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Correspondent Friday, 12 January, 2001, 16:42 GMT
City of Dreams
The bodies of over 200 young girls found in Juarez
The Mexican police have arrested an Egyptian chemist, suspected of murdering over 200 people in the border town of Juarez in the past seven years. But have they got the right man? Bruno Sorrentino investigates.

The victims are mostly young female assembly line workers in the maquiladoras factories owned by high profile multinationals such as GE, GM, RCA, and Chrysler.

These conglomerates are drawn to the Chihuahua desert town just across the Rio Grande from the US city of El Paso-by the tax free status and cheap labour.

map
Juarez: City of Dreams
This proximity - just a matter of yards between the sprawling makeshift city of rural migrants, on one side, and high tech America, on the other - results in a potent and often dangerous concoction.

All the women died in similar circumstances in the desert surrounding the factories.

Public confidence at an all time low

For years, the authorities have failed dismally to produce a credible suspect while the death toll has mounted. Is there one, or are there several serial killers on the prowl, or perhaps some homicidal maniac who moves freely across the border?

Abdel Latif Sharif
Sharif, branded by the authorities and media as a serial killer
After sustained criticism for their embarrassing failure to produce a credible suspect, the investigators came up with what seemed like the perfect monster. An Egyptian chemist by the name of Abdel Latif Sharif, stands accused of being a serial killer. So relieved were the public at the arrest that his name instantly became a by word for evil.

Serial killer or scape goat

In Juarez he is simply known as 'Sharif'. But public relief was only short lived: the murders have continued after his arrest.

And although there is no evidence that Sharif has killed anyone, the national and international press repeat parrot fashion the official line that Sharif is the serial killer of Juarez.

Rosa Isela Perez
Investigative Journalist Rosa Isela Perez
In a major newspaper article, investigative journalist Rosa Isela Perez has extensively revealed details of fraud in the authorities handling of the Sharif case.

Her investigation indicates that Sharif is being used as a scapegoat by the authorities to cover their own inefficiency and corruption.

Her article has been kept under wraps by her newspaper.

Rosa has been followed and harassed by unknown men who she believes are undercover government agents trying to frighten her into abandoning her investigation.

Women of Juarez blame police

Lupita, another missing girl from Juarez
Women's organisations have become increasingly vocal in the criticism of the authorities, and believe the murders may be the result of some deep rooted social phenomenon, more symptomatic of a predominantly macho society at odds with itself.

For young female workers, factory jobs mean a break with the conservative customs of the traditional family and village. They live independently, emulating the lifestyle of women just north of the border as they become the main breadwinners.

Public officials have added to fears that a patriarchal backlash may be taking place by condemning the murder victims themselves for having lived free and independent lives gained from their jobs in the factories.

Young female workers leave the factory
But in truth, the women are far from liberated by the work. They are employed because they are cheap and easily exploitable - for their $10 dollar a day pay.

They all face extreme work conditions, including menstruation checks to prove they're not pregnant.

In a culture still dominated by machismo, this new perceived female independence has fuelled male resentment: the murdered women may be casualties of a vast conflict in a society ill prepared for rapid change.


Click here for transcripts

City of Dreams: 1850 GMT, Saturday 13th January 2001 on BBC 2.

Writer/Director: Bruno Sorrentino

Series Producer: Farah Durrani

Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Abdel Latif Sharif
"Why would a genius make the same mistake twice?"
Bruno Sorrentino
"Parents of Lupita, a missing Juarez girl, talk about their pain."
Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


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