MEXICO: Protesters Demand Justice for Murdered Woman Activist at Juarez’s International Border

By Nélida Tello and David Martinez

On January 25, various feminist collectives, NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), and community members from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas met at the Santa Fe international border crossing to protest the unsolved murder of 26-year-old activist and artist Isabel ‘Isa’ Cabanillas de la Torre.

Isabel was murdered on the dawn of January 18, after being reported missing the day before. Isabel’s body was discovered next to her bike in the designated “safe corridor for women” located in downtown Juarez. She was found with two bullet wounds, one to her chest and one to her head. Mexican authorities have not yet made any arrest, named suspects, or know the reason for Isabel’s murder. Contradictory rulings on the murder have been provided by the Attorney General’s Office and it’s own women’s department within the office.

Murdered activist, Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre

Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada enforced a temporary closure of the international border in conjunction with the protest. In an act of empty propaganda, Cabada solely deployed women police officers to monitor the demonstration, a similar tactic seen last year in Mexico City. Some of the organizers declared that the demonstration was peaceful, pandering to authorities by stating that those who took part in violent actions or destruction of private property were infiltrators.

Hundreds of indignant people marched up the international bridge, rallying against the Mexican government’s inaction to address violence against women. Despite the calls by organizers against property destruction, some demonstrators spray-painted slogans such as ‘Isa Vive (Isa Lives)’ on buildings and structures as they passed.

Protesters gathered at the Santa Fe International Border Crossing in Ciudad Juarez

Women from the feminist collective, Hijas de su Maquilera Madre (Daughters of your Maquiladora* Worker Mother), gave speeches stating their struggle against the “patriarchal and political extermination of women, men’s power in the femicidal State and its gendered necropolitics.” This tangled analysis fails to identify US imperialism at the root of Mexican people’s exploitation, instead framing all parts of class society through gender. While the exact motivations behind Isabel’s death are not yet known, to describe her murder as only an act of misogyny obscures the conditions in which it happened.

US imperialism, in the form of ‘border security,’ imposes a striking divide between Juarez and El Paso, which are part of the same metropolitan area. This contrast is not arbitrary, but part of the national oppression of Mexico by US imperialism. The vast majority of manufacturing in the area takes place in Juarez, where some of the lowest wages in the country and weak labor laws make profits on exports (mainly to the US) higher for the imperialist factory owners.

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the maquiladoras (imperialist-owned factories) drove an influx of Mexican women, many from surrounding rural areas, into the workforce.  But these demographics have shifted and now migrants and asylum seekers rejected at the border by the Trump administration’s fascist immigration policies comprise large parts of workers in the factories.

It is in this segregated and impoverished society, terrorized and burdened by US imperialism, that reactionary ideologies like misogyny have room to fester. The domination of the US is of such a magnitude that even the conventional means of resisting sexism and violence against women are co-opted by US interests.

Isabel herself volunteered with a feminist project called The Observatory, which is sponsored by Red Mesa de Mujeres (Women’s Table Network), an NGO present at the action. Red Mesa de Mujeres is directly funded by USAID, a federal agency which distributes funds across the world to wield influence for US imperialism. Through NGOs dependent on this money, US imperialism will seek to manipulate the just calls for improving women’s conditions and integrate them into imperialist structures, defanging the progressive and revolutionary aspects of mass movements.

Hijas de su Maquilera Madre said that they held the Mexican state responsible for the safety of women and activists in Juarez and Mexico, issuing demands for the highest levels of Mexican authorities, “to open the lines of investigation into Isabel’s femicide.” They also demanded an end to the gun exports from the US to Mexico and an end to impunity for women’s murders.

Justice for Isabel and working class women will not be found in appeals to the comprador bourgeois state of Mexico, but in a New Democratic Revolution to topple it and build a new society. In the US, internationalism calls for working class unity to bring down US imperialism from within, by making revolution against the very US state which keeps Mexico in a semi-colonial status and brings misery upon women, the peasantry, the proletariat, and all the Mexican people.

*Maquiladora is the term for a factory along the US Mexico border run by foreign imperialists, principally US imperialists, which exports its products back to its foreign owner.


Memorial to Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre