Protesting border horrors
'This is our feminist spring': millions of Mexican women prepare to strike over
As the country grapples with a worsening crisis, the revolt among a new generation of feminists is picking up steam: ‘It’s our last resort’
by Tom Phillips in Tijuana
Dalilah Loza is 15 and dreams of being an orthodontist, or an economist – perhaps even a photographer.
But most of all she wants to be the voice of her mother.
“I’m the only one who can speak for her now. I’m her daughter. I’m the only one who really cares,” said the teenager, whose 33-year-old mother was murdered at their home in Tijuana last September in front of Dalilah and her baby brother.
Before last month Dalilah had never taken part in a political protest.
But when Mexican feminists hit the streets on Valentine’s Day to denounce their country’s worsening femicide crisis, she saw a chance to ensure her mother’s life and death were remembered.
Flanked by scores of mostly young female demonstrators, Dalilah marched on the attorney general’s office clutching a homemade placard with her portrait and the message: “I miss you, mummy”.
“My mum was the best mum in the world,” she remembered, her face lighting up. “You could tell her anything you liked and she’d never tell anyone. She was literally my best friend.”
Dalilah’s mother, Nery Rodei Pelayo Ramírez, was stabbed to death by her boyfriend on 16 September – one of nearly 4,000 Mexican women killed in 2019.
And with the violence still rising, a new generation of Mexican feminists – whose number Dalilah recently joined – are mobilizing with increasingly radical tactics in the hope of forcing their government to act.
“We won’t just sit around quietly waiting for another woman to be murdered or for another girl to be raped,” said Carolina Barrales, one of the founders of Circulo Violeta (Violet Circle), the Tijuana-based feminist collective that helped organize the 14 February protest there.
Barrales said her group wholeheartedly backed direct action as a means of halting gender violence.
In the country’s capital, masked feminists clashed with police and covered the presidential palace with blood-red paint and graffiti denouncing the president’s failure toprotect Mexico’s women.
In Tijuana, activists in balaclavas attempted to close the busiest border crossing on earth, between Mexico and the United States.
“In Circulo Violeta, we believe in smashing whatever needs to be smashed, shouting whatever you need to shout, doing whatever you need to do,” said the 33-year-old mother of one.
“We aren’t vandals … but we do support this form of protest. It’s our last resort – and the last resort that they have left us … We shout and shout and nothing happens”.
This weekend activists will launch their latest acts of dissent: a nationwide rally on Sunday and a potentially historic 24-hour women’s strike on Monday in which upwards of 20 million Mexican women are expected to take part by staying at home.
“I think it will be a really important moment to show our muscles,” said Soraya Vázquez, a human rights lawyer who has been part of Tijuana’s feminist movement since the 1980s and called the
current mobilization unprecedented in the city’s history.
Mexico’s feminist revolt has been gathering steam since last summer when demonstrators poured onto the streets for what was dubbed the “revolución diamantina” (glitter revolution).
But the current mutiny began in February with a trio of macabre, headline-grabbing femicides that shocked the nation and highlighted the government’s failure to protect women.
First came the killing of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla on 9 February. She was stabbed and skinned by her partner before having a picture of her corpse splashed onto a local tabloid’s front page.
Two days later a seven-year-old girl, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighetti Antón, was abducted and murdered in Mexico City, adding to the outcry.
In Tijuana, meanwhile, all eyes were on a third crime: the murder of Marbella Valdez Villarreal, a 20-year-old student whose body was found on a rubbish dump on 8 February. Photographs subsequently emerged showing Valdez’s suspected killer attending her funeral and placing flowers on her coffin.
“For me it was like an earthquake – a jolt,” said Barrales. “Lots of young women saw themselves in her. They saw Marbella’s story as their own … If it could happen to her, it could happen to any of them.”
Mexico’s femicide crisis did not begin with the presidency of its current leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftwing populist who took office in December 2018 and is best known as Amlo.
