Losing Daughters, Losing Hope
Parents' struggle for justice in Guatemala
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Losing a Daughter

It must be difficult to lose a child. Most parents, in fact, say it's the hardest thing in the world that ever happened to them. How much more horrific must it be to lose a child to a violent death or to realize it's your child's body on the TV evening news? This is what happened to Rosa Franco, one parent out of many who have lost daughters in Guatemala.

▲ Rosa Franco.
ⓒ2007 Joan Dawson
Franco sat there, speaking in Spanish and sipping water while relaying her story to us. We were a group of human rights advocates in Guatemala on a fact-finding mission. We came from all over the United States: California, Minneapolis, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. We were artists, software engineers, teachers and writers. We were empathetic listeners, willing not only to listen but also to try to garner support in our home country.

In fact, Franco told us that she has received more support from the international community than from Guatemalans. Upon having our attentive ear, she opened up to us and told us the story of her daughter, Maria Isabel.

Maria went to work on the morning of Dec. 16, 2001. She worked at a boutique with other young women. It was a temporary job that allowed her to earn some extra cash while school was closed. She was only 15 years old and it was her first job.

That evening, she never returned home, nor had she returned the next evening.

Franco called the police to report her daughter missing. Two days later, on the TV evening news, she saw her daughter's limp body lying on the street.

▲ Maria Isabel.
ⓒ2007 Joan Dawson
Franco had to go to the morgue to identify her daughter Maria. There, she noticed the signs of torture. Maria had been wounded. Her skull was fractured. Her fingernails were bent back. She was raped. She was strangled. How long had she been tortured at the hands of her aggressor? Why had he chosen her young daughter as the victim? How could this have happened to her young, beautiful daughter?

'Femicide' in Guatemala

Over 3,000 women have been murdered in Guatemala since 2000. Less than 20 cases have been prosecuted. This impunity allows the crimes not only to continue but also to increase.

While it is true more men are killed in Guatemala than women, the rates for murders of women are increasing at a faster pace. The murders are also more brutal. On average, five hours lapse from when a woman or girl is abducted to when she draws her last breath. She may be beaten, bitten, tied up with barbed wire, raped or strangled. Men, on the other hand, are often shot with a firearm.

Why do women suffer such brutality? Many people point to the 36-year civil war. Soldiers used similar tactics on women to instill fear and terror in communities. Despite the end of the war, today many of these same soldiers freely walk the streets. Others point to corruption of the police force, lack of political will, domestic violence and a machismo culture.

Politicians and police, on the other hand, blame it on women's increasing rights. They believe this fuels jealousy and retaliation. Thus, they feel, women bring it upon themselves. Actually, it just serves to blame the victim and to remove responsibility for solving the crimes.

Often, police accuse the murdered victims of being prostitutes or gang members. If the victim is wearing red nail polish, a belly button ring or even if her skirt is "too" short, she's accused of prostitution. In this way, the murder serves to rid society of a harmful element, kind of like Jack the Ripper did in Victorian England.

Losing Hope

Franco had a list of her daughter's phone numbers, including one for "Paco," at one time. Paco, Franco hints, may have been involved with drugs and the military. Both drug traffickers and officers hold power and can be "untouchable." Oddly, the list of phone numbers has disappeared.

She also noticed that cars with tinted windows have followed her on various occasions. She has received death threats. They made threats to kill her other children, her two sons.

She requested help from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and received it. She was allowed a guard to protect her and her family. Although, even today, when someone from a human rights group contacts her she sees suspicious men or cars in the neighborhood.

Franco has suffered nightmares, migraines, high blood pressure, suicidal thoughts and a heart attack. "When they killed her, they killed me," she states with pain visibly showing on her face.

We asked her what could be done. She believes we should condemn the government of Guatemala for human rights violations and make them pay reparations. In fact, the U.S. government is considering such a move. Senate Resolution 178 asks the Guatemalan government to act on these crimes, to implement an effective missing persons system and witness protection program and to adequately fund the National Institute for Forensic Science.

Franco believes people should demand that politicians and authorities take on the roles given them. She wishes for more idealism and less materialism in the population. And, most of all, she sighs, "I just want justice."
If you live in the USA and want to help families like Franco's find justice, contact your senator's office and ask him or her to sponsor Senate Resolution 178.

For your senator's contact information, go to: www.senate.gov.

For information on what to say to your senator or for more information on femicides in Guatemala, go to: www.ghrc-usa.org.

2007/11/13 오전 4:30
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