Reporting from Mexico City — Human rights organizations launched a series of protest marches Thursday in the border city of Ciudad Juarez to demand justice in the slaying of a prominent activist who had vociferously criticized alleged abuses by the Mexican military.
The activist, Josefina Reyes, was among a group of human rights advocates who for a year have been protesting what they call the militarization of Juarez, Mexico's deadliest city, where more than 2,500 people were killed in 2009. The government of President Felipe Calderon poured thousands of army and federal police troops into Juarez to fight powerful drug gangs, but the killing has only soared.
For Reyes, the crusade was especially personal. She maintained that her son, who disappeared in the summer of 2008, had been kidnapped by troops. He has not been found.
The national Human Rights Commission on Thursday condemned Reyes' slaying as an "inadmissible, frontal assault on all defenders of rights and the law." Amnesty International also said the lives of activists in Ciudad Juarez, some of whom have worked with the rights group investigating the military, are in danger and called for the government to offer better protection.
Reyes was killed Sunday when she apparently tried to evade a group of gunmen attempting to kidnap her. Witnesses told human rights investigators that one assailant referred to her membership in "those organizations" before shooting her in the head.
Associates say Reyes had received numerous death threats and recently received a written threat ordering her to leave town. She reported the threats to police, the associates said, but nothing happened.
Gustavo de la Rosa, a representative of the state human rights commission who recently fled Ciudad Juarez because of the danger, told Mexican newspapers that Reyes could easily have been slain by traffickers. He branded her killing "terrorism."
Several organizations that work for human rights and for families whose relatives are missing or have been killed -- sometimes at the hands of authorities and sometimes at the hands of drug traffickers -- staged a march outside the Ciudad Juarez offices of the attorney general and said they would continue the protests through the weekend. They are demanding that authorities find and punish Reyes' killers, in a country where most such crimes go unresolved.
The human rights commission said attacks on activists such as Reyes, along with journalists, have steadily increased in the three years of the Calderon administration.