Protests accuse government of failing to tackle spate of femicides as Cabify driver held over murder of Mara Fernanda Castilla, 19
The murder of a Mexican university student after she used a ride-hailing service has sparked outrage and prompted street protests by activists who say that the country’s authorities have done little or nothing to prevent a litany of femicides.
Mara Fernanda Castilla, 19, was found dead on Friday, according to the Puebla state governor, Tony Gali. Her body had been abandoned in a ditch some 90 kilometres south-east of Mexico City.
Castilla had hailed a car from Cabify, a Spanish ride-sharing service, in the early hours of 8 September after going out clubbing with friends.
The driver passed by her apartment – ending the paid portion of the ride there and sending a receipt to her email – but security cameras did not show Castilla exiting the car or entering the building. Castilla was taken to a hotel, where she was sexually assaulted and strangled, according to investigators. The driver has since been arrested.
News of Castilla’s murder came during Mexico’s independence holiday – an event marked this year with somewhat downbeat celebrations following a powerful earthquake which killed at least 98 people, and amid public soul-searching over continuing corruption and violence.
Some on social media added the official holiday hashtag #VivaMéxico to tweets condemning Castilla’s murder, while protesters in major Mexican cities marched to protest against violence against women on Sunday.
“I’m not going to celebrate when there’s something so outrageous happening,” said Liliana Rivera, a psychologist, who protested on Sunday.
“There’s this outrage and an outcry because these murders are not being taken seriously by the government unless they go into the media. In every state we have these problems,” Maricruz Ocampo, an activist on women’s issues in the state Querétaro, told the Guardian. “The number that the [federal] government gives is that seven women are killed every day because people can get away with it. There is no other reason.”
Puebla, where Castilla moved to study political science, has registered 83 feminicidios so far in 2017. Civil society groups have pushed the Puebla state government to issue a “gender alert” – an emergency mechanism introduced into law in 2007 following a surge of gruesome hate crimes against women in the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez. The request was rejected on 7 July.
Over the weekend, the hashtag #SiMeMatan – “if they kill me” –trended on social media. The hashtag has trended previously after officials have implied that female victims of violence were somehow complicit in the crimes committed against them.
Four months before her death, Castilla herself used the hashtag on a 5 May tweet reading “#SiMeMatan it’s because I liked to go out at night and drink a lot of beer …”
In recent years, ride-hailing services such as Cabify and Uber have exploded in popularity in Mexico – not least because they are perceived to be safer than ordinary taxis, which often do not have seat belts, GPS devices or credit card readers. Taxi drivers have also regularly been involved in crimes including robbery and kidnapping.
Meanwhile, armed robberies occur regularly on public transit in the suburbs of Mexico City, while the subway in the capital has female-only cars to prevent sexual assault.
“You take Uber and Cabify because you think it’s safe, but it ends up you’re still exposing yourself to danger,” said Ana Olivares, a student protesting in Mexico City. “There’s no way to stay safe.”
Cabify came in for further criticism after the company expressed condolences for Castilla’s “death”. Many on social media corrected the Cabify statement to read that Castilla was, in fact, murdered.