Sunday, July 08, 2007

Murder of women in Guatemala

Gender Savagery in Guatemala

by Michael Parenti and Lucia Muñoz
Published on Sunday, July 8, 2007
by CommonDreams.org

On the outskirts of Guatemala City the body of an 18-
year-old woman of indigenous ethnicity was recently
discovered by her frantic parents who had been
searching long and hard. Forensic evidence showed that
she had been repeatedly raped and tortured and that her
head had been severed from her body with a blunt knife
while she was still alive.

This killing was more than just a passing aberration.
Nightmarish crimes against women have been occurring
with horrifying frequency in Guatemala. In the last
seven years, over 3,200 Guatemalan women have been
abducted and murdered, with many of them raped,
tortured, and mutilated in the doing. The number of
victims has shown a striking increase in the last few
years with some six hundred murdered in 2006 alone.

The victims often are from low-income families
deracinated from their rural homesteads during the
civil war and forced to crowd into Guatemala City and
other urban areas in search of work.

We might recall Guatemala's horrid history of violence.
From 1962 to 1996, a popular insurgency was defeated by
that deranged murder machine known as the Guatemalan
Army, trained, advised, financed, and equipped by the
United States. A United Nations-sponsored Truth
Commission in 1999 characterized much of the
counterinsurgency as a genocide against the Mayan
people, a holocaust that left 626 villages destroyed,
approximately 200,000 people dead or disappeared,
including many labor union leaders, student leaders,
journalists, and clergy. Hundreds of thousands more
were either displaced internally or forced to flee the

Those years of untrammeled massacres provide some
context for the current wave of femicide sweeping the
country. The 1996 peace accords officially declared an
end to the butchery but the war against women continues
albeit in more piecemeal fashion. Guatemalan women are
enduring the whiplash of decades of dehumanizing
violence-boosted by the same kind of deep-seated sexism
and gender-specific crimes (rape) that are perpetrated
in many societies around the world.

Independent investigators charge that the vast majority
of present-day atrocities against women have been
committed by current or former members of the
Guatemalan intelligence services. Having escaped
prosecution for human rights violations during the
internal war, these trained killers are now members of
private security forces or police and paramilitary
units that have been strongly implicated in the crimes
of the last seven years.

For the most part, authorities show little inclination
to bring the perpetrators to justice. Some officials
blame the victims for their own deaths, implying that
the women bring it on themselves because of their
supposed involvement in gang activities or drugs, or
because in some way or another they refuse to lead
properly conforming lives within the safe confines of a
traditional family and community

Some of the victims indeed may have been entangled in
shady operations. But many more have been working
women, including those of indigenous stock, trapped in
poverty. They are the prime victims of a broader
'social cleansing' that reactionary hoodlums are
conducting against a variety of groups including street
children, teenagers, gays, and homeless indigents, a
campaign that has claimed thousands of additional

Guatemala is known as the country of 'eternal spring.'
Some analysts have called it the land of 'eternal
impunity,' given how right-wing thugs continue to get
away with rape, torture, and murder. Statistics reveal
that hardly one percent of the perpetrators are ever
tried and convicted and the sentences are outrageously

Even those rare cases that make it all the way to a
prosecutor's desk have little chance of resulting in a
conviction due to the lack of reliable evidence. Recent
reports reveal the continuing failure of investigators
to collect and preserve essential evidence from crime
scenes. More than ordinary incompetence is operative
here. Guatemalan authorities manifest little interest
in training skilled cadres who might unearth really
damaging information about who is behind the crimes.

Anonymous death threats have been sent to the volunteer
exhumation teams that locate and examine the bodies of
the murdered women and who try to publicize the
evidence they discover. In May 2007 the leader of one
such team was informed that his sister would be 'raped
and dismembered into pieces' if he continued to
investigate the crimes.

While these murders may seem like little more than
random thrill killings to some observers, in fact they
serve a function of social control much as would any
form of state terrorism. The violence perpetrated
against individuals creates a pervasive climate of fear
and horror within the victimized families and
communities, thereby discouraging social protest and
popular resistance. Instead of organizing around any
number of crucial politico-economic issues, many of the
demoralized and traumatized families cower in stunned

In time people grow numb to the violence. Feeling
helpless they almost routinely check the news each day
to see how many additional victims have been reported.
The effects on children can be especially telling.
Growing up in a climate of fear, they learn that their
parents and community cannot keep them safe and that
homicidal fury might strike anyone at any time.

Family members of murdered women report that
authorities show hostility towards them when they
request government intervention.

Guatemala's legal system is rife with provisions that
minimize the seriousness of violence against women, a
system codified and enforced by men who have seldom
displayed any concern for the safety of women. The
Guatemalan Penal Code long reflected this bias,
treating domestic abuse as a minor offence and
generally offering scant protection from gender-based

Guatemalan president Oscar Berger voices a commitment
to confronting the crisis but has done next to nothing.
Rather than devoting the necessary resources to
investigation and enforcement, Berger appeared on
national television in 2005 to announce that, for their
own safety, women would do best to stay at home.

