I do not want to put myself in others’ shoes
I want to put myself in their dresses.
Patricia, Saira, María de Jesús, Cindy, Sandra, Carmen, Ruth, Mindi, Florence, Kenia, Velvet, Flor de María, Karen. All of these women had families, jobs, dreams; they had plans for their lives. All of these women were silenced, violently ripped from this earth. All of these women were murdered in Guatemala.
Each day around the world, hundreds of women die in violent ways, and dozens of them die in Guatemala. According to figures from INACIF (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses) and Fundación Sobrevivientes over a five year period 3,585 cases of murdered women were reported in Guatemala. Many of these crimes were committed by a woman’s partner or ex-partner. The majority of these cases remain in states of impunity.
Presencia was a performance project over a period of thirteen days during which I wore the dresses of thirteen women who were murdered in Guatemala. I remained still each day for two hours, invoking each woman’s presence.
Saira Cristina Montecinos Reyes
Saira left behind 6 daughters, Estefany, Jocelyn, Melanie, Ilsa Yhael, Priscila and Aranza. She was a fun woman, full of energy, and beautiful. She was an empowered woman. When her friends asked her and her husband if they had a TV, she quickly stepped in and responded that they did, but that they had the Venus channel. On day Saira turned up dead, she was 36 years old. They found her in a dirty river, she had suffered sexual violence and been hit by a stone to the point of being disfigured. Her daughters were not able to look at her. The notice in the newspaper bore the title “Woman hit with stones found in stream”. Saira had been separated from her husband Juan Carlos, and after this separation she had entered into a new relationship with another individual. A new and violent relationship. This new partner was the main suspect in her murder. The case remained in a state of impunity.
Iris Yesenia Paredes
Iris was a feisty, large, and elegant woman; she was equally as beautiful as she was hardworking. She worked hard for her pennies. She looked after cars, she sold food, pencils, and clothes until she would leave for the church. She had a big heart. Her only sin was that she liked to sniff glue.
When she sniffed, she forgot who she was and many things happened to her. Of her six children, three were the results of rapes. The five oldest ones stayed with their grandmother, the last, and youngest one, disappeared. The day that they kidnapped her, Iris was holding the baby, and only Iris reappeared. The neighbors in zone 5 told of how they heard her scream throughout the night but nobody did anything. Her body was discovered bit by bit. The legs here, the arms there, the head – not the slightest idea. The police had access to the room of the house where she was held, and they even found the machete that was used to take her apart, but they did nothing.
The crime was committed by some kids from the “five”, from MS (Mara Salvatrucha). As she lived in the same neighborhood as them, Yesenia had watched them grow up and later their conversion into delinquents. One day, they confronted her. She had been smelling glue and when she smelled glue she did no measure what she was doing. It seems that these young gang members had committed a crime which she had witnessed, and when they found out they took revenge. Yesenia’s death remained in a state of impunity.
Paty (Patricia Samayoa)
Paty was an unstoppable woman. Feminist, cultural agent, social activist. For years, she developed programs for women and young people living in high risk zones of Guatemala City. She brought art to zones where violence reigned. She left behind one daughter, Andrea. Paty died unexpectedly from the gun of a private security guard inside a pharmacy. Minutes before her death, she had talked with her daughter on the phone. Andrea had warned her to put her cell phone away when she was in the street because it was dangerous to let it show. Neither of them could have suspected that Paty’s death was just around the corner. The man who shot her had a mental illness and previous murder charges against him. Even so, he was still working as a private security policeman and had a weapon under his control. Andrea now finds herself in a criminal process against the State for not keeping its citizens safe, and against the security industry for not following the law.
Florence was a very sensitive, special woman. She had left her home country of France to come to Guatemala. She worked as a teacher at Julio Verne High School. She came to Guatemala, and she stayed, perhaps for love. With time, her ease and happiness morphed into an anxiety caused by the constant calls from her Guatemalan boyfriend. According to her roommate, Florence received a call from him every three minutes, up to twenty times an hour. Ring ring all the time. Ring ring the control. Ring ring the harassment. Little by little the situation grew tenser. Florence was in love, but she understood that she was in a toxic relationship, and bought a plane ticket home. One day before her flight, a single day before she left Guatemala and returned to France to be with her friends, with her family, she died.
The body of Florence Denèfle was found on a dirt road near the small village of Agua Tibio in the town of San José Pinula on March 25, 2010, 17 km away from her house, from her safe place. She did not show signs of violence, and it was concluded that she died by suffocation. It is presumed that her ex-partner, Christian Benjamín Martínez Castillo is responsible for her death. After Florence’s murder, he disappeared, and even though the authorities searched for him, his capture has since been impossible. Florence’s parents and family are not giving up in the fight because they are determined to solve their daughter’s murder. However, the case remains in a state of impunity.
