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PopLab talks with The Red Note podcast team about the origin of Mexico's femicide epidemic in Juarez

The Mexican journalism and public opinion site POPLab spoke with investigator Alicia Fernandez and director Craig Whitney from The Red Note last week to discuss the goal of the podcast and how Mexico's femicide epidemic began with the serial murders in Juarez two decades ago.

A full translation of POPLab's interview with The Red Note podcast's creative team is re-posted below.

Click on the following link to read the original Spanish version of the article on POPLab's website: ¿Cómo empezó el horror? Podcast realizado por destacados periodistas revive historia de los feminicidios de Juárez


How did the horror start? Podcast by prominent journalists relives the story of the Juarez femicides

Lydia Cacho presents "La Nota Roja", which seeks to explain the circumstances that allowed impunity that surrounded the same emblematic cases as those of anonymous women

By Martha Silva | PopLab

It was the early years of the 90s when Ciudad Juárez discovered with horror in the desert, on the outskirts, the body of a murdered woman. Then it was another, and another, buried in the sand, thrown into ditches.

Presented by Lydia Cacho, The Red Note is a bilingual true crime podcast, a journalistic genre that investigates, details and recounts real crimes, about the stories behind the femicide in Juarez since 1993 and the economic and social context allowed it to escalate and spread spread throughout the country. Femicides that, from January to October of this year, have been officially recognized in 777 cases, out of the 2,874 women murdered in that same period, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. But The Red Note is more than that. The story of this podcast "is the story of Juarez," explains Craig Whitney, the director of the series that deeply explores 25 years of news, files, testimonies from former officials, journalists, analysts and above all, families of the victims, to try to unravel how "although the manifestation of the problem is unique in Juárez, the form of the investigations, the conversations between the victims and the governments, are the same over and over and over again in other states."

"Femicides are not just a problem in Chihuahua, or in the State of Mexico... the story of our podcast is a story from the 90s, the 2000s, but also the beginning of the femicide pandemic in Mexico."

Each episode includes the presentation of the journalist Lydia Cacho because, as the director points out, it was very important to tell the connection between what happened in Juárez with human trafficking.

The cases described in the podcast have been part of the recent history of the city and many people from Juarez, such as the journalist Alicia Fernández, who was in charge of conducting the interviews, have grown up with them. The Red Note sheds light so that those beyond its hills and its dunes understand how the violence that has spread to the most remote corner of this country has taken root and that has penetrated all institutions and that it has been the work of families. of the victims who have fought to expose this rot.

When men and women outside of Chihuahua listen to these audios they will observe events that sound very familiar to them: "we need to share the tragic, raw, sad side but also the experiences, the talks, the culture of Juárez... and form connections" between people, Craig Whitney explained.

The project, which consists of 10 chapters in both English and Spanish, includes interviews with various personalities such as the American feminist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, the journalist Blanca Carmona, the coroner Oscar Maynez, among others.

Four stories and background, a system that corrupts everything

The common thread of the series are four emblematic cases in Juárez, such as that of Norma Andrade and her daughter Lilia Alejandra, who disappeared in 2001, that of José Luis Castillo and his daughter Esmeralda, an alleged victim of trafficking, Dora Venzor and her daughter Andrea, Silvia Banda and his daughter Fabiola.

Each testimony is an oral history of their lives through time but at the same time it becomes a sociological history of the phenomenon of femicides.

The journalist Alicia Fernández acknowledges that despite having known and worked on these cases for a long time, talking with the families of the victims of the "Cotton Field" was shocking. "Juárez was without a doubt a laboratory" of the violence that later was reproduced in other parts of the country, she said. "Now there are emergency zones like Guanajuato, where the red lights are turning on and getting out of control." There is a relationship of corruption, impunity, flawed processes and, in the case of Chihuahua, looting of public coffers that has sometimes prevented officials from carrying out their work, as there is not even gasoline to move the vehicles. "A formula that is spreading and that is plunging the country into these crises."

Alicia Fernandez stressed that a very comprehensive strategy is needed to combat inequalities and with it, violence.

Asked about the activities that the relatives of these women carry out to keep their memory alive, specifically, the Esmeraldatón or race that was organized in honor of Esmeralda Castillo, "we can feel sad, but also have admiration and hope for everything that Mr. Castillo is doing to share his daughter's story," explained Craig Whitney.

And he mentioned how another film that talks about the efforts of a mother to show that the memory of her 12-year-old daughter, suffering from cancer, is not defined by her death, but by her life. "Her illness is only a small part of her life", for this reason, the work of the reporter Alicia Fernández was very important, looking for aspects that would portray who these women were, what made them laugh or dream.

The intention of this work is not only to expose the criminal investigations related to the cases, but also to tell their stories, who these women were, how their family faced the disappearance and how they continue in their search for justice.

The production of a very complicated story

Originally conceived as a feature film, The Red note found in the new communication formats, specifically the podcast, the way to tell a story that spans five decades where the only thing clear is that criminal groups organized through bribery, threats or omission — to say the least - from the authorities to commit acts of corruption, murder, human trafficking, drugs, weapons, torture and more.

The proposal to turn it into several podcast episodes seemed like a very exciting opportunity to Whitney, since the feature film only has a hundred minutes of space to tell its story and the different forces that have been working since 1995 in Juárez constituted a story that needed to be recounted in depth.

We had stories, information and interviews, it was also important to include, said the filmmaker, "the stories of the families of the victims in their words, speak with experts, with academics, with government officials and seek different perspectives on a very complicated problem, on Everything, show how, after spending three or four weeks in the city, they discovered that Juarenses are very friendly people.

Listening to "a father telling about the identification of his daughter's body or a mother who is being murdered for their investigations, changes ideas about this phenomenon in a permanent way," telling his story is my job, said Craig Whitney.

And although he acknowledges that he hopes the project will be successful in the conventional sense, for each of the people who participated (the producer, Estefania Bonila Hernandez, the reporter Alicia Hernández, the head of sound), it has become a necessity to talk about what It happened there, to quote Eve Ensler: "When you travel to Juárez and hear these stories, you have a responsibility, a need to share them with the world."

The intention of this audiovisual work, because despite being a podcast it is accompanied by a graphic and informative follow-up that has not concluded with the broadcast of its last episode, is to show that despite all this fear and indignation, the people of Ciudad Juárez is incredibly resilient: 25 years of living in the midst of this violence has not made them sullen, but on the contrary, friendly, hospitable, with great strength. And the families of the victims show incredible determination to seek justice and keep the memory of their daughters alive.

Even now, the dangers for activists and communicators

During the start of the project recordings, the production team went to the office of the Juarez Municipal Women's Institute, and just that day, at that time, the building was fired upon by strangers. There were no injuries.

It was not known if it was a warning to the crew, the officials, or simply a daily manifestation of violence in the city. Although Craig Whitney tries not to fall into the drama, he says that "it was not fun" and later it was talked about in the team to overcome the episode, at least to continue. What has happened in Juárez "is a story that is important to share," and he happily said that he did not have to use this specific event (as a promotion).

However, "although nothing that can change the tragedy that surrounds this story, I am also happy that we can look for hope in this story," said the director.

"There are many people who feel femicides as stories and not as an event that is happening at this time, the struggle of the collectives to evidence these crimes continues," he concluded.


"La Nota Roja" has been nominated for Best Podcast in Spanish by the iHeart Podcast Awards, "which will span 30 different categories to honor the most entertaining and innovative podcasts of the past year, as well as the talent and leaders in the podcasting industry.", reads the description of the official site. The virtual awards ceremony will take place on January 21, 2021.


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