCES — They were young. They were beautiful. And they were murdered by the hundreds — many just miles from Las Cruces.
The plight of more than 470 young women killed just over the U.S.-Mexico border in Juárez continues to draw attention from human-rights groups and the international community. Since 1993, roughly 500 young women have been killed around Juárez and in Chihuahua, many after being kidnapped and raped.
Movies, books and news reports continue to shed light on the murders and seek justice for the families of the women whose lives have been lost just south of the border. One of those on the forefront of the movement is a former Las Cruces Sun-News reporter.
Next weekend, Diana Washington Valdez will attend the screening of an independently produced movie at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla. Valdez, author of "Harvest of Women, Safari in Mexico 1993-2005," is now a reporter for the El Paso Times, where she first became interested in the killings of young women in the borderland.
She began her reporting career at the Sun-News, where, between 1983 and 1985, she covered local and state politics.
Her book was the basis for the upcoming movie "Bordertown," starring Jennifer Lopez. It also touches on the same topics featured in "Virgin of Juárez," which will be screened locally next weekend.
Many obstacles
Fame takes a back seat to her desire for people to seek justice for the murdered borderland women, Valdez said.
"The way in which the women were being killed, the brutality, there were many of them that, even though the authorities said it was normal, it didn't seem that way to me," she said. "Basically, it had to do with having lived here on the border all my life. Growing up here, you can tell when something is out of line, unusual, out of the normal."
Valdez is not alone in her belief that something is amiss in these cases. Amnesty International has dedicated an official to monitor the murders, and has studied the cases individually.
Diego Zala is a member of the Central American research team for Amnesty International. Stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he is the agency's lead expert on the Juárez murders. He said the group appreciates the attention Valdez has brought to the issue.
While hundreds of murders may fit into the same pattern, Zala said they are more concerned with pressuring the Mexican government to investigate the crimes than trying to determine whether or not the murders are connected.
"We are not trying to determine the exact number of murders," he said. "Even though there may have been a slight drop in the number of murders ... it still demonstrates the (Mexican government's) punishment leaves a lot to be desired."
He commended Valdez for her work.
"We appreciate the fact there has been a lot of attention on this," he said. "What really, really counts is that the survivors feel, someday, they will get a sense of justice and someday the killings will stop."
He said Amnesty International is pressuring the Mexican government to prosecute the perpetrators of the killings, but corruption inherent in that government has proven to be a roadblock.
"Reports have logged 177 incidents of (governmental) negligence," he said. "None of hose have been reprimanded or disciplined. All this leaves a sense of deep failing of the criminal justice system. We are still monitoring, following closely."
On the local front, Amnesty International conducts letter drives to petition Congress to take action in an effort to prevent more young women from senseless murder, said Alexander Hallwyler, president of the New Mexico State University chapter of Amnesty International. They also strive to educate young college students about the dangers of crossing the border.
"The situation is simply that the border area in El Paso is dangerous and hasn't improved significantly in the last decade," Hallwyler said. "Students should be concerned for their safety when they travel there. It's a disconcerting and unsafe place."
Author's sacrifice
Doña Ana County author Denise Chávez, a member of the regional support and activist group Amigos de Mujeres, said Valdez's gift in telling cross-border stories went beyond her reporting skills. Her concern for women in the borderlands and her professionalism lent her a unique view on the issue.
"She is an impeccable and professional woman doing her work," Chávez said. "(The book) has not only the flavor of the border, the intimate understanding, but it had the facts. She was able to do a masterful inquiry."
That inquiry came at a cost to Valdez. Since publication of her book in Spanish in 2005 and English in 2006, she has been subjected to threats and has had to make adjustments in her public life. She's unable to return to Juárez due to those threats, and moves with care in her day-to-day life.
"It's there all the time," she said. "When you are dealing with this in some way every day for seven years, it always comes up. It's become a part of me in a way."
She knows the road to justice will be a long and difficult one. But it's one she said she is happy to tread.
"What I sought to accomplish I already have — to find out what was going on and let everyone else know about it," Valdez said. "Deep down, we all like to see justice."