Pie de Página talks with activist Jose Luis Castillo, Red Note podcast team about Juarez femicides


Shortly before the Christmas holiday, the Mexico City-based news site Pie de Página spoke with activist Jose Luis Castillo about the disappearance of his daughter, Esmeralda, and his efforts to force authorities in Juarez to resolve her case.


Pie de Página also spoke with writer-director Craig Whitney and producer Estefania Bonilla Hernandez from The Red Note podcast about their project's ongoing efforts to highlight problem of femicide in Juarez and across Mexico.


You can read an English translation of Pie de Página's interview with Jose Luis Castillo and The Red Note podcast's creative team below the break.


Click on the following link to read the original Spanish version of the article on Pie de Página's website: De Ciudad Juárez a la diamantina rosa: 27 años de impunidad en feminicidios

From Ciudad Juárez to the pink diamond: 27 years of impunity in femicides

The Red Note is a 10-chapter podcast that brings together the stories of Alma, Esmeralda, Alejandra, Silvia Olga, Elizabeth, Andrea, Dana, missing and murdered women in Ciudad Juárez, the municipality where the femicide pandemic began in Mexico

By Vania Pigeonutt / Pie de Página


MEXICO CITY - Esmeralda Castillo Rincón disappeared in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on May 19, 2009 on her way to high school. He was 14 years old and in second grade. Her disappearance occurred 16 years after the state police discovered Alma's body in the desert: she was considered the first woman murdered in the city that has been the epicenter of femicidal violence.


Esmeralda's father, José Luis Castillo Carreón, is a 60-year-old man turned activist: he has spent 11 years and five months looking for his daughter. It is clear: in these 27 years since the first woman found murdered in her municipality, feminicides and disappearances of women have increased. Impunity and lack of interest prevail for these cases to be resolved. Families are left alone with their searches.


The authorities do not investigate and carry out their revictimizing processes, he says.


"In order to dissociate themselves from many of the cases of disappearance and not to do their search work and find the missing girl, they tell you: 'no, well, she's already died.' Many of the times bone remains are found, possibly from the same body; and they talk to the mothers, and they hand over a bone or two, and they say: 'Your daughter has already died,'” Castillo explains.


On August 16, 2019, in the context of the protests by the #nomecuidanmeviolan movement, against police violence, José Luis launched pink diamantina and asked: "Don't forget about my girl."


He is still in the field, and his wife Alicia Rincón sells hamburgers outside their house to continue financing the search.


The case of Esmeralda is narrated in the The Red Note podcast, which in 10 chapters of 40 minutes delves into the phenomenon of feminicide in Ciudad Juárez, as an illustration of this violence that began in 1993, but spread in different states and diversified: women are not only murdered, they can be disappeared, and sexually violated. It is a problem of Latin America and the world.


The objective of the podcast says the producer Estefanía Bonilla to Pie de Página, is to explain the feminicide phenomenon from the historical, anthropological and sociological point of view.

“In 1993 is when the whole issue of feminicide abuses and disappearances of women began to be registered in Ciudad Juárez, which also hit the border with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and with all this type of social and economic movement that also occurs in relation to the United States and Mexico, all this series of illegal trafficking in every sense," she explains.

Filmmaker Craig Whitney, who wrote the series, believes that “public history is also a personal story to that of the victims and their families. The problem of femicide is national... but the demonstration in Juárez has unique elements: there is human trafficking, drug, and arms trafficking in the United States. It is a reason why this phenomenon, this pandemic of femicides in Mexico begins in Juárez”.


Juárez, Tijuana and Acapulco, the municipalities with the highest incidence


A few days ago, the United Nations (UN) Women presented together with the National Institute for Women the annual report: "Feminicidal Violence in Mexico, approaches and trends." The document places Juárez; Tijuana, Baja California and Acapulco, Guerrero as the municipalities with the highest incidence of cases during the period covered by the study from 1990 to 2019. In 2019, Chihuahua was second in homicide cases with presumption of feminicide, with 14.1 percent, while Colima ranks first in number of cases and a rate of 20.3 percent. That Juárez continues in the first places in terms of murders of women, says Whitney, is not accidental. Although the history of femicide in the country begins there, there are hyperlocal things being a border city. "The reality is that it is not convenient for an authority to have to be solving these crimes, it is very likely that they are benefiting from all this that is happening."


