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“Deadwood” and the Juarez Feminicidas

4 June 2006

The AP Spanish edition noted the passing of Abdel Latif Sharif last Thursday. Sharif has been in prison since 1996 for one murder, and was suspected of anywhere between 10 and 30 of the “Juarez Feminicides” .

In 1996, when he received 30 years for murdering a 17 year old girl, there was relief that the Juarez “lady-killer” had been caught. At the time, it was almost believable that the Egyptian immigant was a serial killer — make that THE serial killer — responsible for the crimes. Another 100 or so murders later, (350 women in all, over the last 14 years according to some estimates) despite federal investigations assisted by FBI agents, the Surete and Interpol advisors, and Argentinian and European forensics experts — and a series of special prosecutors, there still is no particular suspect, and no one theory. Just lines of speculation. The only thing for certain is that Abdel Latif Sharif might have been responsible for SOME murders (when he was arrested, he was accused of 30 of them — never proven, and many believed he was too perfect a “perp” — a foreigner with some peculiar sexual “perversions” to begin with). And he confessed — for whatever that’s worth given the bad habit the Chihuahua State Police had then (and all too often still do) of gathering questionable confessions.

Sharif’s death is not suspicious — he had a serious heart condition, high blood pressure and severe depression (according to one report, his lawyer said he died of sadness, having been abandoned by his family back in Egypt). Still, anything about the Juarez Feminicides is suspect.

Or, is it much simpler than we think…?

Tonight, I was watching a DVD of the American TV series, “Deadwood”. It’s a strange western, violent and poetic at the same time. What made me think of Abdel Latif Sharif was how casually murder and violence was in a boom town like Deadwood South Dakota in the 1880s. Or in present day Juarez.

Officially, Juarez has a population of 1.3 million, but no one seems to know for sure. It’s not a city… it’s a giant Deadwood, where a job — any job — is the gold that lures the ambitious and the desperate. And, again like the wild west, it’s a magnet for the crazed, the misfit and the psychotic. In the TV mining camp, even “respectable” women are on their own, and openly abused, though Victorian chivalry provides some protection. The murder victims in Juarez — mostly young, single working class girls and women — live in a post-Victorian era, and, though many came from more traditional parts of Mexico, are on their own in a rough open town.

Perhaps it’s not a serial killer, “thrill kill cults,” rampant sexism, anti-union death squads, crazed police officers …. or any combination of these. Maybe it’s just the situation. Maybe the murder rate is “normal” for an abnormal last-chance hard-luck boom town where the real population is significantly more than the officially recognized 1.3 million, and where transients of all kinds — and of all kinds of psychosocial kinks — change the dynamic from day to day. MAYBE… violence and casual murder is the “norm” in any lawless community in transition — whether the community is a gold rush mining camp (like in Deadwood), or a giant NAFTA spawned work camp, like Juarez, both brutal places where the brutality against the individual is only matched by the brutality by which outsiders (the State and the San Francisco mining interests in “Deadwood”; “maquilladora” plants and foreign corporate interests in Juarez) bring “civilization to a place.

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