Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

Margarita López Gómez, an indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, was recently released from prison after a sustained campaign by human rights activists. Margarita had been convicted of killing her partner and imprisoned for seven years based on a confession allegedly obtained during her interrogation, which she later repudiated repeatedly. It was also proved later that her partner was killed by someone else. The interrogation was conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak at the time. For more details you can see my original posts here and here. It emerged this week that the terms of Margarita’s release include the requirement to go to the state capital, San Cristobal de las Casas each month to sign a report in the local prison. She must also send a monthly report of her work activities via registered mail every month. Her suspended prison sentence is due to expire in 2016. This might seem a small price to pay for her freedom, however Margarita lives in a small village many hours away from the state capital. She has a very ill mother and young children to care for and no settled means of income. Paying to go to San Cristobal each month is practically impossible for her, and makes it very likely she will be unable to meet the terms of her sentence. Margarita was wrongly convicted. The State of Chiapas kept her in prison seven years, a number of them in solitary confinement in a male prison, where she was raped and gave birth to her youngest child. The authorities released her in February due to the hard work of her lawyer and human rights activists in Chiapas and Mexico. However, with these terms it appears that the authorities continue to unfairly punish Margarita and her family and aim to return her to prison. This is scandalous and unacceptable.

Update 14 May 2012

The Centre for Woman’s Rights in Chiapas is organising a petition to send to the magistrate in charge of Margarita’s case, Dr. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gomez, to ask him to grant her an unconditional release. See here for details. Please sign the petition -with an English language explication- on www.change.org

Source: http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/12050305-Imponen-a-indigena.49613.0.html

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,

Freedom and Justice for Margarita

The following is a resumed translation from a blog post at Observatorio Ciudadano by Patricia Chandomí (@patriachandomi)

Margarita López Gómez married Juan Velasco López at the age of twelve in Tojchuctik, hamlet that makes up the council of Mitontic in the southwestern state Chiapas. Velasco López had paid López Gómez’s father ten bottle of alcohol to arrange the marriage a year earlier. Velasco López took Margarita to a different town, Venustiano Carranza, where they lived together in a rented room. Two months later, she returned to Mitontic where she complained to the village authorities that her husband beat her daily. They told her that Velasco Gómez “was her husband and she should put up with it.”   

Later she and Velasco Gómez moved to Chincuyal, where her husband bought himself a new wife, Juana, who he brought to live in the family home. Both wives had six children each. Velasco Gómez continued to be violent on a daily basis and often came home drunk. Soon López Gómez also became an alcoholic. He also raped one of Margarita’s daughters, Sonia, repeatedly from the age of eight and at twelve, she became pregnant twice as a result.

In 2005, aged fifteen with two children as a result of her father’s sexual violence, Sonia killed her father one night as he lay drunk with her mother. She and her mother, her sisters, brothers and her own children fled back to Margarita López Gómez’s village of Mitontic. They lived there for two months until Juana arrived with her six children. She had no money and decided to visit Margarita to see if Juan Velasco had left her any money. The presence of Juana in the village raised questions and the manner of Juan’s death became known.

Juana, Margarita and Sonia were arrested. Sonia spent two and half years in juvenile detention before being released. Juana was imprisioned for two years for helping cover up the murder. Margarita was sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder as the judge refused to accept that she was drunk at the time and believed her to be the principle culprit. She was imprisoned in a male prison in Venustiano Carranza and, to keep her from the other prisoners, was kept in a cage for nearly four years. Despite this, she became pregnant and had another child while in prison. In 2008 she was transferred to a prison in San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas. Thanks to the intervention of the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Mujer de Chiapas (Women’s Human Rights Centre in Chiapas) her sentence was reduced to eleven years eight months.

Margarita López Gómez has now served seven years of her sentence, during which she has not been able to see her children. Her five children from her marriage to Juan live with her elderly mother, while the daughter she had prison lives with Sonia, her children and her new partner. Rosa López Santis, lawyer for the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas, has managed to arrange for Margarita to be eligible for early release. However, in order for this to happen, Margarita must pay 34, 000 pesos (around 1, 700 pounds). Evidently she does not have this money.

Margarita’s case is currently being reviewed by the judicial authorities in Chiapas (exp. 378/MR/2010) and Rosa López Santis is pressing for the State Government to pay the fine on her behalf. López Santis says that the case of Margarita López Gómez “illustrates the level of discrimination and violence suffered by women [in Chiapas], they are discriminated against for being indigenous, poor, monolingual [ie not speaking Spanish] illiterate. The authorities are racists and the justice system deficient. The story of these three women should never be repeated.” I heartily agree.

