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In Mexico, The Death Of A Woman At The Hands Of Police Has Caused An Uproar

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Mexico, a woman died at the hands of police after she was arrested by officers in the resort town of Tulum last weekend. Her death has sparked an uproar in Mexico, and it's drawing comparisons to George Floyd's death here in the U.S. Joining us now with more details is NPR Mexico correspondent Carrie Kahn.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what do we know so far about this woman's death?

KAHN: Her name was Victoria Esperanza Salazar. She was 36 years old from El Salvador, and she'd been living in Mexico for the past five years on a humanitarian visa, a visa given to refugees. She was living with her two teenage girls in the Caribbean resort town of Tulum. It's a laid-back vacation spot really popular with Americans. She cleaned hotel rooms there.

Last Saturday, police were called after reports of Salazar disturbing the peace in a convenience store. Videos - and Ailsa, the ones I've seen are highly edited - they show police detaining her on a street. There are four officers there. In one video, she's on the ground on her stomach, and a female officer has her knee on Salazar's back, trying to handcuff her. You see the female officer put her hand on Salazar's neck, and you also hear Salazar cry out. And the Quintana Roo state prosecutor has said that an autopsy showed that Salazar died from a broken neck and that the force used by officers was - he called it - disproportionate. Salazar's mother, interviewed by press in El Salvador, is outraged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSIBEL ARRIAZA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says, "I want justice for my daughter." She says, "it's not right what they did to her." She says she doesn't know the circumstances of what happened right before the officers were called. But it doesn't matter, says Salazar's mother. She said she was a woman who wasn't armed and was killed.

CHANG: Well, unfortunately, Carrie, we know that police abuse is not rare in Mexico. But why do you think this case in particular is getting so much attention right now?

KAHN: I think - like you said in the introduction, I think it has a lot to do with the death of George Floyd. The parallels are chilling. Even Salazar's mother made the comparison. The protests against Floyd's murder and police abuse, you know, were worldwide, including here in Mexico. And I think that is helping get this case - you know, which in the past would have been ignored - help getting it attention. Also, as in Floyd's case, there's a video. You can see this unarmed, small-statured woman. She's an immigrant surrounded by four officers. And you just see the brutality of the incident, and it's being widely circulated.

And also, Ailsa, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Violence against women here is at epidemic levels. And the protests and the feminist movement are drawing a lot of attention to that violence. It's a growing movement, and it's strong here.

CHANG: Well, how much would you say all of this response ultimately reflects on Mexico's president?

KAHN: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came out fast and strong in Salazar's case. You know, he quickly condemned what he said was Salazar's brutal treatment and murder. He said that fills us with pain and shame, and he says the crime will not go unpunished. The four officers involved in Salazar's death are all in jail. And look, Lopez Obrador has had a rocky time of late with women's rights advocates. You know, he doesn't take lightly to criticism that his administration is not condemning (ph) the high rates of violence and murder of women in Mexico, but feminists and women's groups here have not relented. He faced large protests earlier this month around the country on International Women's Day, so the handling of this case is under close scrutiny.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn.

Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.