A Tear for an Artist

Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre, an artist in the Mexican border city Juarez, was fascinated with eyes. She liked to paint them. In one self-portrait, a tear dropped from an eye.

It was prophetic. While riding her bicycle home after a festive night with friends at a popular bar, she was executed cartel-style: one shot to chest, one to head. At 25 she became the latest victim in a year that could set a record for homicides in a city known as the most dangerous in the world. There were 119 murders in January, 18 over the weekend when Isabel was killed.

The cartels do not discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender. All are killed with equal facility. Most are males, considering that drug trafficking is a male pursuit. But the killers aim for special effects with women involving a degrading kind of torture. Mexican women have termed this femicide and have staged protests. They are welcome but unavailing since the cartels control the country, including law enforcement.

Isabel didn’t challenge the cartels, which is a sure route to death. But she was active in local matters and freely expressed herself. That was sufficiently offensive. She conveyed in her art the grueling working conditions at the many small assembly plants providing goods for the American market. The women who work there because they can work nowhere else are the victims of the cartels who prey on the poor, not the affluent. It’s a lot easier.

This write-up comes rather late after Isabel’s death. Since the U.S. media rarely covers Mexican violence, concentrating rather on far away places like Syria and Somalia, you have to play catch-up and get the news from more marginal sources when it arrives. The tears for Isabel are in Mexico, not America.

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