common ground

Euro/Border Killings

Program 0211 March 12, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

PATRICK ABT: You have to have a big wallet to carry all that coins.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the Euro in Europe’s pocket. Plus, searching for serial killers in Mexico

LINDA CHAVEZ THOMPSON: Unfortunately it has caused the deaths of over 80 young women that have been killed. And nobody is paying attention.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Twelve European countries are adjusting to a new currency. The countries began using the Euro in January and European economists and politicians say the transition is a success.

MCHUGH: But the changeover has some sticking points. Common Ground’s Karen Engel reports on how the new currency is effecting people’s daily lives.

[sound of a train]

KAREN ENGEL: It’s an early Sunday morning in January at the train station in Graz in southern Austria and I’m waiting for a taxi. I’ve just returned to Austria from one of the few European countries that is keeping its own currency—Switzerland. When I left Austria the only legal currency was the shilling. One week later I come back to a Euro land. Now for the next two months you can pay in either currency. But your change will come back in Euros only.

[a conversation in German between a taxi driver at the train station and Karen Engel].

ENGEL: As I tell the taxi driver my address, I ask her how she’s been adjusting to the new currency.

AUSTRIAN TAXI DRIVER: The Euro is for me good. I have no problems with the Euro. A little bit with, with, one Euro is 13 shillings and 76 groschen. This is a little bit hard to, how to say, berechnen….

ENGEL: Yeah, to calculate the…

AUSTRIAN TAXI DRIVER: Yes, yes, yes. However, I have the list. One shilling is, two shilling is how much Euro.

ENGEL: What happens if someone gives you shillings and then you have to, you have to give them the money back in Euro, right?

AUSTRIAN TAXI DRIVER: Yeah, it happens. Zum beispiel. He gives me 100 shillings and he paid 70. Seventy shillings. And I gave him 30 shillings. Then I look off my list. Thirty shillings is two Euro, 18 cents. And I give them two Euro, 18 cents. Not complicated. First day a little bit, but then go, no problem.

[The taxi driver then speaks in German to Engel as she gives Engel change after Engel pays the fare.]

AUSTRIAN TAXI DRIVER: Elv Euro and zwei and neunzig cents (11 Euro and 92 cents]

ENGEL: My fare is 164 shillings—Or, 11 Euros and 92 cents. Considering that a Euro is about 90 cents it’s pretty easy to calculate in dollars. Just take 10 cents off for every Euro, making my taxi bill around ten dollars and some 80-odd cents. Or, double the Euro amount to get the price in Deutsche mark. But converting into shillings is complicated. The official rate is 13.7603 shillings to one Euro. Some have found a shortcut, so to speak.

CAROLYN GRAF: [via a translator] We’ve got a system. First you convert the Euro to Deutsche mark and then you convert it to shillings. So if you have 55 cents you times two to get one Euro and ten cents and then times that by seven to get around eight shillings.

ENGEL: Carolyn Graff often baby-sits my kids. If you think her system sounds complicated—well, others do, too. John Adler is a business manager.

JOHN ADLER: There’s this trick: times two, times seven. But try this with, for example, 15.78 Euro. I mean, this, you, you could not. So actually I’ve come up with a little calculator for my pocket where I’ve printed out in an Excel sheet what the figures are. It’s about four inches long and with one glance I know what, what the other figure is.

ENGEL: Oh, you can hardly read this, though!

ADLER: Well, yes it’s—if, if your eyes are okay you can read it.

ENGEL: So it’s this little slip of paper and some cellophane and you’ve got here…

ADLER: Yeah. Euros on this side. That’s Euros.

ENGEL: So point—okay—one…

ADLER: That’s 10 cents.

ENGEL: Ten cents is 1.4 shillings?

ADLER: That’s it.

ENGEL: Oh, I get it.

ADLER: And so, whenever I see a price—for example, you have five Euros—I just go down here and I have my five Euros here and that’s 68 shillings.

ENGEL: Should I show you what I have?

ADLER: Yeah.