There is a petition circulating asking the State Government of Chiapas to aid Margarita here. A Twitter campaign is also underway under the hashtag #LibertadAMargarita


Update today 11 February 2012. Margarita López Gómez was freed yesterday in large part thanks to the hardwork of her lawyer Rosa López Santis, from the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas and the  social media campaign led by Patricia Chandomí. The campaign goes on for her to be completely exonerated and to receive compensation for the suffering the Mexican state has put her through.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , ,


I thought I’d do something different in my blog this week. I have generally opted for a journalistic approach to this space; with the aim of bringing Mexican women´s issues to an English-speaking audience. Not that I flatter myself that my audience is huge, obviously; but I am of the opinion that even a little publicity is better than none at all. My proudest moment so far is being credited on the “Women’s Views on News” website last week when it reported the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling on the case of the two indigenous women raped by soldiers [1]. As I am sure is more than evident, little of the material I present is my own; rather it is all gathered from the press and women’s activist sites here in Mexico.

This week I thought I’d try a reflection instead. Not there is shortage of material, but because as I was thinking about what to write today, I couldn’t get a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I read this week out of my head: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent [2].” Why? Because it reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years, when people have put it to me that advocating women’s equality (usually in the context of the workplace or education) is all very well, but that given the fact that there is much legislation in place in Mexico with the aim of promoting this laudable aim, the fact that women are generally underrepresented in the workforce, or don’t continue with education or work once they have children, is due to the fact that they don’t want to.

This quote also echoed in my head as I read follow-up stories on the  two women from Guerrero I mentioned last week. Both of them are exceptionally brave and determined women. Neither has consented to accept second class treatment from the police and judicial authorities in Mexico, nor have they allowed themselves to be intimidated by the threats made against them by the same authorities. In the case of Valentina Rosendo, it appears that she even had to fight against the social stigma of being a rape victim in her own village, a traditional community which, she says, discriminated against her and ultimately expelled her for being “a raped woman, a women who is no longer worth anything” (“me discriminaron por mujer violada,
como mujer que ya no vale“) [3].

Finally, it also made me remember other news stories I have read recently: for example, about hate crimes against women (feminicidio) in the state of Guanajuato [4]. This report quotes Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) who alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs. What she objects to is the fact that the majority of the 31 female deaths registered in the state so far this year have not been properly investigated because many of the victims, due to such personal circumstances, were not deemed sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant.

My reflection on all this being? Not consenting to discrimination; or, refusing to accept the inferior position Mexican society accords to women is not as easy as simply quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. It involves confronting and rejecting stereotypes and prejudices, from the small yet insidious idea that women don’t make up half the workforce because they don’t want to work; to the more preposterous and insulting idea that some victims are not important enough to warrant that the crimes against them go punished. This is not to say Roosevelt is not right; but rather that standing up for women’s rights and equality can be a hard and thankless task. Those women who do, especially in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Valentina Rosendo, are special people whose struggle deserves to be recognised far beyond the borders of Mexico.

[1] http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2010/10/two-mexican-women-finally-find-justice-after-being-raped-eight-years-ago/

[2] http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_e_roosevelt.htm

[3] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/columnas/86450.html

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,


Let me start with the good news. On Tuesday, the six women in prison in Guanajuato for interrupting their pregnancies were freed [1]. They did not have their sentences quashed, however. Rather, as I commented last week, they were released thanks to a change in Guanajuato’s penal code which reduced the penalty imposed on them for the alleged crime of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” (murder by a relative). This measure was presented to the state Congress by the governor, José Manuel Ramírez Oliva, and passed by the deputies, with the expectation that the national (and international) spotlight would move away from their state once the women were freed. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. The laws that criminalise abortion are still in force in Guanajuato as well as in all other Mexican states [2]. As has been proven in the case of three of the women from Guanajuato, these laws often result in witch-hunts organised against those unfortunate enough to suffer miscarriages and not to possess the means by which to defend themselves. In fact, the political commentator and long time critic of Mexico’s right-wing, Jaime Avilés, affirms today in his daily column in the left-wing newspaper, La Jornada, that the municipal authorities of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato are currently hunting for a young women accused of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” or abortion [3].

It goes without saying that the criminalisation of abortion in Mexico is intimately related to the cultural hegemony that the Catholic Church has held over the population since this faith was first brought to these shores by the Spanish conquistadores nearly 500 years ago. Officially, Mexico has been a secular nation for just over 150 years, even so during the last 130 years or so the Church has rarely encountered any challenges to its cultural dominance. This is all changing at the moment: provoking what seems to be a general sense of panic amongst the ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the one hand is the general decline in the number of adherents in the face of fierce competition from evangelistic protestant groups and religions such as that practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; this is also not helped by the pedophile scandals which have engulfed both the Mexican and the international Church in recent years. Both of these phenomena undermine the legitimacy of the Church and its pretension of being the moral guardian of the Mexican nation. On the other hand is the challenge from the gradual acceptation of the idea of universal human rights amongst the population, especially in those related to gender politics. This goes from the most documented and obvious: such as the widespread use of contraceptives amongst otherwise obedient parishioners; to the less popular introduction of laws in Mexico’s Federal District (D. F.) which sanction abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation; as well as permitting marriages and adoption for same-sex couples [4]. All three measures have provoked horror and condemnation from the ecclesiastical hierarchy: even so their increasingly histrionic pronouncements suggest that they fear that their words are falling on deaf ears. Certainly the gay movement is vocally campaigning for a law in favor gay marriage to be adopted in other states, including Tamaulipas [5].