Dora Alicia Secaira Medrano (Dorita)
When the firefighters found her body they could still see the flames inside her mouth. Dora was a girl full of love, a girl with Down Syndrome. Her mother cared for her and accompanied her everywhere. She was always with her, they were always together. One day, a group of three men and two women broke into the house of Olivia and David, located in Palencia. Dora and Olivia were alone, and they were attacked; mother and daughter were savagely beaten, raped, and tied at the hands and feet with wire. The attackers believed the mother dead, and threw her off a cliff, then returning to kill the daughter. They robbed all of the family’s possessions, along with the farm animals, spraying four gallons of gasoline on the humble house, and setting fire to it with the girl inside. Dora, who was only thirteen years old, was burned to death. Olivia survived. She was able to identify the attackers who were her neighbors that lived in the same community. For this crime, three people were condemned to fifty years in prison. For Olivia, the pain will haunt her forever.
María de Jesús Velásquez Jacinto
Personified by her stark blue uniform, María de Jesús worked as an agent for the PNC (National Civil Police) in the anti-gang department of the DINC in the community of El Maestro. She was a brave woman, she had overcome a seemingly never-ending barrage of difficulties in the police force: sexism, arrogance, assault, abuse of authority. María de Jesús wanted to be a police officer, and fought huge battles in pursuit of her dream. She had a daughter, whom her partner relinquished as her own two years after she was conceived. One morning, Erica, the mother of María de Jesús, was speaking with her daughter, who mentioned that there had been an aggressive disagreement between herself and her partner. Later that same day, Erica received a call from the chief of police to inform her that her daughter had been murdered.
That day, María de Jesús traveled with two other police officers in a PNC truck. Unexpectedly and without reason, she was hit by a bullet and taken to San Juan de Dios hospital where she died within minutes. They did not give any explanation for her death. The main suspect was Edgar Benjamín Quiñones Sánchez, María de Jesús’s partner, and a former officer of the PNC. The case remains in a state of impunity.
Andy Brizeida (10), Marbella del Rosario Raymundo Franco (6), Carmen Virginia Tuez Franco (35), mother & Silvia Matilde Gaitán Franco (22) aunt
The Franco family was a family made up of women. Women laborers, women fighters. Carmen Virginia worked selling food on the streets to provide for her two young daughters, ten-year-old Andy Brizeida, and six-year-old Marbella del Rosario. The night of January 15th and morning of January 16th 2013, they turned up dead, the bodies of the four women were located in different zones of the city. One body in zone 9, the other bodies between zones 11 and 13. The four women were raped and tied up with the same tape. The two young children were strangled to death, and the two adults were brutally beaten and shot to death. When they were found, the little ones were in their pajamas. Andy Brizeida was wearing pink pajamas and a lemon green shirt with drawings on it and in her right hand she was holding a plastic rosary. Both of the little girls showed signs of violence around their necks. The victims, Carmen Virginia, Andy Brizeida, Marbella del Rosario and Silvia Matilde lived in a humble house in the Quinta Samayoa community in the capital of zone 7. In the same house lived their attackers. The attackers were involved in illegal activities, and when the women discovered this fact, they decided to kill them.
In November 2013, the Tribunal of Guatemalan Femicide sentenced three individuals on counts of femicide and rape, and left one free. During the trial, the defense worked to prove the falsehood of this sentence. The motivation for the crime was hate and misogyny. This case, the murder and the mismanagement, demonstrated once and for all the profound prejudice and disregard toward the lives of Guatemalan women.
Sandra Culajay Tuquer
Sandra was only 19 years old; she was respected and loved in her community, San Pedro Sacatepéquez, in which she had been the beauty queen. Sandra worked in a textile maquila, and it was here that she met her attacker with whom she had a romantic relationship. One day in August, this person called to ask Sandra to go out with him, saying he had prepared a surprise for her. Her mother remembers everything in detail, and the illusion under which her daughter left that day. The man took Sandra to the city and gave her alcohol to drink. Then, on the ride back, he took her to an empty plot of land where he attacked her sexually and killed her. He attacked her using a knife without an edge; he caused multiple injuries that led to her death. Her body was found in a ditch, half-naked, her neck tied with her own belt, and her body covered in leaves. The money that Sandra had made that day as payment for her work in the factory and her clothes had been robbed.