ENGEL: [laughs] Let’s see here. [sound of a bag unzipping, followed by a metallic clinking sound] Okay, I’ve got this key chain and it’s got this little thing.

ADLER: Yeah, that’s pretty good, too. Yeah, yeah. It’s the same thing.

ENGEL: It’s the same thing. You can look at Euros on one side.

ADLER: Yeah, yeah.

ENGEL: And then you let it… [sound of something that sounds like a tape measure snapping back into its case]… roll back down into the key chain.

PATRICK ABT: I bought my grandma a calculator.

ENGEL: Patrick ABT is our next-door neighbor. Nineteen years-old and a student, Patrick told me last December that he wasn’t looking forward to a new currency.

APT: It will be horrible. Because nobody will know how much a Euro cent is and how much a hundred Euros are. And will be very confusing for everybody.

ENGEL: Life with the shilling was easy. There was a one, five, and 10 shilling coin. Bills started at 20 shillings. And a 10 groschen coin—1/10 of a shilling—was rare and worthless and mainly used to round off the usual 10/90 sales. Austrians are not used to the plethora of new coins and units that have come with the Euro. One cent, two cents, five cents, 10, 20 cents, and 50 cents. Plus, one and two Euro coins.

PATRIC ABT: You have to have a big wallet to carry all that coins. Really a sack in the middle age.

[sound of rattling coins]

ENGEL: Indeed, two weeks before the Euro became official, Europe’s national banks started issuing out so-called “starter packets.” In Austria they consisted of plastic sacks of about $15 worth of Euro coins. Which everybody started spending at once when stores opened January 2. There were so many coins around the first week of January that businesses complained they didn’t have enough room for all the change in their cash registers.

[sound of people at a busy market]

ENGEL: An early morning in mid-January at the farmer’s market in my neighborhood in Graz. Since customers can pay with either shillings or Euro, the farmers who come every week to sell their products in town have to carry two cash registers plus a calculator.

[sound of a farmer talking in German]

ENGEL: [summarizing what the farmer said] “It’s complicated,” says this farmer, while I buy some carrots and celery. “Especially the first two days. But since last week, he says, the shilling has practically disappeared.”

[sound of a farmer talking in German]

ENGEL: Although business in general has adapted quickly to the Euro, many Austrians are sad to see the shilling, a symbol of national identity, disappear.

[A woman sings in German]

ENGEL: Musicologist Monika Mogel is a specialist in Styrian?? folk songs. She has only grudgingly accepted the Euro.

MONIKA MOGEL: [via a translator] I’m actually very sorry to see the shilling go. I was not for the EU, but it’s been voted on and since the majority voted “yes” we will have to go along with it.

ELISABEHT KUNISH: I like the shilling and I also like the tradition of the money. For example, if I travel to another country I like get to know another kind of money.

ENGEL: Elisabeht Kunish studies biopsychology at the university in Graz.

KOONISH: Every country loses a little bit of its tradition I think, with the money. And I think this is sad.

ENGEL: Others are not so nostalgic. Gernot Kasebacher studies computer technology at the Graz Technical University.

GERNOT KASEBACHER: I think we are all European people and to be open minded we should think European and not just in one little land.

[a group of people talking]

ENGEL: Except for me and the teacher everyone at this table is Austrian. But we’re all speaking French as part of our weekly conversation class. And today we got our first look at the French Euro. All the Euro coins have the same face, but the backs differ from country to country. The French Euro at the moment is truly more exciting than a French franc. One mathematician already figured out that business travel and tourism will distribute Europe’s Euros evenly according to population percentages. So eventually a typical fistful of Euros in Graz will include a few coins from, say, Spain and Italy—and Austria, of course—and lots from Germany and France. While cents from Finland will always be a rare find. But at the moment my French teacher, Emmanuelle Caignol, just back from a trip home, says the currency switch is going smoother in Austria.

