Author: Justine Cebe FM Mexico – GEC Co-Country Principal
Today’s protagonist is a woman who has carried a burden on her shoulders that few other people would have been able to carry. We are not talking about a politician or a business woman, much less an acclaimed writer; this is the story of a mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz. Before talking about her tragic fate, let’s try to retrace the sad facts that struck the whole Escobedo family and, first of all, the young Rubí.
The Escobedo family consisted of Marisela, her husband and five children who were very close to each other: Juan, Jessica, Alejandro, Pablo and the youngest, Rubí. It was a very humble Mexican family; Marisela worked nights as a nurse and her husband was very busy as well, so their sons and daughters helped with the housework. They all lived in Ciudad Juárez, the most populous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It has been named the world’s most dangerous city, in particular because of its problems with the drug cartels and with missing women. Being a woman in this city seemed to carry a death sentence.
When Marisela opened a woodshop and furniture store in Ciudad Juárez, a guy showed up one day looking for a job. He seemed to need help, and Marisela agreed to let him work in her shop. She was totally unaware of what would happen from there some time: that man was Sergio Barraza Bocanegra.
At that time, Rubí was a wholesome, smart and beautiful 13-years-old girl. Despite her young age, Sergio (9 years older) fell for her charm and they started a relationship that Marisela objected. The reason for this dissent was due to the fact that the story between the two turned out to be a sick love: Sergio took Rubí to live with him and he made her stay in the apartment all day long, isolating her from the rest of her family. Even if Marisela was extremely worried about her daughter’s condition, she also balked at the fear that Rubí would hate her if she came between her and the man she loved. At that point, Marisela decided not to get involved.
Sometime later, Rubí got pregnant but when the little girl was born, Sergio was unemployed and with money worries. One day Rubí’s brother, Juan, went to the apartment where the couple was staying, but they were gone. The entire Escobedo family was immediately alarmed, especially when they found the baby with Sergio, who claimed that Rubí had gone away with another man. Marisela thought this was not possible; everyone knew that Rubí would never abandon her daughter. The day after, they discovered that Sergio was gone too. Something bad was going on and they started looking for her. It took her mom a month and a half to be able to file a police report, since the cops insisted she had left. The family was completely alone in the search for Rubí, they also offered a reward to anyone who had any information about her disappearance.
Suddenly, one day, someone called: this young man asked Marisela to meet in person and confessed what he saw and heard. He was hanging out with some friends, Sergio showed up, he looked agitated and asked for someone to help him haul some furniture. His brother, Andy Alonso Barraza Bocanegra and some other guy went to help him. Hours later, they returned and both Andy and Sergio told everyone the truth: Sergio Rafael killed Rubí and then burnt her body.
Rubí’s family finally knew the truth but they had to find proof. After a series of vicissitudes that have done nothing but demonstrate the ineptitude of the Mexican authorities, Barraza confessed to killing Rubí in June 2009 and led police to a place where pigs are “farmed” and subsequently slaughtered (a place called marranera), where her burned remains were left in parts after he had dismembered her. In the state’s unusual move to prosecute a woman killer, Barraza was tried in a court of three judges, but was released for what the judges considered a lack of evidence. Like many, Marisela was shocked at the decision and vowed to appeal and to continue protesting the injustice. She did this for over a year. By the time Sergio Barraza was released, Rubí’s case and Marisela’s struggle to bring her daughter’s aggressor to justice were widely known.
Often covered by the local press, her walks for justice were made familiar to newspaper readers. She was supported by various anti-femicide activists and by the impetus of social pressure gained through her mobilizing efforts. In another unusual move, the state penalized the judges who dismissed the case and agreed to retry it, but law enforcement officials claimed they could not find Barraza.
Marisela with her son Juan and a few friends located him in Barraza, then living with another woman in the state of Zacatecas. Sharing the results of her own investigation, Marisela reported Barraza’s location to the authorities in Chihuahua and Zacatecas, who did NOTHING.
Unrelenting, Marisela continued her protests at the governor’s palace in the city of Chihuahua. From Marisela’s perspective, the governor’s inaction signalled his complicity (later Juan told that Barraza received protection from “the Zetas”, a drug cartel in northeastern Mexico known to do contract work with state officials). A week before her assassination Marisela confronted the governor “in his face. In a less-than-polite and emasculating way, she said to him in front of others:
“You should be ashamed that a woman like me is doing your work.”
On December 16, 2010, she was killed outside the governor’s palace, her death captured on palace videotape for the world to see. In the video, viewers can see that the streets, normally bustling with police and security guards, have been cleared. A gunman emerged, pulled out the weapon, chased Marisela across the street, and shot her dead.
In a surprising turn of events, in November 2012 the then fugitive Sergio Barraza was reportedly found dead in the state of Zecatecas, where Marisela always contended that he was hiding.
In front of a story like this there is certainly nothing to add. This was a State crime: Marisela and Rubí, like the surviving members of their family, have not received justice and nothing will heal their wounds.
The term “femicide” exists since 1976 (used for the first time by feminist writer and activist Diana Russell). 45 years have already passed since then but, unfortunately, we still hear this word too often.
All this makes it clear how fundamental are the feminist movements (more or less recent) that have sprung up all over the world. Their activity is tireless, especially in Mexico where the situation is still very complex. However, these movements do not cease to make their voices heard, as proof of this are the protests that resulted in a bitter clash that took place on the occasion of International Women’s Day last March 8 in front of the National Palace. The demonstrations involved several thousand women in different parts of Mexico City. According to the Mexican security forces, at least 81 people were injured in the clashes, including police officers and demonstrators. It is legitimate to ask questions: how long will members of feminist movements have to sacrifice their lives in the name of what are fundamental human rights? How many other Marisela Escobedo Ortiz will there be?