Poet Susana Chavez’s Death Sparks Outrage in Juarez

Her death has reignited suspicions about why the deaths of over 500 women in the region have gone unsolved.

By Jamilah King Jan 14, 2011

The details are horrific: Susana Chavez, an internationally renown poet and long time activist who spoke out against the decade-long femicide of woman in Juarez, was found murdered this week. She had been tortured and suffocated; her left hand had apparently been dismembered with a saw.

Chavez is one of over 500 women in Juarez who have been found murdered in the last decade. And her death has caused an uproar because she had been one of few to speak out against the growing femicide, coining the phrase, "Ni una mas," ("Not one more) and routinely criticizing local authorities for refusing to properly investigate the crimes. Her death has cast new suspicions about local authorities’ ability to handle the cases. That is to say that they’ve largely chosen to ignore them; so far, 92 percent of cases of women who’ve been murdered in the region remain unsolved.

Many who knew and loved Chavez are accusing authorities of trying to silence the publicity surrounding her murder. Within days of her murder, police announced the arrest of three suspects, two of whom were under 18 years old. Police said that Chavez had gone out drinking with the suspects and was killed after refusing to have sex with them.

The story is sketchy to those who knew and loved Chavez, and report that she had actually been on her way to meet friends at a local restaurant on the night that she initially disappeared:

Jose Luis Sierra reports for New America Media:

Chavez’s killing happened less than a month after the murder of Marisela Escobedo, the mother who set up shop in front of the state governor’s office to demand the arrest of the killer of her 16-year-old daughter. Escobar alone investigated the whereabouts of the perpetrator, who was eventually set free by a panel of judges, despite confessing to the crime. The judges are currently being investigated for the decision.

The case is bound to set a legal precedent in the country because it is the first time a panel of judges may stand trial for apparently ignoring evidence presented by the state’s district attorney.

"The penal justice system in Chihuahua has collapsed, and now we can’t even demand justice for our dead because we can be killed for doing that," said Gustavo de la Rosa, an official with the state of Chihuahua’s Human Rights Office.

Back in the fall, our own Debbie Nathan painted a complex picture of life in the region:

I’ve had my agenda for a long time: political and cultural activism in Juarez. But it’s become so much more difficult–we have to go to funerals now, of fellow activists, of rap artists even, who were killed trying to do political work. Like everyone, I’m constantly imagining things are going to happen to the people I care about. Sometimes, too, like in the shower, I see images in my head of things that have happened–kids like my son murdered and the government excusing it by claiming they were gang members.

Friends remembered Chavez at a recent memorial service, using her words from her poems to mark the occasion. "Blood of my own, blood of sunrise, blood of a broken moon, blood of silence." According to Jose Luis Sierra, that’s now become a battle cry.