EMMANUELLE CAIGNOL: [via a translator] In France it’s more of a pain because if you pay in francs you get your change in francs. The lines are very long. I find it easier in Austria, because even though the stores accept shillings they give you change in Euros.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT A BOOK CLUB MEETING: …the one, the two, the five, the 50…

ENGEL: It’s the weekly book club meeting and a group of us from all different nationalities have gotten off topic. Instead of discussing the monthly English reading selection we’re talking about the Euro.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT A BOOK CLUB MEETING: We put in an insurance claim for broken glass for 1,303 shillings. Today the postman came. He talks a little and Philip comes to me and says, “The postman wants some money.” He, he signed and he came running to me and he needs money. I said, “Well, I haven’t got money.” “He wants 1,303 Euros, he says.” [the people laugh] He’s at the door.” He pays me Euros! 1,303! Instead of 1,303 shillings...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT A BOOK CLUB MEETING: Only the Austrian coins have the value of the coin on the back side. No other country has that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT A BOOK CLUB MEETING: But that did happen to everybody that had pocket money for the kids….

[everybody talking and laughing at once]

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT A BOOK CLUB MEETING: What are you going to do tomorrow with the cleaning lady?

[everybody talking and laughing at once]

[children singing a German-language counting song in unison]

ENGEL: My daughter’s third grade class learned to count and to add and subtract shillings and groschen two years ago. But now with the Euro her class is learning to count change all over again. Especially if it affects their allowance. Daniele Kirchmayer is the third grade teacher.

DANIELE KIRCHMAYER: We trained with playing games and play money. And so I think it wasn’t very difficult for them.

ENGEL: One thing they noticed right away, says this girl.

[A third-grade girl speaks in German]

ENGEL: Everything has gotten more expensive. For example:

[A third-grade girl speaks in German]

ENGEL: The child found the bus used to be 10 shillings, or 73 cents. And now it’s 75 cents.

[A third-grade boy speaks in German]

ENGEL: “It’s a scandal that chewing gum in the gum ball machines now costs 20 cents,” he says.

[A third-grade boy speaks in German]

ENGEL: “Europe is copying America a little with the Euro,” says this boy. And another says that many more people pay with credit cards.

[A third-grade boy speaks in German]

DANIELE KIRCHMAYER: The children answered right. You have to pay with card. Because it isn’t possible to have such a big purse to put all the coins in it. All of us pay with cards.

[sounds of a checkout scanner beeping as items are being purchased at a store]

ENGEL: Like lots of other people I’m also paying for my groceries with an ATM card. Soon the shilling will disappear entirely. But most people still don’t have a feeling for the Euro.

ADLER: Even at this point I would not say that I am adjusted to it. I still keep calculating what would this be in shillings.

ENGEL: John Adler.

ADLER: When I go to the bank I said, “Could you please put”—I was very funny—”Could you please put 15,000 on my other account?” And the clerk looked at me and said, “Fifteen thousand? Are you sure? Euros?” And I said, “Ah! Sorry! No. Shillings.” And so I still think shillings, really.

ENGEL:. For Common Ground, this is Karen Engel in Graz.

[sounds of a checkout scanner beeping as items are being purchased at a store]

PORTER: Hunting down serial killers along the US-Mexican border, next on Common Ground.

VICKI CARAVEO: We are up to our necks of blood. We, we can’t—we can’t take any more of this. And we’re asking the support of all the international community to, to see us, to help us, to make the governor understand that we are not a political issue.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Imagine a city where radio and television commercials warn women that they could be the next victims of a serial killer. Or a city where more than 300 women have been murdered and perhaps more than 200 disappeared in less than 10 years. The scenario isn’t the imagination of Hollywood film producers. It’s reality for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

MCHUGH: The ongoing Juarez drama of sex-related violence is exploding into a major human rights crisis for the Mexican government. And as Common Ground’s Kent Patterson reports, women’s rights activists appear to be the latest targets in this city that borders El Paso, Texas.