He considers the same as José Luis Castillo, who believes that the changes generated in Mexico, in terms of femicides, in laws against impunity for this violence against women, have been achieved thanks to the families and their collective organization.


“It has been thanks to them that the mechanisms were achieved with the specialized prosecutors; the Olimpia Law, the Ingrid Law, and that has been thanks to those radical feminists who criticize so much that they go and break glass and paint walls”, he considers. In the investigation, in which the journalist from Juarez, Alicia Fernández, Whitney and the Red Note team also participated, they discovered circumstances that have to do with the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons and the trafficking of other types of violence. "That is where a systematic or very complex situation begins to develop." A bone is not Esmeralda


José Luis Castillo received a call in 2015. He was told that his daughter was found dead. When he was notified, they told him that unfortunately only skeletal remains were found, but the DNA test matches Esmeralda's.

The day after going to the Forensic Medical Service (Semefo) to recognize the bones and have a second DNA done, they told him: "No, it is not necessary to request a second exam." José Luis said to them: "Why not?" and they told him: "Because these remains have already come from a laboratory in the United States, this is the second test we are doing on them." –Hey then, why when you did the first exam, here in Juarez, you didn't notify me, that you had already found some remains, that they found our DNA, and that they were possibly from Esmeralda. -Oh no! the thing is that we already know you, who are an activist and that you, later, are going to take out the press, and that is why we did not want to warn you.


When he got to the Semefo he found not bones but a bone, a tibia, the right one. He claimed insensitivity. The person who took him to the identification told him: “You may be better off saying that Esmeralda is already dead, because you are going to get paid a large amount of money, and we are going to support you with a house, or with a truck so that you don't speak up”.


There was never an explanation of how she died in the version of the authorities. That's why he never believed, in any case there are people who live without a leg, but the Public Ministry had already said that Esmeralda was deceased. The judicialization of Esmeralda's folder, classifying the crime as femicide, without having an explanation of how she died and what was the cause of her death, forced Castillo to take her file classified as femicide to the Prosecutor's Office for the search for people.

José Luis regrets that it is above all the mothers who are looking for their children. "It is not fair that we parents have to do the searches, to look for our daughters, and our loved ones, and find them both in Chihuahua, Guerrero, Tijuana and the authorities."

In all this time he has done activities with groups to continue fighting. His greatest urgency is to come to Mexico City to look for Esmeralda from a call he supposedly received from the university where she was studying. He has received indications that she is alive, but does not have the money to look for her. “We trackers, the groups, have to go practically begging the authorities for alms so that they can provide us with travel expenses, travel expenses… even to give me 50, 60 liters of gasoline. When we parents are going to do the job that corresponds to them, for which, the people are paying them, and they still look at us: 'here come the poor, crybabies to see what we give them, give them a bone so that they are not bothering us'".

Exacerbated indolence


During the investigation of this podcast, what stood out the most was the prevailing impunity. “There are problems with the government system, but the people of Mexico are strong, they are incredible. I think that if we are going to change the problem of femicide, it will be the people that resolve the problem of femicide”, considers Whitney.

“At the beginning, society must become aware and understand whether we already have this interconnection thanks to the internet, to this transnationalization of economic, political and technological resources, it is time to think of ourselves as a global society, and for that reason initiatives such as Las Tesis In Chile, which has an international impact, Vivir Quintana with his song Sin Miedo ”, explains Estefanía.

Consider that the conversation should continue. People must learn about the genesis of this phenomenon of feminicidal violence. The project is available in Spanish and English as The Red Note. In our language it is narrated by the journalist Lydia Cacho. It is available on Apple Podcast, and Spotify Podcasts.

"They will take away that opportunity"


José Luis remembers how his life was before the disappearance of Esmeralda: he worked in the city hall of Ciudad Juárez in the Traffic Control area, which was in charge of the traffic lights, the yellow lines, the lines that are in the pedestrian crossings , where people cannot park.


Esmeralda in those days dreamed of being a veterinarian and he got sick. So he allowed her to inject him, after all he had practiced with oranges. The next day José Luis woke up better.


- You did not go to school?


- No, no pa, I want to stay to take care of you.


I told her: “daughter, there are 15 days left, you are going to enter the chess course, at the state level, you miss a lot, they will take away that opportunity.


That day José Luis, due to his flu, could not take her to high school. Esmeralda was never alone. He regrets having demanded that he go to school. Since that May 19, 2009, he has not seen her.