Cancún’s Murdered Women: Femicides in Quintana Roo – by Michael Lettieri, TBI Staff

Best known for its world-famous tourist destinations of Cancún and Tulum, the state of Quintana Roo also deserves attention for its unaddressed human rights problems. With one year remaining in the term of Governor Roberto Borge Angulo, it is clear that the PRI administration has much to answer for. Perhaps the most troubling issue in the state is that of violence against women:

  • Thus far in 2015 there have been eight women killed in Cancún and at least 13 state-wide.
  • Seven of those murders have occurred in the past two weeks. After 5,000 people marched on November 1 following the murder of 19 year-old Karen Carrasco, five women were subsequently murdered around the state.
  • The disturbing recent surge does not, however, reflect a break from historical trends. In 2014, according to statistics from INEGI, 22 women were murdered in the state, 29 in 2013, 29 in 2012, and 22 in 2011.
  • It has also been reported that Quintana Roo ranks first nationwide in rapes and violence against women, and it is a hotspot for human trafficking.
  • State authorities have refused to recognize a problem. In public statements from a tourism conference, the governor has decried the “politicization” of the murders, and affirmed that: “Quintana Roo is a successful state thanks to tourism, which generates economic activity and a great deal of employment, as well as sustained growth, and therefore it is not right that there are people who want to use these cases as political weapons and generate psychosis in the state.”
  • While denying that the cases represent a more serious problem, and accusing those who seek a federal Gender Alert of politicizing the murders, Borge’s administration has manipulated legal definitions to ensure that most murders could not be classified under a legal definition of femicide. In 2012, the state congress defined femicide as a crime committed for reasons of gender, and specified six possible factors that determined the gender-based nature of the violence. These were: 1) previous domestic violence by the perpetrator; 2) signs of sexual violence on the victim; 3) mutilation; 4) antecedents of harassment; 5) public display of the body with the “evident intention of demonstrating the perpetrator’s hate of the victim for being a woman”; 6) if the perpetrator had forced the victim into prostitution or had been involved in human trafficking. This definition resulted in only one case of femicide in 2014, as the state Attorney General’s office began interpreting only cases of serial murderers of women as femicides.
  • Such manipulation of legal definitions is not uncommon: similar debates between activists and officials have occurred in Baja California. The definition matters, however, because as one expert told SinEmbargo, “Classifying a case as a femicide helps a lot. It affords the possibility of distinguishing it from intentional homicides where, most of the time, women are invisible in the statistics. The victims end up as a number, lumped with car accidents and victims of organized crime. Afterwards, it becomes impossible to know the cause of their death.” More than ensuring prosecution, defining murders as femicides is about pursuing justice in a country where gender-based violence has reached alarming levels.

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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