Victoria Esperanza Salazar, a Salvadoran woman who died at the hands of Mexican police, was buried in La Generosa cemetery, located 40 miles to the west of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Her friends and relatives were present at her graveside and demanded justice over her murder.
In scenes that are reminiscent of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 (where Floyd was pronounced dead after a white police officer was seen in video footage pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, keeping that position even after Floyd had gone limp), footage emerged on social media showing a female officer appearing to kneel on Victoria Esperanza Salazar’s back as she was being arrested.
The videos showed Salazar unresponsive even as she was handcuffed later and lifted by several officers into a patrol truck. Salazar was reportedly killed in Mexican police custody in Tulum. Salazar had been granted refugee status and a ‘humanitarian visa’ in Mexico in 2018 and had been living ever since in Tulum. She left behind two daughters, aged 15 and 16, who lived with her in Mexico.
Carlos Salazar, Victoria’s brother, called for justice. “We want justice! We hope this is resolved because everyone saw how my sister was murdered. The police did not act right”, he reportedly stated at her funeral. Salazar’s death has ignited protests in Mexico City, Tulum and San Salvador. The Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar, in expressing his sorrow at hearing the news of Salazar’s death, appealed to the governments of El Salvador, Mexico and the United States to defend and respect “the rights of migrants”.
Police Officers face charges of femicide
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office in Quintana Roo on Saturday confirmed that it had charged one female and three male police officers who had arrested and detained Salazar with femicide – the killing of a woman because of her gender. It stated: “The events occurred last Saturday, 27 March, … when the victim was detained by the police officers and, after being subjected to excessive and disproportionate force, likely prompted the death of the foreign woman”.
The Attorney General’s Office confirmed that all four officers in the Salazar case had been arrested and will remain behind bars for the duration of the trial. It added: “There will be no impunity for those who participated in the death of the victim, and all the force of the law will be brought to bear to bring those responsible to trial”.
Salazar’s autopsy revealed that her neck had been broken. The news website Noticaribe published a video showing Salazar writhing in agony, calling out as she lay face down by a roadside with a policewoman kneeling on her back – as three male officers stood by without seeking to halt the policewoman’s actions.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated that Salazar was subjected to “brutal treatment and murdered” after her detention. President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, in a tweet in Spanish, also reportedly indicated that “the case of Victoria is much worse than we thought”. Without providing further details, Mr Bukele reportedly alleged that “there are more aggressors” than previously thought. He had alleged when he wrote the tweet that not all the aggressors had been arrested yet.
Reuters and the Mexican TV channel Milenio further reported that Carlos Joaquin, the governor of Quintana Roo also stated that Salazar’s partner had been arrested for “abusing” her and her daughters.
Even as several people have viewed Salazar’s murder as a femicide, others have strongly disagreed with this interpretation. Norisa Diaz in the World Socialist Web Site concludes that: “The primary focus in the media and among protesters has been on the fact that she is a woman, but more significantly Salazar has been added to the growing list of immigrants in Mexico who face daily brutalisation, theft, rape and murder as they seek a better life in the country or on their way north to the United States. Migrants are regularly targeted by both criminal gangs and Mexican police and government officials who often work in tandem with the gangs.
“‘There has been a widespread dissemination of this story under the label of femicide and under the flag of pseudo-progressive reactionary identity politics’, (a student) Carlos noted. ‘To label this tragic incident as a femicide is to mischaracterise the entire situation, the term femicide refers a sex-based hate crime; it’s the intentional killing of a woman or a girl because they’re female. Victoria wasn’t killed because she’s a woman, she’s a victim of the societal conditions that expose the international working class to the apparatuses of repression of the bourgeois state”.
For Diaz: “It is of no surprise that Salazar’s tragic killing has been added to the growing list of attacks on immigrants in Mexico. The fault lies not only with AMLO” – as the president is sometimes called (an acronym of his full name) – “but the Biden administration which is carrying forward the brutal anti-immigrant and imperialist policies of the prior Trump administration”.
Femicide in Mexico and women’s struggles to end it
Human rights, women’s and LGBTI+ groups, organisations, community organisations and human rights defenders have increasingly drawn attention to the unacceptable femicides that have been taking place in Mexico.
A recent Amnesty International report, ‘Mexico: The (R)age of Women: Stigma and violence against women protesters’, has further documented the manner in which women protesters denouncing gender-based violence have been subjected to various human rights violations.
Tania Reneaum Panszi, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo and as also reported by NBC News, noted the following even before Salazar’s murder had been committed: “We have to understand that the police in Mexico live in a culture lacking legality. If the police are capable of raping, threatening to disappear, threatening to forcibly undress, threatening mass rapes, it is because there are no consequences – no transparency in operations”.
She added: “What we have found is that those who go out and march are seeking justice in cases of women who have suffered great violence either by the authorities or in the private sphere by their own partners. And these women find neither justice, nor truth, nor reparation when they go to the authorities”.
Karin Zissis in World Politics Review in December last year reported that “Mexico’s spike in femicides” was so troubling that it had sparked “a women’s uprising”, with mass protests taking place throughout the country: “Authorities had found the body of the 20-year-old (Bianca Alejandrina) Lorenzana, who was known by her nickname, Alexis, dismembered and wrapped in plastic bags.
“Her brutal slaying was the spark for the protest, but activists also demanded a response to a spate of recent femicides – the killing of women and girls for their gender – in the state of Quintana Roo. The state is part of a dire national trend: Government statistics show that an average of 10 women are murdered each day in Mexico, and femicides have jumped by 137% over the past five years”.
“There is rampant impunity in Mexico”, noted Zissis in her World Politics Review article: “From 2015 to 2018, only 7% of crimes against women were even investigated. In some ways, what took place in Cancun” (a women’s protest that turned violent when demonstrators tried to storm the city hall and municipal police used live ammunition to disperse the crowd), Zissis concluded, “reflects Mexican leaders’ tempestuous relationship with a feminist movement that has grown alongside the increase in femicides”.
This is Part 1 of an ‘Opinion piece’ series focusing on femicide and women’s movements and struggles in Mexico to end it.
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University, who specialises in genocide studies, human rights concerns and an examination of the manner in which ‘Othered’ communities are ‘criminalised’ by state linked mechanisms and bodies.