Who was Isabel Cabanillas?
Her murder has sparked renewed protests against femicide across Mexico.
Last Friday night was the last time anyone saw Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre alive. After not returning home from a night out at a bar, Cabanillas’ friends reported her missing on social media the next day.
Early that morning, around 3 a.m., a woman’s body was discovered near Mercado Juárez, a public market in downtown Ciudad Juárez. The posts from her friends helped authorities identify the body as Cabanillas.
She was found shot to death, lying next to her signature bicycle. Two shell casings were also found at the scene and there were cameras in the area where the body was discovered.
At 26 years old, Cabanillas was an artist, activist and mother with a growing profile in Ciudad Juárez.
Her art, which she often displayed on Instagram and Facebook, was a surreal fusion of modern meme culture, Latinx identity and the iconography of classic American pop culture.
In addition to canvas, Cabanillas also put her work in several public displays and sold her art as designs on t-shirts and other articles of clothing.
As an activist, her art often intersected with the struggles of migrants making their way to the nearby U.S.-Mexico border and women in Mexico.
Ojitos tristes #2 - Isabel Cabanillas ¿Acaso los que caminan arriba cuidandonos vacilan en su viaje? ¿Acaso aquellos que nos proporcionan luz son perezosos al caminar allá? Los que caminan arriba por nosotros ¿Alguna vez se han dado por vencidos? #raramuri #tarahumara
A post shared by Isabel Cabanillas (@isabelcabanillas_mx) on
She also helped promote or organize many actions supporting migrants and women, including warm-clothing drives, benefit concerts and marches.
Cabanillas was a member of a local feminist collective, “Las Hijas de su Maquilera Madre” (Daughters of Maquila Working Mothers). The name honors the countless women who work in the factories that came to border towns and cities in Mexico after 1994.
That year, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, opening the door for many American corporations to build factories south of the border and take advantage of cheaper labor.
In Ciudad Juárez, many of the women work within clothing factories.
When Cabanillas’ death hit the presses, it set off a new wave of protests against femicide and authorities that has begun to ripple across Mexico.
Many of the early demonstrations have been led by family or friends of the young artist and activist.
The first major protest happened just a three-minute bike ride south of where Cabanillas was found on Sunday, Jan. 19, in front of the Benito Juárez Monument in downtown Ciudad Juárez.
Protestors came out in force with signs decrying the indifference shown by leaders like Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral regarding Cabanillas’ fate.
“Corral, AMLO [Andrés Manuel López Obrador], Cadada have blood on their hands” and “Isabel Cabanillas, your death will be avenged” were some of the messages displayed alongside some of Cabanillas’ artwork.
“Up to this point we don’t have any answer as to what happened. In spite of there being cameras in the area where they found her body, the government hasn’t said anything. We think the government is covering for someone important,” a friend of Cabanillas told La Jornada.
On social media, the hashtag #JusticiaParaIsabel has trended across Latin America.
— REDefineMX (@REDefineMX) January 20, 2020
According to DW, at least 3,080 women were murdered in Mexico between 2015 and June 2019. In 2015, the victim rate per 100,000 was 0.66, but has almost doubled in three years to 1.19.
Cabanillas’ case remains unsolved.