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Volume 71, Issue 136, Thursday, April 27, 2006

Opinion

Industry brings terror to Juarez

Denise Hewitt
Opinion Columnist 

Thursday afternoon at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts there weren't many people wandering through the "Indelible Images" exhibit. A few were drawn in by the video looping endlessly on the back wall, showing the desolate and empty roads in Juarez, Mexico, along which women have to walk to get to and from factory jobs. A few paused long enough to sit on one of the two gray, industrial-looking concrete benches in front of the wall.

They don't realize until a guard gently asks them to move that the benches are part of the exhibit. The concrete benches were made with the water left from washing the bodies of the victims of Juarez. Walking down those lonely roads, women have been disappearing for more than 10 years.

The victims of Juarez are all female and poor, and they all died horribly. Despite Juarez's reputation for violence and drugs, there was only an average of three women murdered per year before the American manufacturing plants started relocating there 12 years ago. Since then, Juarez has been plagued with 10 years of brutal rape and murder at the rate of three murders per month or more. More than 400 women and girls have been raped and killed in the dark outskirts of Juarez .

Juarez lays a stone's throw across the Mexican border from El Paso. In 2005, El Paso was named one of the safest cities in America. The steel and glass and historic buildings of the city give way to neat suburbs. Juarez's historic city center gives way to concrete slums, where extended families cram into one- and two-room apartments. Ringing the city are not suburbs, but more than 300 low-level manufacturing plants owned by American companies that employ more than 220,000 people at one-tenth the American minimum wage. These factories, or maquiladoras, were built in Juarez after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in January 1994.

Ford, General Electric, Alcoa, DuPont and Phillips are just a few of the companies that have built their plants here, increasing profit margins by paying less than subsistence-level wages. Most of the victims in Juarez worked in American plants.

There has been little progress in police efforts to investigate these crimes over the years, despite sporadic help from the FBI and the assignment of a special investigator by the Mexican government. Most who have even been arrested soon go free. The factories take no action to protect their workers. They, almost unilaterally, state they have no responsibility to act since the murders did not take place on their property.

Americans buy products either made or from parts made in Juarez. Each time we do so, we benefit from the deaths of these women. Our tacit acceptance of their deaths as part of the manufacturing process is implicit in our silence.

Instead of creating opportunity for growth and economic advancement, the maquiladoras have created a chance for predators to savage and kill the women who work in them. It is not a matter of boycotting products, but instead, raising our voices and demanding that these companies bring to Juarez the American principles we hold dear: truth and justice for all.

Hewitt, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at denise.smith@usa.net.

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