Esther Chavez, who dedicated her life to fighting for justice for the murdered women of Juarez, died Friday, on Christmas Day, of cancer in Ciudad Juarez. Her death at 76 is a huge loss to her country, expecially the women of Mexico, and to people everywhere who believe in justice. In 1993, Esther was an accountant in the border city, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, when she began clipping newspaper accounts of women fround dead in the desert, whether buried in shallow graves, stuffed in barrels full of acid or mutilated. She began to notice patterns. Gradually her file became so thick, she went to the authorities, first municipal, then state and national, but nobody took her seriously (at least nobody in authority) as the death toll mounted. In fact, Francisco Barrio, who as governor of Chihuahua where Juarez is situated and who once told the Star the deaths should be considered "normal," is now Mexico's ambassador to Canada. It is estimated that well over 300 women have been murdered or disappeared over 16 years - a gruesome count that seems only to mount.
Police have done little - after all, these women are poor, often nameless coming from all over Mexico to work in the border plants and without heroes to fight for them - except Esther. She began a shelter - Casa Amiga - where she offered solice to families whose daughters, mothers, sisters and aunts had disappeared, prodded the authorities and expanded to do what she could for the dispossessed of Juarez, offering a rape crisis centre and food and supplies when she could. The photo above by the Star's Carlos Osorio (taken in 2006) shows Esther in a typical pose, giving comfort. She was a powerhouse and ignored death threats. She was ascerbic, opinionated, kind, funny, warm and possessed the tremendous energy of those who see a problem and, instead of turning away, devote their lives to trying to solve it. She was, perhaps above all, humble; she saw it as privilege to be able to serve. Not for her the fame and little luxuries of those who sometimes mix human rights with spiritual pride. She was never too busy to sit down with a journalist, going over accounts of this case or that and making phone calls to arrange interviews, no matter the hour, if it meant publicity for the lost women of Juarez. She often commented on the response she received from Canadians.
Rest in Peace, Esther. You are hugely missed. May your work continue at Casa Amiga.