Patricia Nell Warren

Women's History Month: The Latest Femicide

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | March 03, 2008 4:09 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: CAFTA, Guatemala, Latin America, Women's History Month

Amid our celebration of important women through the ages, we must keep our eyes on the staggering task still ahead. Violence against women is a huge global problem -- and it is growing. Indeed, as the world becomes ever more the "property" of corporations, we can see the dark and blurry outline of emerging femicide by big business as well as by big religion. Free trade and freedom for women don't necessarily go hand in hand.

Last night DOC aired "Killer's Paradise," a horrifying BBC film about the terrorist campaign against Guatemalan women and girls. In the seven years since the country's civil war ended, over 3200 females have been murdered in cold blood.

Some victims were sex workers, possible victims of ongoing "social cleansing" in Guatemala that also targets LGBT people, street children and others viewed as "undesirable."

But on a broader front, all the victims, including sex workers, appear to be targets of an out-of-control macho culture. Despite pressures by a few outraged families, corrupt Guatemalan law enforcement does nothing to solve the murders. It's pretty clear that they know who is doing the killing and why. So far, the Catholic Church has not denounced the trend.

According to investigations by local activist groups, most of these women were killed by jealous husbands or boyfriends, or by male youth gangs, who aimed to punish them for being too independent -- whether getting an education, or just daring to wear a short skirt or leave the house without permission. One girl was apparently murdered for wearing sandals and a ring in her navel. Their mutilated and dismembered bodies often reveal that they were raped and tortured before death.

Guatemala's murders are the latest, and biggest, wave in a flood of femicide sweeping countries south of the border, including Mexico. The statistics give Guatemala the highest murder rate of females in all of Latin America. Amnesty International has worked to publicize the situation. Guatemala's women leaders put their own lives at risk by pressuring their country's government to prosecute the murderers. They even made a trip to Washington D.C. to put their plight before the U.S. Congress.

Why would Guatemalan women hope for any sympathy from our government? Because in 2005 the United States made final arrangements with Guatemala and five other countries for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA. This new treaty poses terms for developing countries that are even more onerous than those imposed by NAFTA.

Femicide's link to CAFTA isn't immediately obvious. But some observers believe that some of the sadistic killings are organized by former civil-war intelligence operatives, now working as private security for Guatemalan land-owning interests who will be exporting products to the U.S. They don't want their business disturbed.

Guatemala seethes with political unrest still unresolved by the civil war, and cities are packed with uprooted rural families who fled the fighting. Poorer Guatemalans' opposition to CAFTA has been widespread, mainly because the agreement doesn't mandate any resolution for the human-rights issues that hurled the country into war. Most likely Guatemalan women will comprise the majority of factory and sweatshop workers -- this is the pattern in other countries. As a result, low-income Guatemalan women have been in the forefront of political resistance to CAFTA -- providing a good motive for reprisal killings.

What our own president George Bush SHOULD be telling Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom Caballeros is that there will be no CAFTA goodies until the terrorist campaign against women stops. But as usual, our government has its head up its ass. Foggy Bottom is more interested in money to be made by U.S. corporations who might outsource to Guatemala, and in flooding our domestic markets with more goods produced by cheap labor abroad. More to the point, Guatemala is Central America's leading oil-producing country, with a tidy 500-million-barrel oil reserve sitting in its remote northern Peten. Bush's former oil company, Harken Energy, is very involved in CAFTA development, and still reportedly has close ties to the Bush administration.

Not surprisingly, Bush and his CAFTA cronies didn't insist that human-rights issues be plated into the CAFTA agreement -- a fact that anti-CAFTA citizens of Guatemala haven't failed to notice.

Both houses of Congress have issued resolutions that called for an end to the Guatemalan murders. But I doubt that Congress will move beyond posturing here. Most of our solons are so politically deadlocked and apathetic that they can't even solve problems here at home. Indeed, Democrats in Congress were so disunited on CAFTA that they failed to put together enough votes to keep it from being ratified.

World history has been marked by frequent and horrific spates of violence against women. The five hundred years of "burning times" (14th to 18th century), when large numbers of women were executed in Europe and the colonial U.S. for failing to conform to church strictures, have had their counterparts in other times and cultures. Women's power to give life, and our key role in the family, when we choose to play it, plus our lesser physical strength, has always put us in a vulnerable position. As potential givers of life, women often are first to speak out against abuses of human rights. All of which puts us at grave risk for reprisal. Many cultures have never realized how pathetically contradictory they're being when they use unholy amounts of terror and murder to enforce a definition of "family" that they then hold up as a universal model of "holiness."

Before we Americans point the finger at other countries and other times, we need to stay outraged by crimes against women in the U.S. today. American women are still 10 times more likely than men to be assaulted or murdered. The statistics are way out of whack for a country that pretends to be a living Statue of Liberty. I include the high rate of violent crimes against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, because we are also viewed by violence-minded macho Americans as transgressors against a conservative morals code involving gender. Religious extremists in our own country would like to see women back in the home, obedient and silent the way the Bible commands -- their literature is full of dark passages about what they intend to do to women who don't conform if they ever take power.

However, as the world gets ever more corporatized, and our markets are ever more saturated with foreign-made goods, we Americans are implicated ever more deeply in anti-woman crimes by other societies. As CAFTA moves forward, Americans who eat Guatemalan bananas, or drink Guatemalan coffee, or buy furniture made from Guatemala's vanishing hardwood forests, will need to be reminded that these products come to us all stained with women's blood.

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This is outrageous. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

For those familiar with the Transgender Day of Remembrance list of gender variant people murdered over the last several decades, Guatamala is represented prominently during some of the years. What is said here may explain some of it.

Thank you for this article.

Old Foggy Bottom as you so elequently put it, is not the one to blame. Why do people consistantly blame the current President? It's the cabinet he selected, it is congressmen, legislatures, senators who are the ones that do the actual decision making. We do not live in a dictatorship, at least not yet, and one man does not run this country. On to the murders taking place in Guatemala, I must say that the Mexican and South American countries have had corrupt governments for years. Perhaps that is where we should start as far as cleaning up thier mess.