Pubdate: Sat, 31 May 2003
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)

Copyright: 2003 The Dallas Morning News
Authors: Alfredo Corchado, Laurence Iliff , The Dallas Morning News
Bookmark: (Mexico)


Police Dismiss Assertion That Hundreds Of Women Died In Sex Ring

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Federal authorities are revisiting possible 
motives such as organ trafficking to explain the brutal killings of 258 
Juarez women over the last decade, but three independent investigators have 
come to a more controversial conclusion.

A sex ring controlled by drug lords is systematically abducting many of the 
victims, forcing them into sex orgies followed by ritualistic killings, 
they say.

One of the three investigators, Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez, says in a new 
book, Bones in the Desert, that the women were often murdered in front of a 
group he believes includes powerful politicians, businessmen and even 
police officials involved in the orgies. Those people are involved in a 
massive cover-up, he said.

"All of them have an interest in seeing that these cases are not resolved," 
Mr. Gonzalez said in an interview.

Mr. Gonzalez, a reporter with the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, said he 
had been beaten and threatened and has documented cases in which other 
people have been killed or scared off for getting too close to the truth.

Authorities dismissed the assertions.

"It's full of lies," a Chihuahua state police spokesman said of the book. 
"There's no proof to back these allegations."

Mr. Gonzalez made leaps of logic without any evidence, said a police 
consultant on the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But a former police investigator who was removed from the case said he 
concurred with Mr. Gonzalez. But he said he would not speak on the record 
for fear of retaliation.

"This is a case that's very complicated, but there are some real obvious 
suspects that in my opinion we have overlooked, and it's not by accident," 
he said.

Asked if he was referring to drug lords, he said, "Absolutely. They're so 
powerful that they run the city."

And the former forensic chief in Juarez, Oscar Maynez Grijalva, said he 
also has concluded that authorities are covering up a continuing massacre 
of women at the hands of powerful people who act with impunity. They could 
include drug traffickers, he said, but he declined to elaborate, citing 
possible retaliation.

"Juarez has become a city without limits, a city with a social 
decomposition where people prefer to turn a blind eye," said Mr. Maynez. 
"Often, the problem isn't so much just the crime itself but the response 
from authorities. Policemen who are unprofessional and dishonest make 
solving these cases difficult. Corruption here is rampant. You never know 
who to trust."

Other Motives

Government officials, meanwhile, are exploring other motives.

Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha has revived a once-discarded 
theory that organ trafficking may be a motive for the killings and may 
involve U.S. buyers. He also has said the slayings may involve a 
pornography ring. He has not elaborated.

The attorney general appeared before a Mexico Senate subcommittee and 
reiterated the government's commitment to helping local authorities solve 
the cases.

"These acts, that have rippled through the international community, have 
left within all of us a sense of impunity that has become a demand for 
justice, and most of all, for security so that this does not happen again," 
he said.

He said 99 of the 258 cases have been solved and the perpetrators punished, 
though critics say many of those in jail were forced to confess through 
torture and are innocent. The federal government has jurisdiction only over 
cases that may involve a federal crime such as organ trafficking. It has 
taken more than a dozen cases so far.

The government's involvement has created some hope, advocates for the 
victims' families said.

"Our state government does not want to investigate these women's deaths and 
what's behind this," said Esther Chavez, director of the Casa Amiga women's 
shelter in the border city. "Maybe the federal government will."

Criminals With Impunity

Bones in the Desert comes 10 years after the first killing. Bodies continue 
to be found, and the case has received worldwide attention. It has been an 
embarrassment for President Vicente Fox, who came to power in 2000 
promising to end the impunity many offenders had enjoyed during the 71-year 
rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

In the book, Mr. Gonzalez argues that only criminals with impunity could 
pluck the young women off busy streets in broad daylight. In some cases, he 
said, the women may have been held for up to 10 days. None has lived to 
tell her tale, which he says is another sign of professional killings.

Drug lords in Juarez, he adds, already kill off rivals by the dozens every 
year, buy off police, bribe the military, and move around the city freely, 
eating at the best restaurants and drinking at the nicest bars. The federal 
attorney general's office was housed in a building owned by the powerful 
Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel.

"We're talking about people who get together for the purpose of carrying 
out crimes together and agree their activities should be kept secret," he 
said in an interview. "All governments cut deals with organized crime."

Juarez is a city of gleaming industrial parks erected by Fortune 500 
companies as well as dust-covered shanties built by workers. Desperate 
people, rampant unemployment, skyrocketing crime, overcrowding and violence 
have made the city a tough place to live.

Last week, the bodies of three young men were discovered, their fingers cut 
off and stuffed inside their mouths and pockets. A store owner was shot 
dead with a large-caliber rifle, and a 9-year-old boy, Ricardo Aquino 
Olivares, was kidnapped and choked to death. Police said five suspects were 
being interrogated, including a member of the state police anti-kidnapping 
unit suspected in the child slaying.

In Juarez, little is transparent. Even the number of women killed is in 
dispute. Authorities say the number is 258. Women's groups say that it 
could be 600 and that the killing is spreading throughout the state of 
Chihuahua, neighboring Sonora and beyond.

Most of the Juarez victims have been 15 to 25 years old - students, store 
clerks and $6-a-day maquiladora workers. All have been from poor families 
unable to hire private investigators.

None has been American, despite the heavy traffic of teenagers between El 
Paso and Juarez.

The killings continue, abetted by incompetence and Mexico's electoral 
cycles, which result in frequent governmental changes, critics say.

"Cases of serial killers take years to solve," said Mr. Maynez, the former 
forensic chief. "If there is no direct connection between the killer and 
the victim, a pattern needs to be established. In Mexico, we don't have 
that luxury because every two or three years we have an election. There is 
no continuity in investigations. This loses a lot of information and evidence."

In the meantime, the conduct of some authorities has deepened distrust and 
fear of the police.

Mario Escobedo Jr., the attorney for a bus driver who said he had been 
tortured into confessing that he and a fellow driver killed some of the 
women, was gunned down by police a year ago as he drove his car in downtown 
Juarez, just after taking the case. Mr. Escobedo had been highly critical 
of police in media interviews.

Police insisted they shot him in self-defense and showed their vehicle 
riddled with bullets allegedly fired from Mr. Escobedo's gun. On the day 
after the shooting, however, a photo that appeared on the front pages of 
local newspapers showed the victim near the vehicle, which had no bullets 
in it. Chihuahua State Judge Maria del Carmen Verdugo Bayona released the 
officers who had been arrested.

Mr. Maynez said that was the last straw. He resigned this year and moved to 
El Paso.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jackl