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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 September 2006, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
Hollywood tackles Mexican mystery
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Mexican police have charged a man in connection with a string of murders in a border town. The so-called maquiladora murders are the subject of two Hollywood films, one of which stars Jennifer Lopez and is due out in the US next month.

Jennifer Lopez in a scene from Bordertown  Capitol Films
(Director Gregory Nava) came to me and explained what was going on down in Juarez. Once I knew, I felt like I had to be involved. It became something I had to do - to bring this issue to the surface
Jennifer Lopez

For the publicists seeking to push Jennifer Lopez's next big movie the arrest of Edgar Alvarez Cruz may be something of a mixed blessing.

In her upcoming film, Bordertown, Lopez plays a journalist who investigates the unsolved rape and murder of up to 400 young women in and around the city of Ciudad Juarez since 1993.

The killings have been dubbed the "maquiladora" murders after the factories, close to the border with the United States, where many of the young women victims worked.

The maquiladoras sprung up since 1992, when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed and many companies switched production from the US, because costs were lower.

Edgar Alvarez Cruz in Denver police photo
Oct 1995: Egyptian-born factory worker Abdel Latif Sharif is arrested for one of the murders. He is later jailed for 30 years. Mexican police claim he was a serial killer working alone but the killings continue while he is in custody. Sharif dies in June 2006.
Apr 1996: Police arrest several members of Los Rebeldes (The Rebels), a street gang who they claim have been paid by Sharif to continue the killings. But the murders continue and Los Rebeldes are later cleared.
Nov 2001: Two bus drivers, Victor Javier Garcia Uribe and Gustavo Gonzalez Meza, confess to a number of the murders. Meza dies in jail in 2003. Uribe is jailed for 50 years but is later cleared after his lawyers prove the confession was made under torture. Meanwhile the killings continue.
8 Sep 2006: Edgar Alvarez Cruz (pictured) is charged with one murder but is suspected of several others. His family say he has a solid alibi.

For years police in Juarez played down the deaths of young women whose bodies were turning up almost daily on the streets of the city and in the hills around it.

Many relatives of the victims - who were usually poor - claimed the killings were being carried out by a ring of sexual sadists who preyed on women and had connections in high places.

So news of the arrest of Edgar Alvarez Cruz, who has now been handed back to the Mexican authorities, could be seen as either undermining the film's storyline or boosting its topicality.

The fact that Hollywood is interested enough to spend 25m on the movie, and cast J-Lo in it, suggests America's moviemakers are keen to pick up on plots which may be of interest to the US's fast-expanding Hispanic community.

Bordertown was directed by Gregory Nava - who directed Lopez in her 1997 breakthrough movie Selena.

Lopez told Variety magazine: "Greg came to me and explained what was going on down in Juarez. Once I knew, I felt like I had to be involved. It became something I had to do - to bring this issue to the surface."

Minnie Driver in the film Virgin of Juarez
All the theories are aired (in my film) - that the killers were organ harvesters, sexual sadists or drug cartels
Kevin Dobson

Bordertown follows in the footsteps of another film on the same subject. The Virgin of Juarez, starring Minnie Driver as another reporter on the trail of the killers, was made for less than 1m by British director Kevin Dobson.

Mr Dobson wrote the screenplay and raised the cash for the film after reading about the killings on the internet.

He told the BBC News Website: "I was brought up in Manchester and remember, as a child, the Moors Murders. When I read about the murders in Juarez I felt the need to make a film about them.

"It is a broadbrush piece, a sort of Latino Joan of Arc. All the theories are aired - that the killers were organ harvesters, sexual sadists or drug cartels."

The Virgin of Juarez was shown on the US arthouse circuit but he could not find a distributor for it in Britain.

'Shine a light on evil'

Bordertown is assured of much bigger billing but Mr Dobson says: "I don't mind. I hope people won't compare it with the J-Lo movie. They're very different. But I respect her and Gregory Nava.

Map of Mexico

"I hope their film gets a lot of coverage. I always believe that if you shine a light on evil it will creep back into its corner."

Amnesty International spokesman Rupert Knox said the Mexican authorities' handling of the murder investigation had been woeful and littered with human rights abuses.

He told the BBC News website: "We share the desire of the families of the victims for the perpetrators to be brought to account but at the same time we want to guarantee the rights of those people who are arrested."

Mr Knox said the films would raise awareness but there was a danger that they might not reflect the reality, and he added: "There is a danger of misrepresenting a complex situation."

Mexican held over serial murders
18 Aug 06 |  Americas
Mexico to tackle women's murders
26 May 05 |  Americas
Fund unveiled for Mexican murders
03 Mar 05 |  Americas
Mexico to aid bereaved in Juarez
21 Jul 04 |  Americas
Lawyer to probe Mexican murders
31 Jan 04 |  Americas
Mexico 'failure' over murders
12 Aug 03 |  Americas

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