Mex­ico’s largest state rocked by slay­ings of 346 women since 2011

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Gus­tavo Martinez

VILLA CUAUHTEMOC, Mex­ico — Just like any other day, Dr. Jes­sica Sevilla Pe­draza went to work at the hos­pi­tal that morn­ing, came home for a quick lunch and then left again. The plan was to see more pa­tients, hit the gym and be back in time for her usual din­ner with dad be­fore he went to his night-shift job.

In­stead, a hos­pi­tal co-worker showed up at the fam­ily’s door in the evening. She said a man had come in with a bul­let wound in his leg and told doc­tors he had been with Sevilla when gun­men in­ter­cepted them, shot him and took off with the doc­tor in her own car.

“Ma’am,” the woman told Sevilla’s mother, Juana Pe­draza, “it’s my duty to tell you that we can­not lo­cate your daugh­ter.”

Two days later, Pe­draza iden­ti­fied 29-year-old Jes­sica’s body at the morgue. She had been shot in the head and de­cap­i­tated, and the skin had been flayed from her skull.

“I can’t un­der­stand why,” Pe­draza said. “Why so much fury? Why so much hate?”

Sevilla’s grue­some death was part of a wave of killings of women plagu­ing the sprawl­ing State of Mex­ico, which is the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous with 16 mil­lion res­i­dents and sur­rounds the cap­i­tal on three sides. The cri­sis of femi­cides — mur­ders of women where the mo­tive is di­rectly re­lated to gen­der — prompted the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to is­sue a gen­der vi­o­lence alert in 2015, the first for any Mex­i­can state, and has re­cently prompted out­cry and protests.

No safe place or time of day

Some­times the deaths are caused by do­mes­tic abuse. Other killings ap­pear to be op­por­tunis­tic, by strangers. Of­ten the bod­ies are mu­ti­lated and dumped in a pub­lic place. There is no safe place, time of day or ac­tiv­ity.

The week be­fore Sevilla’s killing, 18-year-old Mar­i­ana Joselin Baltierra van­ished when she walked to the cor­ner store in Ecate­pec, a hard­scrab­ble sub­urb of Mex­ico City. Her body was found in a butcher shop next door; she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted and dis­em­bow­eled.

In June, Va­le­ria Teresa Gu­tier­rez Or­tiz, 11, dis­ap­peared in Neza­hual­coy­otl af­ter tak­ing a pub­lic bus home from school. She was later found dead in the aban­doned ve­hi­cle, par­tially clothed and with signs of sex­ual as­sault.

The State of Mex­ico of­fi­cially ranks sec­ond to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal with 346 killings clas­si­fied as femi­cides since 2011, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment statis­tics. Dil­cya Gar­cia Espinoza de los Mon­teros, deputy state pros­e­cu­tor for gen­der vi­o­lence crimes, said femi­cides fell by about a third be­tween Jan­uary and July this year com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2016.

The gov­ern­ment’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “femi­cide” al­lows sig­nif­i­cant room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and many say the of­fi­cial fig­ures are un­der­stated and un­re­li­able. Vi­o­lent crimes such as dis­ap­pear­ances of­ten go un­re­ported and un­pun­ished, and the State of Mex­ico is widely con­sid­ered ground zero for killings of women in the coun­try to­day. The non­profit Cit­i­zen Ob­ser­va­tory Against Gen­der Vi­o­lence, Dis­ap­pear­ance and Femi­cides in Mex­ico State counted 263 femi­cides in 2016 alone.

Crime and cor­rup­tion

Be­fore Mex­ico State, it was Ci­u­dad Juarez, across the bor­der from El Paso that was no­to­ri­ous for killings of women, with nearly 400 slain there since 1993 and only a hand­ful of cases re­sult­ing in con­vic­tions. Com­mon to both places are marginal­ized, pe­riph­eral com­mu­ni­ties with high lev­els of vi­o­lent crime, cor­rup­tion and im­punity.

Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto, who was Mex­ico State’s gover­nor be­fore as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency in 2012, said dur­ing his state of the union ad­dress this year that the coun­try’s ris­ing mur­ders have more to do with com­mon crime than or­ga­nized crime.

Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press

Pink crosses bear­ing the Span­ish words for “truth,” “jus­tice” and “resti­tu­tion” in down­town Neza­hual­coy­otl re­mind res­i­dents of the June slay­ing of an 11-year-old school­girl.

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