Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Dec 10 20:34:24 MST 2000

>Just for the sake of an argument, let's say we have no reason to
>agree with Debbie Nathan on any part of her representation of women
>Maquila workers.  However, it is not at all the case that you have to
>write like Debbie Nathan to eschew the representation of women
>Maquila workers as "passive victims."

Yoshie, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

Let me explain my own thinking, however, for what it's worth. Marxists have
very little interest in "victimology" per se. The only issue worth
considering is whether the proletarianization of women in maquiladora
conditions hastens the Mexican revolution. Based on a dogmatic reading of
Marx, I have seen this argument made, particularly from Doug when he still
maintained a shred of Marxist credibility. It revolves around a schematic
understanding of the Communist Manifesto, a statement made in 1848 not only
before Marx had written V. 1 of Capital, but at a time when there were
still lingering beliefs that when peasants were turned into wage workers,
the objective conditions for socialism were somehow enhanced. This kind of
undialectical approach was rejected by Marx in the 1870s when he saw the
solidarity-building power of the rural communes in Russia.

In point of fact, the very same processes were soon at work in the Mexican
revolution. Rural communally-owned land provided the major impetus for the
Zapatista revolution, which in a counter-blow to the hacienda system,
created what Adolfo Gilly calls the Morelos commune. Zapata divided the
hacienda land based on deeds awarded to Indians in the 16th and 17th
century, which the peasants set about to develop along anarcho-syndicalist
lines (the sugar refineries were expropriated as well.) Anarchists provided
much of the ideological input to the Zapata revolt, with both positive and
negative effects.

Bringing the struggle forward in time to the recent period, the maquilas in
the northern part of the country have not been arenas of struggle, either
for the woman's movement, the socialist movement, or the trade union
movement. Women, stripped of the communal bonds of the village, end up as
atomized wage slaves whose only escape from grinding low-wage labor is
downtown honky-tonks. From a certain sector of the left, these social
changes are wrenched from the underlying class realities of Mexican society
and put up against a prism made in the graduate sociology or woman's
studies departments of Ivy League universities. It is hogwash, pure and

The only political action taking place in the maquila zone is defense of
the right to live and to be protected from rape, being led by a courageous
feminist. Any other interpretation seems bogus to me. As far as whether the
term "passive victim" is useful or useless--leaving aside questions of
'victimology' per se, let me supply the context:

The New York Times, April 18, 1998, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

Rape and Murder Stalk Women in Northern Mexico



Juarez is a city of factories set in the Chihuahua desert, with most of the
assembly lines worked by women. And one or perhaps several sexual predators
are prowling its vast industrial parks and honky-tonk saloons where workers
go to kick back.

At least 70 women, many of them manufacturing workers, have been raped and
murdered and their bodies dumped in the Chihuahua desert over the last five

Twice, authorities have charged suspects with multiple homicide and
declared the problem solved. But Juarez women keep dying; a dozen bodies
have turned up amid the cactus already this year, and five more have been
reported missing. On April 16, the body of an unidentified teen-age girl,
raped and strangled, was discovered under a railroad trestle, the Juarez
police said.

The murders have shone a spotlight not only on the victimization of women
in a city that runs on their $3-a-day labor, but also on the growing
influence of a fledgling women's movement galvanized into action by the
sexual attacks.

Many young women drawn here by Juarez's 400 tax-free maquiladora assembly
plants break with the conservative customs of their rural villages, often
pooling resources to live with other women and pursuing an independent
social life. Feminist groups and congresswomen say they believe the
violence is fed by a male backlash, and they criticize the stumbling
official investigation of the killings as an example of mismanagement,
mediocrity and machismo.

"Juarez is the ideal place to kill a woman, because you're certain to get
away with it," said Astrid Gonzalez Davila, a founder of the Citizens
Committee Against Violence, a group that works with the relatives of murder

"The failure to solve these killings is turning the city into a mecca for
homicidal maniacs."

Juarez has always been violent, but previously there was no reason to
suspect that the murders of women were part of a chain of related events.
The government says that 95 women have been murdered in this city of 1
million residents in five years; feminist groups have counted 118.

The killings have become a national scandal and have put pressure on the
Governor of Chihuahua, Francisco Barrio Terrazas, for a stepped-up
investigation. In an interview, Mr. Barrio said the murder rate for women
is no higher than for most other Mexican cities (although Juarez women are
twice as likely to be murdered as New York City women) and defended his
government's inquiry.

"It's been very well handled," he said.

