We continue our series of Fall 2014 Author Q&As with William Paul Simmons, one of the editors, with Carol Mueller, of Binational Human Rights: The U.S.–Mexico Experience. The book brings together leading scholars and human rights activists from the United States and Mexico to explain the mechanisms by which a perfect storm of structural and policy factors on both sides has led to such widespread human rights abuses. Through ethnography, interviews, and legal and economic analysis, contributors shed new light on the feminicides in Ciudad Juárez, the drug war, and the plight of migrants from Central America and Mexico to the United States. The authors make clear that substantial rhetorical and structural shifts in binational policies are necessary to significantly improve human rights.
(Previous Q&As: Cathy Lisa Schneider, Police Power and Race Riots; Jennifer Curtis, Human Rights as War by Other Means; Matt Cohen and Edlie Wong, The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia; Jacqueline Bhabha, Human Rights and Adolescence; Rebecca Cook, Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies; Megan Threlkeld, Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico.)
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Penn Press: How does the concept of “femicide” relate to the more familiar concept of “genocide”?
William Simmons: The basic distinction between the two terms is that genocide is the elimination of a group or culture because of their race and ethnicity, while femicide is the killing of women or girl-children because they are female. In the Latin American context, beginning with the serial killings in Ciudad Juárez in the early 1990s and moving on to the killings in Guatemala and elsewhere, the term femicide has been used to connote the killing of women and girl-children and the structural factors that allow and encourage the killings as well as the impunity of the killers. Thus, it brings into focus the killings and the absence of social, cultural, and institutional responses to the killings. With this broader use of the term, activists have been able to call into question all those forms of structural violence that underlie the killing of women and girl-children.
The U.S. drug market seems to exert a strong influence on the chain of events of which femicide is a part. What is the role of the casual consumer of illegal drugs in the U.S. as an actor in these situations?
Yes, the U.S. drug market plays a large role in a number of human rights violations that we cover in Binational Human Rights, including the femicides. In the volume’s conclusion I quote Mexican poet Javier Sicilia who said, “Americans have to realize that behind every puff of pot, every line of coke there is death, there are shattered families.” But, we have to make a key distinction here; it is the illicit drug trade that has led to mass deaths. By making drugs illegal and not reducing demand, U.S. and Mexican policies have fueled massive profits for the drug cartels. While some effects of drug legalization in the U.S. cannot be predicted with certainty, it assuredly would hurt the profits of the drug cartels. Similarly, comprehensive immigration reform would also hurt the profits of the human smuggling rings that are increasingly dominated by the drug cartels. Indeed, our volume can be read as a long polemic against current U.S. and Mexican drug and immigration policies that we see as fueling much of the human rights abuses in the region.