Located across the border from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez has become one of the world’s deadliest cities as the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels battle for control of smuggling routes. But even before rampant drug violence took over the headlines, the city was infamous for a series of murders. Since 1993, hundreds of women and teenage girls have been raped, killed and dumped in the desert. More than 3,000 are still missing.
Several men have confessed to the slayings, and two were convicted, but the vast majority of the cases remain unsolved. From 2003 to 2006, a federal commission studied the cases, in hopes of uncovering the truth behind allegations of state police corruption and incompetence. However, no additional charges were filed after the inquiry ended — mostly due to lack of evidence. In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Mexican government negligent on preventing violence against the women of Ciudad Juarez.
Born in 1974, Chavez began writing when she was only 11 years old. She grew up in Ciudad Juarez, became a well-respected poet, published the book “Song to a City in the Desert” and studied psychology at the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez. She was also a human rights activist and a prominent member of May Our Daughters Return Home, a group comprised of the family and friends of the slain women and girls.
Chavez was determined to stop the killings and frequently blasted local authorities for failing to end the feminicide and bring the killers to justice. She even coined the phrase “Ni una muerta mas” (“Not One More Dead”), which became a popular rallying cry at demonstrations against the continued violence.
On the night of Jan. 5, Chavez, 36, was reportedly hanging out with three young men when an argument ensued. The men attacked her, covering her face with tape and drowning her until she suffocated. The trio then used a saw to cut off her hand and dumped her body on the street.
Authorities later arrested three suspects, who are all members of the local drug gang Azteca. According to Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, the suspects said they found it “easy” to kill Chavez and forgot that they had left her hand back at the house.
The Mexican Congress’ Standing Commission and the National Commission on Human Rights have condemned the Chavez murder. And Amnesty International has called on authorities to conduct “a prompt, impartial investigation that is in keeping with international standards.”