Painted back to life: Brian Maguire’s portraits of the victims of Mexico’s ‘feminocidio’

May 6, 2014

women of juarezThe Guardian, 5/3/14

There have been several attempts – on screen and on the page – to convey the horror and the disbelief of the feminocidio and the humbling defiance of the dead girls’ mothers. But McLoughlin’s film is in a class of its own in showing and handling not only the barbarism of its subject matter, but its delicacy, and the sensitivities inherent in covering it at all. As Maguire learned while painting portraits of prisoners in the jails of Ireland, as he did for many years, the sitters stay, he goes home. Narrators of stories of this kind, if they care, have a fear of exploiting grief as they walk the high wire between narrative and voyeurism. For the first time in a report on the feminocidio by foreigners, manipulation is entirely absent from the telling.

This is in part due to the craftsmanship of its visual narration. And it’s in part due to the extraordinary undertaking of the film’s “presenter”, Maguire, who tasked himself to paint (in a way that becomes all-consuming, almost obsessive) portraits of scores of these murdered girls. These portraits he then presented to the girls’ mothers.

Blood Rising was premiered in Dublin last year at a packed screening presented by a mother called Elia Escobedo García whose 29-year-old daughter, Erika, was one of those abducted, tortured and murdered. The Dublin screening was followed by another in Galway at which Elia and the director broke down, leaving the “entire audience in tears”, as McLoughlin recalls. Its UK premiere was at the Soho Curzon last month; soon it will tour Britain, presented by Elia and Bertha Alicia, mother of Brenda Berenice Castillo García.

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Argentine experts confirm identities of victims in Mexico City case

May 5, 2014

Grave photo credit Kelly DonlanFox News Latino, 5/4/14

Argentine specialists have confirmed that the bodies found last August in a mass grave were those of the 13 young people kidnapped from the Heaven bar in Mexico City’s upscale Zona Rosa district, prosecutors said.

“The results of the external investigation conducted by Argentine specialists confirm the findings released by this institution and by the Attorney General of the Republic’s Office on the full identification of the Heaven bar victims,” the Federal District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Investigators found the remains of 13 people, all of them abducted from the Heaven bar, in a clandestine grave in Tlalmanalco, a city in Mexico state, on Aug. 22, 2013. The bodies of the people snatched from the Heaven bar were discovered by federal authorities pursuing leads in a firearms case unrelated to the Heaven bar kidnappings. Investigators found the mass grave – covered with cement, asbestos and lime – on the La Mesa ranch in Tlalmanalco.

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Mexico Finds Skeletal Remains Along US Border

February 11, 2014

Jorge Duenes - ReutersAbc News, 2/11/14

Mexican officials have discovered hundreds of skeletal remains scattered on ranches in a stretch of towns along the U.S.-Mexico border as they carried out a wide search to locate missing people. Coahuila state prosecutors’ spokesman Jesus Carranza said Monday that the remains were burned and extremely hard to identify. News of the grisly finds came at the same time 12 bodies were unearthed from clandestine graves in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero and about two months after 67 bodies were found in western Mexico. Such discoveries remain common despite government claims that the number of killings has gone down in the past year.


Police in Coahuila haven’t said whether an organized crime group is suspected in the skeletal remains, but the area is known to be dominated by the violent Zetas drug cartel. Officers have arrested 10 men, including four police officers suspected of aiding a criminal group, the state attorney general’s office said in a press release.

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January 10, 2014


hands in handcuffsForeign Policy, 01/06/2014

On Dec. 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated as Mexico’s 57th president in the midst of a horrific wave of drug violence. More than 100,000 people had been killed in the six years since his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, had declared a “war on drugs” and deployed the Mexican Army to tackle the country’s powerful drug cartels.

Peña Nieto’s victory marked the return of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had governed uninterrupted for over 70 years until it was unseated in 2000. During its reign, the PRI had perfected a model for controlling virtually every aspect of Mexican life, including drug trafficking. Peña Nieto — young, polished, and Ken-doll handsome — pledged to end Calderón’s war without returning to the PRI’s old “pact,” which had allowed Mexico’s cartels to operate as long as they played by certain rules and gave the government its cut. Yet Peña Nieto offered few details, during his campaign and his first months in office, as to how his approach to the cartels would be different.

Nor did Peña Nieto offer a plan for dealing with one of the most nefarious aspects of Mexico’s drug war: disappearances. This omission was particularly troubling given that, on Nov. 29, 2012 — two days before Peña Nieto was sworn in — a government list had been exposed showing that more than 25,000 people had been disappeared or had otherwise gone missing during Calderón’s term. (The list was leaked to the Washington Post by a government analyst who suspected that neither Calderón’s nor Peña Nieto’s administration would ever release the staggering number.)

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Mexico Pursuing Vanished Victims of Its Drug Wars

June 24, 2013

Monterrey-Nathaniel C. SheetzThe New York Times, 6/22/2013

Rosa González cannot shake the memory of the state investigator who was too afraid of reprisals to take a full report, the police officer who shrugged when the ransom demand came, the months of agonizing doubt and, most of all, the final words from her daughter before she disappeared. “I am giving you a hug because I love you so much,” her mentally disabled daughter, Brizeida, 23, told Rosa hours before she was abducted with her 21-year-old cousin after a party more than two years ago.