[sound of vehicle traffic]

KENT PATTERSON: Traffic passes by a lot and cotton field where the bodies of eight young women were discovered. Reportedly bearing signs of sexual assault, they are among the latest reported victims of the serial killings that have terrorized Juarez for almost a decade. Some victims worked in the mainly US-owned export plants called maquiladoras, leading some critics to charge the maquiladoras aren’t doing their share to protect women workers who live in dangerous neighborhoods. And strangely enough, this clandestine cemetery was located across the street from the headquarters of the maquiladora industry trade association. Many here wonder how is it possible that bodies—some supposedly dumped months and months ago and barely concealed—remained in the same public place without earlier being found.

[a man speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: The grim finds came only days before an international forum against gender violence in Juarez. Sponsored by Mexican and US unions, and other nongovernmental organizations, the goal was to pressure authorities into halting the mass killings and bringing those responsible to justice. Linda Chavez Thompson is Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.

LINDA CHAVEZ THOMPSON: We want these companies in America to know that the companies they run in this city and in other maquiladoras all across Mexico are not taking care of protecting their workers. And in this particular case, unfortunately it has caused the deaths of over 80 young women that have been killed. And nobody is paying attention. So the focus here is to put a coalition together, to talk not just about the issues of the workers in the maquiladoras, but also what is happening with the government here, and to work with nongovernmental agencies here in putting enough pressure to make sure that that protection is afforded to the women workers in Mexico and especially in the maquiladoras.

[a woman speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Although some companies have announced security measures for their employees or posted rewards to help find the killers, the murders have continued. Independent researchers say that since 1993 more than 300 women in Juarez have been murdered. While perhaps a majority have succumbed to rampant domestic violence, scores of others have died at the hands of a suspected serial killer or killers. The overall toll is twice the number of people killed during the 1994 Chiapas uprising. Vicki Caraveo, coordinates the nongovernmental group of women’s rights organizations in Ciudad Juarez.

VICKI CARAVEO: We are up to our necks of blood. We, we can’t—we can’t take any more of this. And we’re asking the support of all the international community to, to see us, to help us, to make the governor understand that we are not a political issue. We’re human being! Those are girls who laugh, dance, eat, study, and work!

[sounds of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: Increasingly the killings are mobilizing protesters across borders. Like this group from the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice that demonstrated outside the Mexican consulate in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

[sounds of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: Besides the protests, investigative commissions from the Mexican Congress have come and gone. Representatives of the United Nations have filed reports. And Mexican governors and presidents have promised to get to the bottom of murders.

[sounds of a street demonstration]

[Suly Ponce speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Suly Ponce coordinates state law enforcement investigations in Ciudad Juarez. In an interview last year, while Ponce was serving as special prosecutor for women’s homicides, Ponce defended the controversial theory that an Egyptian national and suspected serial killer, Abdel Sharif Sharif, who had been in prison since 1995, was paying assassins from his prison cell to carry out additional sexual killings in order to make him appear innocent.

[Suly Ponce speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Ponce says that with Sharif and several of his alleged associates in jail, the main perpetrators of the serial crimes were off the streets. But only days after this interview Lilia Garcia, a 17-year-old mother of two, was kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered. Months later the bodies of the eight other young women were found in the middle of Juarez.

[sounds of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: Two days after the discovery of the eight bodies, Chihuahua state police arrested a pair of bus drivers and charged the men with these crimes. But family members of the men say they are innocent and were tortured into confessing. A lawyer for one of the defendants, Mario Escobedo, then reported to associates that he was being threatened. In February of this year Escobedo was killed during an automobile chase with Chihuahua state police—the same department accused of torturing his client.

[a man speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Some Juarez citizens charge that Escobedo was executed to prevent the truth from coming out. At a protest inside the offices of the State Attorney General’s office in Juarez, demonstrators like Ramon Aguilar, of the PAN political party, demand justice for Mario Escovedo.

RAMON AGUILAR: Who has been badly murdered by same state police here in Juarez? And we are protesting because people here in our state need complete justice and all the cases to be cleared up and have all the guilty in jail.

