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Mexico Poet Susana Chavez Castillo Paid a Heavy Price for Her Verses

PEN International
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March 23, 2015



   
    Sangre Nuestra – by Susana Chávez Castillo

Blood of my own,
blood of sunrise,
blood of a broken moon,
blood of silence,
of dead rock,
of a woman in bed
jumping into nothingness,
Open to the madness.
Blood clear and definite,
fertile seed,
Blood the unbelievable journey,
Blood as its own liberation,
Blood, river of my songs,
Sea of my abyss.
Blood, painful moment of my birth,
Nourished by my last appearance.

Susana Chávez Castillo, a prominent poet and women's rights advocate, was found murdered in the border town of Ciudad Juárez on 6 January 2011. She had been strangled and had had one of her hands cut off; her body was only identified five days later.

Chávez had been highly vocal in calling for justice for the hundreds of women killed in the Juárez area since the early 1990s, both as an activist and through her writings; she took part in numerous poetry readings which she dedicated to the murdered women. Her poem 'Sangre Nuestra' (Our Blood) was written from the perspective of a victim.

Throughout the course of their investigation, the authorities denied that Chávez' murder was related in any way to her activism and poetry, or to organised crime, despite the recent murder and harassment of numerous other local rights defenders.

The Chihuahua state attorney general's office alleged that she was killed by three teenage boys she had met while out drinking, and on 3 April 2013, a court in Ciudad Juárez sentenced three juveniles to 15 years in prison for her murder. According to reports, one of her alleged killers was released on 22 July 2013 after a court found that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that he was directly involved in Chávez' murder.

Despite a conviction for Chávez' killing, in the vast majority of murders of writers and journalists, impunity reigns. Mexico remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to exercise one's right to freedom of expression. At least 67 print and internet journalists, bloggers and writers have been murdered in the country since 2004. Very few – if any – of these murders have been satisfactorily resolved. At least 10 other print journalists have disappeared since in Mexico in the last decade; their fate remains unknown Few if any of these crimes have been solved.

In March 2013, PEN International and Guadalajara PEN submitted a shadow report on violence and impunity in Mexico to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights as part of the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review of Mexico's human rights record. In its report, PEN called for full and transparent federal-level investigations into the murder and disappearance of journalists and writers as well as investigations into all allegations of attacks carried out by government entities.

In 2012, PEN International published the anthology Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes. A number of contributors to the anthology dedicated poems to Chávez' memory, including the poem 'Tongue', by Carmen Boullosa, which can be found on pages 51-54, and Claribel Alegría's poem 'Impunity', found on pages 55-58. Take action here.

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