But the number of killings is rising. Last year 1,006 of 3,825 murders were officially classified as femicides – women or girls killed because of their gender. That compared to 426 in 2015, when authorities began counting such crimes.
And Amlo’s response to the recent killings has infuriated and alienated women’s rights activists, many of whom voted for him in 2018 believing a progressive leader would do more for their cause.
In recent weeks Amlo has maligned next Monday’s strike as part of a “dark forces” conspiracy cooked up by conservative agitators. On another occasion he appeared to wash his hands of the femicide crisis, blaming it on the “neoliberal” policies of previous governments.
“I’m not burying my head in the sand,” Amlo insisted, although activists claim he is doing just that.
Barrales said she had voted for Amlo but had grown increasingly disillusioned as he slashed funding for programs created to support women, including daycare and shelters.
With his recent declarations, her patience had run out: “To be honest, I try to avoid watching the stupidities that this man comes out with. He just don’t care about the pain of women.”
Barrales remembered being convinced by Amlo’s pledges to govern for the people and the poor.
“But now we see clearly what we truly mean to him – that we mean absolutely nothing … My opinion of him is that he’s the most cynical and poisonous president we’ve ever had, including Peña Nieto,” she added, referring to Amlo’s profoundly unpopular predecessor.
As the political battle rages, Dalilah and her family are still grappling with grief.
Her grandmother, Elvia Pelayo Gutiérrez, recalled receiving a phone call from her terror-stricken granddaughter on the afternoon her mother was killed.
“Please come!” Dalilah begged. “I’ll explain when you get here.”
When Pelayo arrived, she found the house surrounded by police and her son’s ex-wife – who had moved to Tijuana nearly 20 years ago in search of a better life – splayed out inside on a bed.
She declined to enter. “I wanted to remember her as she was,” said Pelayo, who said she also believed the government was failing in its duty to protect Mexican women.
Six months after Nery’s murder, the main suspect has yet to be arrested, let alone put on trial for the crime. Only 10% of such crimes ever lead to a conviction.
“I just don’t think the authorities are doing anything,” Pelayo said.
At 61, it now falls to her to raise her two grandchildren, Dalilah and her four-year-old brother. Meanwhile, the city’s young feminists – among them Dalilah – are gearing up for a fight.
“This is our feminist spring here in Tijuana … and we won’t stop until we get justice,” Barrales vowed. “This has only just begun.”
Additional reporting by Jordi Lebrija
Supreme court blocks Mexican family's legal bid over teen killed by border agent
Court declines to revive lawsuit by teenager’s family
Sergio Adrián Hernández Guereca shot in face by border agent
Reuters in Washington
Relatives of Sergio Hernández mourn at his grave in a cemetery in Ciudad Juárez. The shooting took place in June 2010 on the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Photograph: Reuters
The US supreme court has refused to open the door for foreign nationals to pursue civil rights cases in American courts, declining to revive a lawsuit by a slain Mexican teenager’s family against the US border agent who shot him from across the border in Texas.
The court ruled 5-4 to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit against the agent, Jesus Mesa, who shot 15-year-old Sergio Adrián Hernández Guereca in the face in the 2010 incident.
The family sued in federal court seeking monetary damages, accusing Mesa of violating the US constitution’s fourth amendment ban on unjustified deadly force and the fifth amendment right to due process.
The court, with the five conservative justices in the majority, refused to allow people who are not in the United States at the time of a cross-border incident to file civil rights lawsuits in federal court.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for majority, said the case presented “foreign relations and national security implications” and noted that Congress should decide whether such lawsuits can be permitted, backing the position taken by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The incident took place in June 2010 on the border between El Paso and Ciudad Júarez in Mexico. Mesa did not face criminal charges, though Mexico condemned the shooting. The family also sued the federal government over the shooting but that was dismissed early in the litigation.
The ruling was issued at a time of high tensions involving the southern border, where Trump is pursuing construction of a wall separating the United States and Mexico.
The dispute hinged on whether the family, despite Hernández having died on Mexican soil, could seek monetary damages against what they call a “rogue” agent for alleged civil rights violations.