PATTERSON: In a statement, the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s office said that Escobedo died in a gun battle with police. But this position contradicts claims by Escovedo’s father, who says that he was talking to his terrified son on a cell phone during the chase and heard the crash. So far there is no explanation of how Escobedo could have been talking on a cell phone, driving, and shooting a pistol all at the same time.

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDES: The community clamors for justice, for something to be done. And then there seem to be reprisals.

PATTERSON: Diana Washington Valdes is a newspaper columnist from neighboring El Paso, Texas. Valdes is the author of a forthcoming book about the Juarez murders. She recounts the wave of death threats, intimidations, and sackings of journalists that are jolting Juarez.

WASHINGTON VALDES: Some of the human rights groups and advocacy groups that represent women’s issues have been receiving threats. Vicki Caraveo, the founder of Mujeres for Juarez, has found dead animals in her yard. She has a very high fence around her house. Some one deliberately throwing them into her yard. The three announcers you mentioned were forced off the air because sources of funding that they used to rely on to put on a three-hour newscast and program, dried up under—according to even their general manager of the radio station, Radio Canon—he told me that, he realized they were under terrific pressure after the candlelight vigil they helped organize in November, which attracted about 25,000 people. An enormous crowd. People who are upset and have had enough of the violence in Juarez.

[sounds of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: Invited by nongovernmental groups, a representative of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, arrived in Juarez last month to hear testimonies about human rights violations. During the Commission’s visit, the Governor of Chihuahua announced that he would welcome the intervention of foreign police like the FBI to help clear up the women’s murders. The declaration reverses an earlier stance. Diana Washington Valdes.

WASHINGTON VALDES: Yes, in 1999 FBI profilers from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, came to Juarez. This was the result of a request to President Clinton by then President Ernesto Zedillo. Again, in response to the clamor for something to be done. The profilers made two visits to Juarez. On their second visit they presented some preliminary findings. The Chihuahua authorities, according to the FBI did not accept those findings. It was an implicit message because it did not fit with their theory of Sharif being the mastermind of serial murders in Juarez. And the FBI said they needed to come back. They need to make another trip back to Juarez to form up their conclusions. And they also offered technical assistance, training assistance, assistance of every kind. They offered the use of their world class labs, DNA testing, and so forth. The Chihuahua authorities did not accept any of that assistance. And furthermore, they rejected their findings.

[a woman speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Months after last November’s macabre discovery in the Juarez field, several mothers of the reported murder victims contend that numerous irregularities surround the investigations. This mother of one of the reported victims says she has not been allowed to view the corpse and its initial photos, or take body samples for independent DNA testing.

[a person speaks over a public address system]

PATTERSON: At the same time, dozens of women remain missing in Juarez, including several immigrants from Central America. Recently a caravan of women’s and human rights activists from California traveled to Juarez to show their support for victims’ families. Lorena Mendez directs the California-based group, Justice for the Women of Juarez. Accompanying her on this trip were artists and poets, like Jackie Joyce.

LORENA MENDEZ: Again, who’s doing the searches. Who’s looking for the bodies? It’s certainly not the authorities. Look at every single body over the last five years. Who has found most of the remains? Has it been the authorities? No, it hasn’t. It has been the child playing ball, kids hanging out; it’s been el campesino. What’s going on here? Only, only in a place like this would you hear of something like this happening. Now we understand in Chiapas, obviously there it’s a human violations…. problem. But the situation happening in here, in Juarez is, is devastating in my opinion.

JACKIE JOYCE: [speaks first in Spanish, then in English] Smudged red lipstick remains on the hands of two-legged coyotes that savor women’s flesh.

[Joyce speaks again in Spanish, then in English] Stacks of bones and burgundy smocks lie in the dessert and the names of maquiladoras are etched on the skull, femur, somewhere.

[Joyce speaks again in Spanish, then in English] Women are expendable; last page news. Equivalent to the peso.

[sounds of a street demonstration]

PATTERSON: For Common Ground, I’m Kent Patterson reporting.

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0211. That's Program Number 0211. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That's 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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