When another body surfaces, officials write the woman off as a prostitute or gang member, no matter what the circumstances are, and thus deem her murder unworthy of investigation. Although figures vary, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission estimates that over 1,900 Guatemalan women have been murdered in the past five years, and the number of deaths increases every year. Last year, a total of 590 women were killed. Of the roughly 1,900 cases, only five have been prosecuted. A New York Times editorial published on Oct. 21 says of Guatemalan officials, “their inaction gives an official green light to the killers of women.”
The bodies are often found disfigured beyond recognition, with messages such as “death to bitches” carved into the cold flesh. The horror inherent to these murders has become routine-when did we let mutilated women become commonplace? Each unidentifiable woman becomes just another corpse in another communal grave. The murders themselves are gruesome enough, but the apathy with which the anonymous bodies are disposed of brings the already disturbing and grotesque to uncharted depths.
Media coverage of the murders in Guatemala and internationally has been scant. In Guatemala, the brutal murders are most often reduced to a few lines of detail-poor text, a sparse tally of the previous day’s findings, tucked away on an inside page of Guatemala’s newspapers. The international media have only recently begun to expose the horrific ends that so many Guatemalan women have met. In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and parts of Chiapas in Mexico, murders of a similar caliber are finally inciting the international outrage they should.
Since 1993, over 400 women have been murdered in the city of Juárez alone. In Juárez, the ball is finally beginning to roll in the right direction. However, women are still murdered brutally and regularly, and corrupt officials torture innocent men until they untruthfully confess to murder, so the city has a long way to go before it purges itself of its murderers. The women of Juárez and other parts of Mexico still rightfully fear for their lives, but at least the murders are finally receiving the international attention they deserve. It is time to take that first step in Guatemala and recognize that its women are denied the most basic human right: the right to live.
To learn more about the issue and about what is being done, come hear Hilda Morales Trujillo speak “For Women’s Right to Live” on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 P.M. in Fayerweather Hall, room 115. Trujillo is a Guatemalan lawyer, women’s rights activist, recipient of Amnesty International’s 2004 Ambassador of Conscience Award and a nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
Harlow can be reached at [email protected]