In 2005 Guatemala appointed its first female Supreme
Court President, Beatriz De Leon, and two years later a
female police chief. But there is little indication
that high-placed female officeholders are going to buck
the Old Boys network. Until the government makes some
significant efforts towards implementing the
recommendations outlined by human rights organizations
(such as Guatemala Peace and Development Network, MIA,
NISGUA, GHRC-USA, Rights Action, and Center for Gender
Studies), the lives of Guatemala's women will hang in
the balance.

There are some encouraging signs. The Human Rights
Committee of the Guatemalan Congress is giving serious
consideration to a bill that purports to guarantee
life, liberty, dignity, and equality for women along
with stiffer penalties for those who physically and
mentally abuse women and otherwise violate their

Meanwhile a growing number of Guatemalan women are
moving into nontraditional careers. In the upcoming
election, at least one hundred women will be running
for Congress. Some parties have designed campaign
strategies intended to promote electoral victories for
more women. At present of a total of 158 seats in the
Guatemalan Congress only fourteen are occupied by

There also are efforts by human rights organizations to
create a central, unified database of femicide victims,
as well as an emergency response system for missing
girls and women that would include utilization of
state-of-the-art internet capabilities, DNA testing,
and the like.

Awareness of the atrocities has been reaching other
countries and gaining international attention. There is
a growing demand from abroad that Guatemalan law
enforcement agencies get serious about responding to
the gender-based atrocities. The U.S. Congress is being
pressured to get into the act. A House resolution
condemns the murders and expresses condolences and
support to the families of victims. The resolution
urges the government of Guatemala to recognize domestic
violence as a crime, and to investigate the killings
and prosecute those responsible.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on the
Guatemalan Congress to approve the actions of the U.N.-
sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in
Guatemala. The commission intends to investigate the
clandestine groups that use violence to advance their
illicit political and financial interests.

Meanwhile innocent and unoffending women continue to
suffer nightmarish fates at the hands of misogynistic
maniacs who, some years ago, developed a taste for
inflicting rape, torture, and death 'in service to
their country.'

Michael Parenti is a noted author and social
commentator. His recent books include Contrary Notions:
The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); The Culture
Struggle (Seven Stories); Democracy for the Few 8th ed.
(Wadsworth/Thomson) and The Assassination of Julius
Caesar (New Press). See

Lucia Muñoz is founder and president of Mujeres
Iniciando En Las Americas, and co-founder of Guatemala
Peace and Development Network. She has lectured widely
across the United States on the struggles facing
Guatemalan women. See


babyvampire said...

I saw a documentary on this
and I think something should be done
because women to them. are objects and toys
and thats not right.
I do beleive that if america can put there nose where it doesnt belong they might as well do it for a damn good cause
and i dont think that just being careless and trying to play hero in a world wr isnt helping anything when there are more important issues and problems that we could be helping out with and no one isnt doing anything to even try to remotely help this.
I think that we should stop and pay attention to what is happening there and think of ways to help these poor women because thugs perverts pedophiles and like are getting away with murder literally when they could be doing time if authorities over there just do their damn job the right way
that country is no way to live
its hell on earth and it saddens me to see no help or releif for it.
This is a life or death situation and right now
theyre letting death win and being horrible sore losers
and theyre okay with it.
if it were up to me; id make a country for only women and sane men to be safe.
This is just so much more than depressing women do not deserve this
theyre humans to
Its just wrong
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is an older blog, however the problem of horrilbe killings and mutilation of women in Guatemala still exists. I too, recently saw a documentary on this subject and was so sickened by the attitude of the men who felt so justified in killing and treating women less than animals. Killing was for their fun, entertainment, pleasure with no regard for the human rights of the individual. I see the fight of Norma Cruz, heroically trying to make change for women but see so little being done. Even the amnesty website says little regarding this cause. I'm an American, I walk freely in my country as a woman and believe every woman born has this right to exist without harm. I will do my part to blog on this, for I feel their is insufficient awareness of this problem in Guatemala. The way to reduce crime is to shine a light on it, expose it. Crime lives in darkness and if the men in Guatemala think that the world isn't watching, their wrong! Women will fight for women and men who believe in the equality of human rights for women will also fight. Men of Guatemala, you are not men. There is nothing to honor in you. The world is watching and your pleasure feasts will end. We are global citizens in this age of the internet. We care about our bothers and sisters universally. This brutality will end and it needs to start at a government level with protection at the city government level. If men in high places think so little of woman that they can't do their job to protect them, e.g. police, then there needs to be mass education of men as to women's rights, a political change in structure of the society as a whole. Guatemala needs the help of the world to stop the killing of women, to end corrupt government that does nothing to enforce prosecuting killers. Let all men know they can not treat women as less. NEVER!

Amado said...

my heart goes out to thes3e women and children! I want them to know first the men only think they can get away with this but there is One who sees all and is holding them accountable and that there is hope and real freedom for our precious sisters: