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La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights Defenders

Writing.ie | Magazine | The Big Idea

By Selina Eagney

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Graphic novels often illustrate the trials and tribulations of fictional superheroes, but the characters of La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights Defenders are starkly real.

Recently launched by Front Line Defenders and published by Verso, La Lucha offers an innovative and compelling depiction of the challenges faced by women human rights defenders (WHRDs), and demonstrates the profound importance of their work. A nonfiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Jon Sack, the book tells the true story of Lucha Castro, a lawyer and human rights defender in Mexico whose work supports families that have been ripped apart by crime and corruption.

In the first decade of this century, Ciudad Juarez gained notoriety as the most violent city the world. Drug cartel wars, police collusion and political corruption resulted in more murders annually than in war-torn Afghanistan, with over 90% of murders going unsolved. Violence against women is endemic, and an average of 7 women are killed every day in Mexico. Thirty one human rights defenders have been killed in the country since 2010, and 70% of the population of the Juarez valley has fled or been killed.

Delving behind these grim statistics, La Lucha shines a light on the heartbreak and heroism of ordinary citizens who have turned their grief into advocacy for change.

A series of vignettes illustrates the struggles of people such as Marisela Escobedo, whose daughter Rubi was brutally murdered by her boyfriend Sergio Barraza in August 2008. Barraza was acquitted of the crime, despite leading police to the body and asking for forgiveness in court, because he was a member of the Zetas drug cartel, and therefore untouchable. Heartbroken by a verdict that she said “killed Rubi for a second time”, Marisela petitioned and protested until Barraza was found guilty under appeal. He fled before he could be incarcerated.

Marisela Escobedo
Marisela Escobedo

Rubi’s family tracked Barraza down, tipping law enforcement off as to his whereabouts, but police still refused to detain him because of his cartel links. Determined to fight on, Marisela camped outside the capitol building in Chihuahua, and refused to leave until she had achieved justice for her daughter. However, Marisela’s peaceful protest outraged local crime lords, and on December 16th 2010 they finally silenced her with their only weapon: violence.

The power of the book lies in the immediacy of its images, which bring these haunting and inspiring tales to life in ways that prose alone could not. Lucha Castro collaborated with Front Line Defenders on the project to use storytelling as an instrument for raising awareness. Front Line Defenders is an Irish international human rights organisation that works to provide practical and rapid support for human rights defenders at risk, and La Lucha is the first in their series of nonfiction graphic novels documenting the stories of human rights defenders around the world.

The book was launched in Dublin at The Body Shop on Grafton Street, where murals by Mexican urban/street artist Katrina Rupit depict the courageous work of WHRDs. Adam Shapiro, Head of Campaigns for Front Line Defenders and editor of La Lucha, has praised the “real life heroes” featured, and he believes that the nonfiction graphic novel represents “a different way of presenting human rights defenders’ stories in ways that are accessible”.

Not all the campaigners depicted in La Lucha suffered the same tragic fate as Marisela Escobedo. Through the Centre for Human Rights for Women in Chihuahua, Lucha Castro and her colleagues bravely fight on, advocating change, supporting victims, and raising awareness. By tackling an important subject in an engaging and accessible format, La Lucha provides a rich portrayal of these real life heroes.

(c) Selina Eagney

La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights is available online or in bookshops. More information about Front Line Defenders can be found at www.frontlinedefenders.org

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