Trigger Warning: graphic descriptions of violence and femicide of Central American women
On March 27, in the popular tourist destination of Tulum, Mexico, Salvadoran-born Victoria Salazar was murdered by a Mexican police officer. Surveillance camera footage of her murder went viral; depicting Salazar handcuffed, unable to breathe as a policewoman kneeled on her back, with several police officers surrounding her.
Responding to a call about an intoxicated woman in a convenience store, the police officers were seen throwing Salazar into the back of a police vehicle, barefoot and limp. Salazar’s murder garnered international attention because of its similarity to the murder of George Floyd, who was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin last summer in Minnesota in a similar manner, a knee to his back.
A 36-year-old mother to two teenage daughters, ages 15 and 16, Victoria Salazar was a migrant from El Salvador living in Mexico on a humanitarian visa since 2018. Like many other migrants, Salazar was working as a housekeeper in a hotel in Mexico’s popular tourist destination of Tulum, eventually planning to permanently settle down in Mexico.
Her murder by state actors, the police, characterizes Salazar’s murder as a transnational issue because her migration story and experience speaks to the larger project of state-sanctioned violence that enables police officers to use deadly force rather than de-escalation. The police’s response to a call for “public disturbance” was to murder Salazar, her identity as a Salvadoran woman of color meant her life was more disposable than wealthy tourists causing “public disturbances” in popular spring-break tourist destination Tulum. Activist groups, such as Community in Solidarity with the People in El Salvador (CISPES), connect the similarity of Salazar’s murder to George Floyd’s murder as a part of this transnational struggle that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous people of color) endure at the hands of the state.
“Many have pointed out that the brutal manner in which Mexican police killed Victoria echoes the way in which Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. This is not a coincidence,” read a statement by CISPES. “State violence perpetrated against Black people in the United States is intrinsically connected to the state violence Central Americans, particularly indigenous and Afro-Central Americans, are subjected to in their countries of origin and while migrating. The transnational nature of this violence requires a transnational response.”
The President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele put out a statement condemning the four police officers that murdered Victoria Salazar, later tweeting that the Mexican government must apply “the full weight of the law to those responsible.” Following through, all officers complicit with Salazar’s murder have been fired and charged for femicide, as their actions were “beyond procedure.” President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said that Salazar had been “brutally treated and murdered” during the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico, and that her killers would be prosecuted with “no impunity.” President Obrador’s statement condemning the action of these four police officers insinuates that Salazar’s murder was an individual mistake, rather than a systemic problem.
Salazar’s murder by the Mexican police is a part of the increased violence against women on the basis of their gender, which have been coined femicides, in Mexico. Despite the statements put out by Obrador and Bukele, femicides in Mexico and El Salvador continue to rise. According to Attorney General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero, femicides have gone up 137 percent in the last five years. The femicide of Victoria Salazar at the hands of the Mexican police as a Central American migrant woman in a popular tourist destination speaks to the violence that migrant women experience at the hands of the state and it’s police. This begs the question: if her murder was at the hands of state actors, the police, than how can the state really be held accountable?
Salvadoran feminist groups are asking for tangable systemic change and action rather than tweets and media statements. Feminist paper Revista La Brujula wrote that Victoria “was killed by the police, but the violations of her rights began earlier by the Salvadoran State…Without a doubt, public policies are urgently needed to address the issue of migration, but it is also urgent to change collective imaginations, all those speeches that we have been hearing for years against migration, where the loss of rights is even justified.”
Victoria Salazar is survived by her two daughters and family, who laid her to rest in the La Generosa cemetery in colonial Sonsonate.