But several Mexican federal congresswomen who traveled to Juarez in
February on a fact-finding mission disagreed. "This investigation has left
a bad taste in our mouth," said Representative Laura Itzel Castillo.
"There's been no professionalism."

The murders first attracted attention in 1993, when a criminology professor
at the Chihuahua State police academy, Oscar Maynez Grijalva, noticed that
virtually all the victims were poor, young, slender women with cinnamon
skin and long dark hair. He tried to persuade Chihuahua officials that a
serial killer was loose but he was ignored. He later resigned in protest.

"The authorities were just indifferent," said Irma Perez Franco, the mother
of a 20-year-old shoe store clerk who was murdered in 1985. The police
treated her with disdain from the moment she reported her daughter's
disappearance, she said. "This didn't matter to them at all."

Mrs. Perez finally persuaded detectives to question her daughter's
co-workers to determine who had seen her last. "But all they wanted to do
was look at the cowboy boots and flirt with the clerks," she said. "They
had no investigative plan."

During the same weeks in which Mrs. Perez's daughter was killed, eight
other bodies were discovered in one stretch of desert, and the public began
to clamor for police action.

In October 1995, authorities arrested Sharif Sharif, an Egyptian chemist,
after a Juarez prostitute accused him of raping her at his home. The
authorities discovered that in the 1980's, before moving to Juarez in 1994,
Mr. Sharif had been convicted twice of sexual assault in Florida. He had
served six years of a 12-year sentence for the second crime, the beating
and rape of his live-in housekeeper in Gainesville.

The authorities announced that they had found the Juarez predator. They
charged Mr. Sharif with the murder of six women, but a judge dismissed
those charges in 1986. The day of Mr. Sharif's release, prosecutors filed
new charges, accusing him of the murder of another woman.

In an interview at his prison quarters here, Mr. Sharif acknowledged that
he frequented bars where some murder victims have been kidnapped, but said,
"Raping and killing people is not my business."

Irene Blanco, a Juarez woman whom Mr. Sharif has appointed as his advocate
said: "The authorities needed a scapegoat and chose Sharif."

The police in Florida, however, have urged Mexican authorities not to
release Mr. Sharif. "He's demonstrated himself to be a vicious predator of
women," said Capt. Sadie Darnell of the Gainesville police.

Mr. Sharif's guilt is debated hotly in Juarez. But what is indisputable is
that since his arrest the killings have continued.

In April 1996, the authorities raided several bars and detained nearly 200
Juarez youths, including Sergio Armendariz, a 28-year-old nightclub
security guard, along with several members of a gang he was said to lead.
Mr. Armendariz and half a dozen others were later charged with murdering 17

But the integrity of the investigation came under attack when Chihuahua
human rights officials accused the police of torturing several Juarez
teen-agers to coerce their testimony against the gang members. In a prison
interview, Mr. Armendariz said that after his arrest the police battered
him for days, demanding that he sign a confession. "They beat me until they
got tired of beating me," he said.

Jorge Lopez Molinar, the state's attorney in charge of the investigations,
charged that the police had matched bite marks on several victims' bodies
to Mr. Armendariz's teeth.

But since Mr. Armendariz's detention, the bodies of at least nine raped
women have been found in the desert. Mr. Lopez acknowledged that about half
a dozen recent murders fit a pattern of serial murder.

Robert K. Ressler, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who
specialized in serial murder, said investigators should remain alert to the
possibility that a psycopath is traveling to Juarez from the United States.
"You could have a guy in the U.S. who goes down there periodically to do
these things," he said.

In recent months, women's groups have staged protests accusing Chihuahua
authorities of ignoring signs that a sexual predator remains on the loose.
A leader has been Esther Chavez Cano, an accountant who pieced together a
detailed list of victims that has helped their families monitor the

Mrs. Chavez said that machismo, rooted in a popular culture across northern
Mexico that glorifies ruthless desert horsemen who force women into
submission, may be stronger here than elsewhere in the country. Yet in
recent decades, thousands of women have taken factory jobs in Juarez and
the numbers of single mothers have surged.

"Women have not become liberated, they just have a double workload," but
some men resent what they perceive as women's newly independent lifestyles,
she said. "A patriarchal backlash has accompanied these murders," Ms.
Chavez said. Authorities often suggest that murdered women have invited
attack by wearing mini-skirts or going out dancing, she said.

"They minimize the crimes and blame the victims," Mrs. Chavez said.

Louis Proyect
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