When Sandra’s parents began to investigate the disappearance of their daughter, the attacker claimed to not have seen her in two months. After a long and complicated process, it is possible that a new discussion to confirm the thirty-five year sentence of Sandra Culajay Tuquer’s murderer might occur.
Velvet Medelli Ortega Castillo
Velvet had a full, busy, and happy life at only 25 years old, she had a good future ahead of her. She had a three-year-old daughter who she raised lovingly. She had been a secretary, and now she ran her own business. She was married, and she was an excellent basketball player on a team that now wears her name. One day, however, she was murdered.
She owned a video game store near her home, and two weeks before her murder some gang members came into the store, assaulted her, and robbed 1,000 quetzals and her cell phone. Velvet recognized one of the men and reported him to the police who then detained him. On request from the mother of the detained criminal, Velvet retracted the report. The woman warned her that things were not going to stop there. Despite her freeing the criminal, a few days later, Velvet died. One morning, five men came to her business and slaughtered her. Among the five men was the freed convict. According to testimonies, before they killed her they raped her. The death of Velvet Medelli remains in a state of impunity. Because of constant threats from the gang members, Velvet’s family had to abandon her business and their home.
Flor de María Cristina González Arreola
She was a graphic design student at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. She was 19 years old, and she was very happy, without a care in the world, without enemies, with no reason to disappear. Flor de María had many plans and goals for the future; she dreamed of a fulfilling professional career and personal life. Despite her dreams, on the 27th of July 2005, she was kidnapped and murdered. Her lifeless body was found the next day with three bullet holes.
The investigation never got off the ground. There was never a suspect in her killing. Her family never found a reason or justification that would bring them to the truth. The death of Flor de María remains in a state of impunity.
Kenia Beatriz Cordon Villeda
The body of Kenia entered a hospital for a supposed car accident, and died shortly thereafter. Her mother, who received the new by phone, always knew that it was not an accident.
Kenia Beatriz Cordón Villeda, 20 years old, was a victim of intrafamily violence. Her husband had previously been reported, but he was influential enough to evade justice. Kenia was not able to escape. On a Sunday in a hospital room, Kenia died from multiple wounds. According to the autopsy, Kenia had lost more than two liters of blood. Her mother always knew it wasn’t an accident.
Karen Lissette Fuentes
Four bullets entered her body. Karen Lissette was murdered in front of her own mother, her siblings, her friends, and her community. Karen Lissette was only 17 years old. She came from a close-knit circle of family and friends, and was a dedicated student. She had a life ahead of her, but this afternoon at the fair in the middle of the rides and cotton candy, she was murdered.
The family never knew the motives for their daughter’s assassination. The killer, a gang member nicknamed “El Nan”, later threatened Karen Lissette’s mother, which resulted in the entire family having to leave their home to find safety. The case remains in a state of impunity.
Mindy Rodas Donis
She wanted to live. Most of the time, between bouts of desperation and hope, she expressed a desire to live. Even though the possibility of a smile had been ripped away from her, even though the pain that she when she could not see herself in a mirror, the notes and drawings that Mindy left behind as a trace from her physical therapy spoke of her desire to live. She had a son, she wrote, and she held strongly to this fact. She could not eat, speak, or breathe easily. Her husband had torn apart her mouth and nose with a knife. One day he took her to a river, and ripped open her face. He left her naked body there, presuming her dead and impossible to identify. She survived.
Mindy Rodas Donis reported him and he was arrested for a brief period until a judge released him on a ruling that the terrible aggressions he committed caused minor only injuries. Mindy was scared but she never gave up, and along with help from the Survivor’s Foundation, she continued to fight for justice. At this same time, Mindy began physical therapy and completed the first few trips to Mexico for facial reconstruction surgery. One year and six months after she suffered the attack, when she thought that all of the danger was behind her, and with the opportunity to travel to Spain with her son to begin a new life, Mindy was murdered. She appeared, lifeless, near Cerrito del Carmen in Guatemala City, showing signs of sexual violence and torture. Her unidentified body was initially buried in La Verbena cemetery as “XX”. After an intense search, her adoptive mother recognized her in the photos at the morgue. This time, Mindy had not survived.
The Survivor’s Foundation brought a case against Esteban López Bran, and won after a year of fighting. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison for attempted femicide. Even though it was hypothesized that he was the suspect in her murder, the killing of Mindy remains in a state of impunity.
This project was made possible thanks to the support of Fundación Sobrevivientes and that of the women’s family members, those who bore their loses with strength and never faltered in the fight for justice.
Production Carlos Bernardo Euler Coy and Mishad Orlandini
Press Lucía Escobar
Photography Ameno Córdoba
Vídeo José Juárez