MEXICO CITY – Some police may have been accomplices in a decade-long string of women's slayings in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, a federal official said, citing the case of an ex-officer who recruited young girls to a prostitution ring.
Criminal investigations should be launched against 51 local law enforcement officials — in addition to 49 others previously targeted — for abuses and allegedly mishandling cases, according to a report presented Monday by Maria Lopez Urbina (search), the top federal investigator in the case.
Guadalupe Morfin, the special commissioner for the prevention of violence against women in Juarez, said she believes a newly appointed prosecutor in Chihuahua state (search), where Juarez is located, may ultimately expose the "total collapse" of local law enforcement in the case.
Morfin said the most serious indication of that breakdown involves a high-ranking former state police officer who has been accused by two underage girls of recruiting them into a prostitution ring.
Women's activists have long implicated such a ring in the almost 100 sexually motivated killings in Juarez since 1993, whose victims — young, slender women — were sexually abused, strangled and dumped in the desert.
"This is one case that worries me extremely," Morfin said. According to the two girls' testimony, the officer "exploited them sexually and then offered them into a ring serving businessmen and powerful local figures."
"It is worrisome that this kind of complicity could have come from within the state justice department itself," Morfin said, noting other state police have been accused of kidnapping and protecting drug gangs in recent cases.
The responsibility for investigating past misdeeds by Chihuahua state police has now fallen to Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez (search), appointed as Chihuahua's first female attorney general on Oct. 13. She made her first public appearance at Monday's news conference, alongside Morfin and other federal officials assigned to the case.
Morfin said Gonzalez Rodriguez has demonstrated her willingness to prosecutor former police officials.
But the new prosecutor faces some serious challenges: In one recent case, state police told relatives of a victim they had found the girl's skeletal remains when apparently they had switched her skull for that of another corpse to fit the police theory on the cause of death.
While Gonzalez Rodriguez did not make any public statement, federal special prosecutor Urbina said she had confidence in her.
What is lacking, all sides acknowledged, is trust between victims' relatives, prosecutors and rights activists.
A teary-eyed Norma Andrade — whose 17-year-old daughter, Liliana Garcia Andrade, was found murdered in Juarez in February 2001 — called a report on the killings submitted by Lopez Urbina "pure garbage."
"The lack of justice continues, and these [murders] will continue as long as that is the case," said Andrade, who leads a group of victims' relatives.
Lopez Urbina, in turn, harshly criticized foreign and domestic activist groups, saying "the lack of clarity and subjectivity of some non-governmental groups and foreign visitors is one of the biggest factors that have complicated solving the problems in Ciudad Juarez."