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The War on Guatemalan Women: Gangs Murder with Impunity

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First Posted: Jul 09, 2014 04:48 PM EDT
Guatemalan Women
Guatemala and other Latin American countries are the most dangerous countries in the world for women, where poisonous levels machismo has given way to "femicide," the killing of women because they are female. Perpetrators are murdering with impunity, their victims receiving no justice and the relatives of their victims receiving no answers. (Photo : Getty/ Andrea Nieto / Stringer)

Dead Guatemalan women are being dumped in alleyways, dropped by the roadside, and deserted in parks, bodies bound by trash bags, plastic blankets, or left bare for the world to see, abandoned by the wayside like discarded trash.

Guatemala and other Latin American countries are the most dangerous countries in the world for women, where poisonous levels of machismo have given way to "femicide," the killing of women because they are female. Perpetrators are murdering with impunity, their victims receiving no justice and the relatives of their victims receiving no answers.

Last year, 759 women were murdered in Guatemala, an increase of 7 percent from the year prior. There were 522 deaths from firearms, 70 from stabbings, 156 from asphyxiation, and 11 from decapitation or dismemberment, as revealed in a new report. And, those deaths routinely occur after women are sexually violated one or more times by murderers.

In 2008, the Guatemalan government assigned a specialist prosecutor to investigate murders of women, try perpetrators and support victims, but offenders continue to escape punishment. Less than 10 percent of last year's cases were successfully resolved and prosecuted, according to ThinkProgress, and there have been multiple failures to find and punish perpetrators of widespread sexual assault and murders of women. Test are often not carried out on main suspects to confirm that they fired a gun, and authorities often send clothes back to families rather than carry out forensic tests. Most murders and assaults are simply not reported by governments or police.

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"The most important factor is just impunity," said Larry Ladutke, a country specialist for El Salvador at Amnesty International. "Criminals know they can get away with murder." Guatemala is third in the world, with 9.7 murders for every 100,000 women, and Honduras is seventh with an average of seven, according to a report, but El Salvador has the highest rate in the world, with an average of 12 murders for every 100,000 women. El Salvador is a dangerous country, said Ladutke, but it is exponentially worse for women. The same is true of Guatamala.

In addition to the threat of violation and murder on the streets of Guatemala, teenaged girls are often raped by family members, leading to the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America. There were 61,000 girls aged 10 to 19 who became pregnant last year, an increase from 49,000 girls two years before. Because of this, girls as young as 13 years old are flocking to the U.S. border, attempting to improve their lives, though it's apparently "not worth it to subject children to a perilous journey," said Vice President Joe Biden during talks with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, stating that there's "there's no light at the end of the tunnel." Biden also discussed how Latin American countries can address the crime and poverty issues that have caused migration, but failed to address the United States' historical involvement with Guatemala, which led to present day conditions.

The CIA helped to organize a coup in 1954, ousting a popular leader. They also helped install a right-wing dictator, who began a 36-year civil war. The war resulted in the genocide of the Mayan people; the death of more than 200,000; widespread malnutrition (highest malnutrition rates in Latin America and the fourth highest in the world); poverty (89 percent of the population continues to live in poverty); and a culture of violence towards women. A whole generation of Guatemalan men were taught that rape is "generalized and systemic practice carried out by State agents as a counterinsurgency strategy" and a "true weapon of terror."

For residents of Guatemala, there seems to be no end to the war on women or the violence. Those who report violent crimes are routinely threatened with death or they're disappeared. Although Guatemala was the first Latin American country to declare femicide a punishable crime, and the first to establish government-funded women's shelters in 2009 (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua followed suit in 2012), women continue to be violated and murdered, and uninvestigated deaths persist. For cases that somehow make it to court in Guatemala, 90 percent of defendants are not convicted. And, less than four percent of all homicides in Guatemala result in convictions.

For decades, female victims have been tortured, strangled, shot, burned and mutilated, and laws designed to protect victims appear only to be lip service. Fathers are still advocating for justice on behalf of their brutally murdered daughters, and mothers are still pushing for the investigation of the deaths of their daughters gunned down and tossed into the street. The must do this while enduring death threats and harassment from unknown individuals, and "victim blaming" from officers.

"If she had been a congressman's daughter or a minister's daughter they would go and get the people. They don't care. They say she was a gang member, a prostitute. They said that to my face, the person who is handling the case," said Rosa Franco, according to Amnesty International, whose 15-year-old daughter Maria Isabel who was found dead in December 2001.

Jorge Velásquez, the father of Claudina Isabel Velásquez, who was raped, shot in the head, and dumped in an alley in Guatemala City in 2005, told The Guardian, "Every time I feel like giving up because of the pain, the frustration, the impotence, the scorn [from authorities], a little voice says to me, 'Dad, don't give up my cause, don't give up the struggle.'"

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