A clear example of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s hysterics can be found in the article that Mario Gasperín Gasperín, bishop of Querétaro, has published in the last couple of days on the homepage of his diocese [links 6 and 7], entitled, Crisis o país de zombis (Crisis or a Country of Zombies”). This text attempts to demonstrate that “el mal llamado feminismo” (“the evil known as feminism”) [8]  is the root of all Mexican society’s current ills: including -incredibly enough- organised crime (code words here in Mexico for the drug gangs and their violence). The crux of Gasperín’s argument is that today women are facing a crisis over what is means to be women (“ser mujer“) which, according to this text, has been brought about by the “separation of sexuality from that of reproduction” (“la separación de sexualidad de la reproducción“). Here it is clear that he is referring to the use of anti-contraception and the legalisation of abortion, although he makes no explicit mention of either at this point in the text. In all this, his misogyny shines brightly through: one his complaints, for example, is that this crisis facing women has had the knock on effect of provoking a similar one amongst men as well attacking the institution of marriage. Thus he blithely goes from blaming feminists for all Mexico’s problems to implying that, in fact, womankind in general is responsible. On this first point, his argument is simple: women define themselves in relation to men and vice versa; thus a crisis suffered by one is necessarily a crisis that is shared by the other. On the second, the crisis being suffered by the institution of marriage his arguments are non-existent. All he can think of to say is that the instability caused by the crisis of identity amongst men and women has caused them to search for other substitutes, leading them to perversion (he is, of course, referring here to same-sex relationships). In fact, his comment appears only to exist as an excuse for him to blame women in general, and feminism especially, for the legalisation of homosexual marriages in Mexico D.F. Finally, he manages to blame feminists for Mexico’s current climate of violence by describing it as the product of official sanction of “legalised crime” (ie abortion) and the terrible effects of political correctness which have brainwashed people into ignoring their consciences (“el hijo del crimen legalizado –impunedad- y de la consciencia callada“).

As you probably expect, I find this text highly risible and deeply hypocritical. Unlike the Catholic Church, the feminist movement can hardly be accused of having tried for decades to cover up abuse perpetrated against children by its own members; moreover, it is very difficult to see how Mexico’s current problem with violence can be placed at the door of feminism, which does not generally support the use of violence. In fact, in Mexico, feminist groups are at the forefront of denouncing violence suffered by people of both sexes at the hands o the gangs, the army and the police [9]. What is more, the bishop complains bitterly that the legalization of abortion and gay marriage have been brought about by the manipulation of the majority by an aggressive and intolerant minority; an affirmation which is not just ingenious to the extreme (since support for neither option can be described as being in the majority, even in DF, see link 4) but also demonstrates a complete lack of self-awareness, coming as it does at the end of a diatribe against women and the feminist movement. I can’t help but think that the most measured response to this text is to go no further than quote the Bible: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5). Undoubtedly feminism has its faults, but I think that trying to argue that it is the root of all evil simply shows that the Mexican Church hierarchy is supremely confused about the origins of Mexico’s social problems.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090712-Liberaran-hoy-a-7-m.44076.0.html I do not propose to name the women out of respect for their privacy.

[2] Even in the Federal District (Mexico D.F.) where abortion is permitted up to the twelfth week of gestation, women who abort in the later weeks of pregnancy are subject to prosecution and can be imprisoned for between three and six months. See art. 145 of the relevant law at http://www.gire.org.mx/publica2/DictamenFinal_Aborto_ALDF240407.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/11/index.php?section=opinion&article=006o1pol.

[4] According to a survey carried out for the newspaper Milenio, 50% of D. F.’s residents support gay marriages, while 73% reject the idea of gay couple being allowed to adopt. See http://www.milenio.com/node/360517

[5] http://www.hoytamaulipas.net/notas/15384/Exigen-bodas-gay-en-Tamaulipas.html

[6] http://www.diocesisdequeretaro.org.mx/

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/09/index.php?section=estados&article=034n2est&partner=rss

[8] It is also perfectly possible to translate this as “the badly named feminism”. Yet, I think that this is not the case, since at the end of his text he also refers to “el mal llamado crimen organizado“, for which the only translation is “the evil known as organised crime”).

[9] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/Violacion-ejercida-por-militar.738.0.html

Filed under: Feminism, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , ,

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