Bajo Juarez: The City Devouring its Daughters

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Bajo Juarez is a documentary written by José Antonio Cordero and Alejandra Sánchez about the tragedy that has struck the city of Juarez, Mexico in the past decade: mainly the disappearing, murder, and torture of young girls and women. The documentary goes deep into the problem in Juarez of how it all started, who could ultimately be responsible for it, and what has and hasn’t been done to stop it. The story is told through interviews of all those affected by this tragedy, including the families of the victims, those accused and their families, government officials, and there’s even an interview with a young woman who managed to escape and survive.

Since Juarez is so close to the US border and the 4th largest city in Mexico, there are a lot of job opportunities at factories and manufacturers. Everything from working in a as a house maid to working in a Hoover Vacuum factory to working at the local lavanderia, people from other parts of Mexico who are unemployed often go to Juarez when they haven’t been able to find a job in their own town. Girls began disappearing in 1993 when going to and from work, in broad daylight or dusk when there are many people around. That’s one of the few elements of the curse in Juarez that makes it so terrifying, the kidnappers and killers can be anyone.

The documentary follows the stories of a few families, all who have been victims of this horrible tragedy. A few stories in particular were one of a 18-year-old girl named Alejandra, who, after her brutal death in 2001, left behind her mother and her two young children. She was abducted one day on her way home from work and found dead the next day, her body mangled and beaten. Her mother, Norma, is interviewed throughout the documentary and followed during her trip to Mexico City in hopes to speak to the president and demand justice. She feels as though she’s been treated wrongly and that the government could be doing more to help her case and hundreds more. She describes how the police didn’t use all of the evidence they found, or how they waited too long to investigate (4 years) and by then, most of the evidence was spoiled. The documentary also follows the story of a young man accused of committing these crimes, but he claims he is innocent. Everyone who is a family member of a victim or a wrongly accused is convinced that the government knows who is committing these crimes. What people don’t know is why the government hasn’t put a stop to it yet.

Bajo Juárez covers a lot of ground, from the individual stories to how Norma confronts the former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox,  at a rally.  The documentary gives the perspective of the victims families, government officials, and journalists. State prosecutor Sully Ponce among others who hold government positions in Juarez, all seem to be in denial that this is happening and claim to have been doing all they can do to help the families of the women in Juarez. One woman in particular, who is employed by the government, when told that almost 400 young women have died from this epidemic states blankly, “With all due respect, that’s not such a high number.”  The journalists that are interviewed throughout the documentary, Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez with Juarez’ Reforma paper and Diana Washington from the El Paso Times, give their reasons for why the mystery hasn’t been solved and how it’s been able to continue to happening for such a long time. Their verdict is that the people committing these crimes are somehow blackmailing or paying the highest levels of the Mexican government, which would explain why this has been allowed to continue to happen.

The directors, Cordero and Sánchez, were present at the movie screening at the Hola Mexico Film Festival last week and gladly answered questions people had after the movie was over. Most people asked if these killings, kidnappings, and tortures have stopped, and the answer, surprisingly, is that they have not. According to Sánchez, there have been a few more cases just this past year. The government hasn’t made any progress in finding out who is responsible for this, and men are still wrongly being accused of it.

I definitely think everyone should go see this documentary. Its extremely eye-opening and very thought-provoking. My heart goes out to all of the families of the victims of this tragedy in Juarez.

You can learn more about the situation in Juarez, here