In thousands upon thousands of cases, the story may well have ended there, adding to the vast number of Mexicans who have disappeared. Unlike those in other Latin American countries who were victims of repressive governments, many of Mexico’s disappeared are casualties of the organized-crime and drug violence that has convulsed this nation for years. But here in Nuevo León State, prosecutors, detectives, human rights workers and families are poring over cases together and in several instances cracking them, overcoming the thick walls of mistrust between civilians and the authorities to do the basic police work that is so often missing in this country, leaving countless crimes unsolved and unpunished.

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Mexico City mayor under fire over disappearances of 12

June 20, 2013

Mexico City - nunavut (Flickr)Los Angeles Times, 6/19/2013

Miguel Angel Mancera, the former top prosecutor in Mexico’s capital, rode his crime-fighting reputation to the mayor’s office, promising voters a superior level of safety as the cornerstone of a revitalized metropolis. But six months into his term, Mancera, is fighting accusations that he has mishandled the highest-profile case of his mayoral career: the disappearances last month of 12 people from a bar in the heart of Mexico City.

The case remains unsolved, and the criticism of Mancera, a potential presidential candidate for the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, has been withering. Mancera suffers from “political autism,” wrote a columnist on the website Sin Embargo. The mayor has not proved to be “a distinct or distinguished head of government,” declared a writer for Proceso newsmagazine.

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3 detained in Mexico disappearances

June 6, 2013

federal police mexicoCNN, 6/5/2013

Police in Mexico City have detained three people in the mysterious disappearance of 12 people from a nightclub, the city’s attorney general said. And for the first time since the disappearance, Attorney General Rodolfo Rios confirmed there is evidence showing that the people who are missing had indeed been at the club.

The names of the detainees — one woman and two waiters from the Heavens After bar — were not released. Officials said they are looking at the link between the woman and the waiters, but did not say what charges, if any, they might face. Before Tuesday’s announcement, the relatives of the missing people — one of them only 16 years old — insisted that they had been kidnapped from the after-hours bar in Mexico City’s Zona Rosa entertainment district. But police had said there was no proof that that the 12 had even been there.

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Amnesty Int’l says disappearances in Mexico ‘a human rights crisis,’ urges government to act

June 5, 2013

mystery manAssociated Press, 6/5/2013

The number of unsolved disappearances in Mexico constitutes a national scandal and a human rights crisis, Amnesty International said Tuesday, citing what it called a systematic failure by police and prosecutors to investigate thousands of cases that have piled up since 2006. Rupert Knox, Amnesty’s Mexico investigator, said relatives are often forced to search for missing loved ones themselves, sometimes at considerable risk.

Adding insult to injury, Knox said police and prosecutors often don’t even bother to use the information that relatives dig up. Instead, police routinely assume that the missing are caught up in Mexico’s drug cartel conflicts. “They are stigmatized, they are treated with disdain, and the typical thing is to say the victims were members of criminal gangs,” Knox said. “That is a demonstration of the negligence that has allowed this problem to grow into a national scandal and a human rights crisis.”

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Op-ed: Mexico’s New Boom: Why the World Should Tone Down the Hype

March 8, 2013

mexico-flagBy Tim Padgett, TIME, 3/8/2013

I couldn’t be happier that Mexico’s economy is rebounding. After barely 2% average annual growth between 2000 and 2010, the country’s GDP expanded almost 4% in 2011 and 2012. Investment is booming and the middle class is enlarging. Mexico’s manufacturing exports lead Latin America, and its trade as a share of GDP tops China’s. Its No. 53 spot on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business rankings far outshines the No. 126 grade of its main regional rival, Brazil; it has signed more free trade agreements (44) than any other country, and it’s enrolling more engineering students than any south of the Rio Grande.

But I emphasize: it’s a trend. It’s not the miracle, the economic version of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that so many Mexico cheerleaders from government officials to foreign investors to embassy diplomats are insisting we call it. Yes, good news from Mexico is more than welcome after a decade overshadowed by horrific narco-violence; a more positive conversation about the country is a relief. But no matter how loudly the enthusiasts scold the media for dwelling on Mexico’s mayhem, the cartel killing hasn’t stopped, and many of the socio-economic ills that help breed the brutality persist. The media didn’t just make up the 60,000 gangland murders of the past seven years, or the relentless massacres and beheadings, or reports like the one released last week by Human Rights Watch about the 27,000 Mexicans who have disappeared during the drug war.

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Mexico’s Government Pledges Hunt for Disappeared

February 22, 2013

Enrique PeñaNieto 2Associated Press, 2/21/2013

Mexico said Thursday that it will work with the International Red Cross on the search for thousands of people who have disappeared during the country’s six-year-old war on drug cartels. Officials provided few details of the arrangement signed in a public ceremony by the head of the International Red Cross and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

The Red Cross said in a statement that it would provide “studies, protocols and technical assistance related to the search for the disappeared” but gave no specifics. Red Cross officials said they could not release a copy of the agreement, and the Interior Department did not immediately respond to requests for a copy.

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