Her face disfigured, the body lying beside her, Maria de los Angeles Zuniga Mota was disemboweled and buried in a shallow grave along with her husband, going back to what for some victims of violence in Mexico is an unexpected place: far-flung rural areas like the municipalities of Huezabal, Cima, and Arecibo.
Her disappearance in February brought to almost daily the grisly details of her killing, and sent shock waves around the world through the vivid pictures on the news and Twitter posts sent by relatives. Her near-naked body was found Thursday on a dirt road, dumped in a shallow grave and partially incinerated.
“It’s a normal response to a bad situation,” said Sergio Valenzona, a sociologist who studies gender relations. “Violence against women is very widespread, there are no boundaries for the violence that happens. It is mostly the extreme cases that catch people’s attention.”
Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez wrote a letter to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the PRI, detailing the deaths of 15 women since November. He said of the women and girls he had seen, “very often they commit suicide or commit ‘suicide by cop’ or the women they end up with go onto kill themselves.”
The murder of Zuniga has touched a nerve on a taboo topic in Mexico: the public murder of a woman, particularly of a woman associated with a political party. Zuniga was 38 and her body had been nearly dismembered and burned.
This is apparently the second time her husband has been investigated for killing her. But the case remains unsolved, according to locals and media reports. Zuniga’s family said the Zapatista indigenous movement organized a protest Thursday morning for her at the town hall, but police made no arrests. The Zapatistas have been involved in a number of local high-profile killings in recent years, most notably the killing of their former leader, Subcomandante Marcos, in 2014.
Zuniga and her husband had two children together, with the children staying with their father and the husband staying with his aunt.
The advocacy group RAICES has long warned that at least 2,400 women are victims of femicide in Mexico each year, something activists describe as an accurate estimate. The group relies on anecdotal evidence from reporters and researchers to make its estimates, often to determine why victims remain unidentified. In 2017, RAICES counted 5,366 cases, based on media reports.
On Thursday, Ruben Villapando, coordinator of a women’s rights group in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, said the number is actually even higher. She estimated that in the past decade, over 8,000 women have been murdered in the state.
The rate of femicide in Mexican states has remained similar over the past decade, despite the widespread political attention focused on the issue in the lead-up to the elections in 2018, and after an especially high-profile murder in September 2017.
“I don’t think that we have learned anything in the last four years,” Villapando said.
A group of international experts named after Zuniga created the group in September 2018. In a statement, Maria del Rosario “Zuniga” Mazariegos, the group’s leader, wrote that she, “wishes to strongly denounce the femicide of our compatriot and denounce the silence, impunity and indifference that have ensued since her murder and tries to speak up for our fellow citizens in Mexico.”